If You Stuff Your Emotions Down: You Gotta Feel It to Heal It

“Sit with it. Sit with it. Sit with it. Sit with it. Even though you want to run. Even when it’s heavy and difficult. Even though you’re not quite sure of the way through. Healing happens by feeling.” ~Dr. Rebecca Ray

I’ve spent much of my life resisting my true feelings.

Anger made me feel wrong. Sadness made me feel weak. Neediness made me feel “girly.” Love made me feel scared.

I became an expert at hiding when I was feeling any of the above.

Some people numb their feelings with alcohol, drugs, shopping, or sex. I numb with control. Being in control. Exerting control. Maintaining iron-will control over everything in my life, including my emotions.

The thing about the  illusion of being in control is that it really only works for so long before emotions bubble up to the surface, erupt like a dormant volcano, and explode onto someone or something unintended. And trust me when I tell you, that ain’t pretty.

One of the most famous quotes of every twelve-step program is: “You gotta feel it to heal it.” As someone who absolutely hated feeling anything that made me uncomfortable, this was the best advice I’d ever heard and the single most important tool I started using over the years to heal from anything in my life that was hard.

It was in that twelve-step program for an eating disorder I had many years ago where I learned that all my ‘self-control’ tactics were an illusion.  If I would just allow myself to feel “it,” whatever “it” was, I could make peace with a lot of things, including myself.

My mom was the role model I grew up with. Strong. Resilient. Positive and always in control. I strived to be like her. Positive and happy no matter what life threw my way.

We were raised to not be weak, negative, or ungrateful because (we were told) somebody out there had it worse than us. The way through life was to remain positive. I mean, if she could do it, why couldn’t I?

But I was different. More sensitive. Overly sensitive. A tad too empathetic. A chronic people-pleaser who didn’t like to rock the boat or risk anyone not liking me. When I had big feelings, I thought it best to push those feelings right down.

Anger got me into trouble and cost me my childhood best friend. Sadness and tears (especially if, God forbid, they happened in the workplace) were “unprofessional,” I was told. And being anything but positive cramped my Supergirl vibe because people had gushed to me my entire life how “strong and resilient” I was, and I wanted to live up to their perception of me.

But pushing down my feelings led to things that, for periods of time, wrecked my life: Depression. Anxiety. Secrets. Migraines. Illness. Chronic fatigue. Binging. Purging. Lies. And ultimately, not feeling I could be who I truly was and still be loved.

And like every human being that walks this earth, I wanted to be able to be me and still be loved.

So I started to do work on myself. And that work, let me tell you, was hard. But as one of my very favorite authors, Glennon Doyle, likes to say, “We can do hard things.”

The hard thing for me was surrendering to the discomfort, the judgment of others, the judgments I had about myself, and owning the truth of who I was and how I actually felt about things.

So I went to therapy. I signed up for yoga/meditation retreats. I dove deep into spirituality. I prayed and sat in silence for hours listening for God and then writing what I heard Him say.

I traveled to Peru and then Costa Rica, where I was introduced to sacred plant medicine, and purged out all the feelings I didn’t realize I had been carrying for years in ceremonies that literally changed my life. Wisdom and visions guided me to make changes I don’t think I would have had the courage to make on my own.

If you’re brave enough to step outside your comfort zone and try different things to open your heart and hold a mirror up to yourself, you’ll uncover one simple truth: You’ve got to feel whatever it is you’re running from to heal that thing for good.

For those people who think I have it all together all the time, I want to set the record straight…

None of us has it together all of the time. And to believe that you should, that there is anybody in this world who has “it”—whatever “it” is—together all the time, well that’s the very thing that’s causing any of us to feel sad, angry, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, (fill in the blank with whatever emotion you think you shouldn’t be feeling today).

I have it together most days. And others I’m completely overwhelmed.

I’m sometimes sad for no reason at all.  But still, I allow myself to cry.

I feel sorry for myself some days, knowing that somebody out there has it worse than me. But I no longer try to shut that feeling down. I let it come. Feel it. Let it pass.

We all have something in our lives that makes us feel sorry for ourselves. Let’s stop beating our chests and declaring to the world “I’m fine” when we really aren’t and, instead, accept it’s just a feeling—and feeling anything other than fine is not admitting we’re weak or pathetic, but human.

I get angry. And when I do, I  don’t make myself out to be a villain because of that anger. I just ask it what it’s trying to show me about myself or someone else and then I listen to it. I approach it with compassion instead of judgment. Maybe I have a right to be angry. Maybe someone is doing something hurtful, and the anger is inviting me to stand up for myself, or walk away, or learn how to set a boundary.

Every feeling we have is trying to teach us something. I’ve learned to listen to the teacher and ask, “What are you trying to show me?”

I’ve been through loss. Betrayal. Divorce. Depression. An eating disorder. All things that others have been through. We all have our things we need to heal from. Mine aren’t any harder or less hard than yours.

But you can heal. You can be happy even if you’ve been through something sad. You can be you and still be loved. But you’ve gotta feel it to heal it if you want to get there.

I’m grateful for all of my life. Not just the good stuff.

I’m grateful for the hard things. The hard things are what have shown me who I am, what I’m made of, and pushed me to create the best life possible for myself and my children. The hard things pushed me to heal things that needed to be healed for decades.

If sharing my story encourages just one person to find the courage to do the hard things to help them heal… well then, the hard things, in my opinion, have been totally worth it.

About Dina Strada

Dina Strada is a former Hollywood event planner, author, and intuitive coach specializing in relationships, healing, and empowering women. A former featured author and top writer for Elephant Journal, her work has also appeared in multiple online publications including Huff Post, Thought Catalogue, Elite Daily, The Good Men Project, Your Tango, Medium, Chopra, Simply Women, Rebelle Society, Tiny Buddha, and Thrive Global.  You can connect with her at dinastrada.com

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