sit with it or go play miniature golf?

by michelle on February 8, 2013

One day when I was 19, I came home from my junior college class to my sister, who I lived with, telling me to sit down: she had some bad news. My mom had called. There’d been an accident at home and my dog as well as the family dog had both been killed.

Young, naive, and most of the time homesick, I took a fast-speed train ride from shock to confusion, a pit stop at denial and then retreated to my room inconsolable.

My then-boyfriend, tipped off by my sister, showed up a few hours later with balloons announcing that we were going to play miniature golf so I could get my mind off things. Leaving the house I felt even more confused. Conflicted. There was something incongruous¬†about putting a¬†Scandia bandaid on my heartbreak. My inner world wasn’t ready to engage with the normalcy of the outer world, yet by the end of the game, distracted and distanced from the news, I felt “better.”

This memory popped into my head yesterday after a discussion with a friend about how difficult it is for us to stay with our own, let alone another’s, suffering (i.e. discomfort, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, intense emotion). How quickly we move in with a fix, wanting to soothe, wanting to feel better.

Ah, but we must consider both sides of the coin. Can we go “too deep” into our own despair? Are there times when a hit-the-ball-into-the-tiger’s-mouth diversion would be useful? Conversely, if ignored, or worse, pushed away, will an emotion retreat deeper into the recesses where it ferments and takes on a life of its own like a science project…only to start smelling and oozing years later when we’ve forgotten about it. (As we know, forgetting and healing are not the same thing.)

Consider:

What is it like to sit with a feeling that’s uncomfortable without distracting yourself?
Is it difficult to sit with someone else who’s going through a hard time without trying to fix it for them (such a subtle agenda)?
Do you stay “busy” as a way of avoiding some bigger feeling or circumstance in your life?
Do you get so comfortable in your estrangement or grief or pain that it’s hard to leave?

My answers are:

It sucks. It’s hard. It take a lot of patience, compassion and trust.
No, this one is actually pretty easy for me.
I will “do computer work” as a way to be productive (in the socially acceptable way) and not have to feel anything.
Yes. I can isolate like nobody’s business. And that makes it hard to come back out and play.

Like anything, this is not a one-size-fits-all topic and there’s no “right” answer. Only by shedding light in our own corners can we begin to know what’s hiding and growing mold. And only by sharing can we know that we are not alone. Our stories are one of a kind, yet the feelings and fears and joys that keep us up at night and get us out of bed in the morning are the same. Would love to hear about you…

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebekah February 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Thanks for sharing this Michelle. Seriously, thank you… <3

To answer your questions:
It's super uncomfortable. Like something is off-kilter and needs to be righted ASAP.
Doesn't come naturally, but I've been working on this one and it's getting easier to give the other person space to just be. Realizing how much I appreciate it when other people do this for me has really helped.
One word: food.
Absolutely… sometimes there is a moment of semi-awareness and I think "I actually don't know what comes next." However, I am also adept at "going out to play" and pretending like I'm not in pain, when I am underneath.

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Brittany Long February 9, 2013 at 8:01 am

Fantastic post!

My answers:
I actually am quite comfortable to sit with my own heavy emotions. I jump right in the pool and swim easily. My difficulty is getting out of the pool. I’m working on just putting a foot in as oppose to my entire body.
It can be difficult for me to sit with others in their pain and not try to help them come to a solution.
I will stay very busy to avoid a bigger feeling – until it comes crashing down on me.
Yes, it’s hard to leave that pool.

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Kelley February 9, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Dude, were you a fly on the wall in my last therapy session? Seriously, you could get paid for this stuff. I’m still in discovery mode. I found some moldy junk before and worked it through and now I’m looking for new festering issues that have yet to even pop up….perhaps issues I’ve gotten “too” comfortable with that I don’t even know they are issues. My therapist is sure there’s more……(cue suspenseful music here)

Great post. XO

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Elizabeth February 18, 2013 at 9:56 pm

- I am generally comfortable with my uncomfortable emotions (except possibly anger, which I hide even from myself most of the time), except that I seem to have a mental time limit for how long it should take, and if it doesn’t shift in that time frame, I grow frustrated.
- This one is pretty easy for me.
- I wander around the internets as a way to feel productive even though I am not doing anything at all.
- I used to be really good at isolating, but now I am starting to notice that after a while, the need for companionship is so great that it is enough to force me out of isolation. It’s an interesting shift.

Every once in a while, I’ll call my (less of a thinker about things) sister for advice and she tells me to not think so much and drink a G&T and play a game. It’s such a tricky balance, because she is often right, but my thinky-ness is also responsible for a lot of my growth, as it were. So interesting to think about.

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Tamara Dowling February 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm

40th bday looming, I enjoyed these words today.

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