Fill the Container; Then Empty It

I grew up expertly hiding from my emotions. As a boy, I learned early to avoid or hide shame, sadness, fear and anger (especially rage). These were labeled “bad emotions” by most people – particularly boys and men. As I understood, the goal was to shuck these feelings like the outer husk of an ear of corn.

Another technique I absorbed was how to bury my unsavory emotions. I watched adults and older teens who knew how to do this and I, too, practiced drinking, drugging, shopping, workaholism, etc. in an effort to distract myself from any painful feelings. Happiness was found in distraction.

Finally, I learned how to project my emotions. This is often referred to as the “kick the dog.” technique. Instead of acknowledging my feelings, I transferred my anger, frustration, stress or fear onto anyone who seemed like a good scapegoat.

As a kid, teen and adult, these techniques of not dealing with my feelings weren’t conscious, but they were an effective way to dump them. Sadly I hurt people because I had no idea how to process feelings in a healthy way. It’s part of the reason I have amends!

Nowadays, my emotions come on like a waterfall. I feel them in my chest and my stomach and I often cannot sleep or do my work. Often, I have wondered, “how is this any better than what I was doing before?”

Well, first of all, I’m hurting other people less. That’s a big win. I’m also forgiving myself a bit more when I fall back into old patterns. Another win!

For the last few months, I’ve been practicing something new (for me) and I think it’s starting to help. I’ve been going into a quiet place like I would to meditate and consciously feeling my feelings.

For example, today I sat, closed my eyes and fully felt the fears that were coming up around a project. I invited the feeling in instead of trying to chase them away or distract myself with work or anything else. I did this very deeply for about 45 minutes because that was how long it took to honestly and bravely face every facet of them. It was like peeling an onion.

At the center of an onion is…nothing. And isn’t that one of the goals of meditation? Or of faith in God? Yup. We want to let go of that which is not needed and what’s left is often very simple, beautiful and empty. When we can empty the container of our toxic, sludgy emotions, we can live life without them unconsciously triggering us.

In childhood, emotions spill all over the place. Then, we learn to hide them away. Eventually (if we do the work) we learn how we can safely feel them in our body. Keeping them in this “container” is where I’ve been, but now I’m learning to empty it.

Emptying the container can happen through prayer, meditation or talking with a trusted friend. It can be through writing or dancing or even shaking oneself like a wet dog! The trick, though, is to move from the mind into the body and feel the feelings fully. Without these techniques, the container remains full and we stay stuck.

One last point: this is a gradual process. I know of one woman who addressed a traumatic feeling 250 times before it finally worked its way through her body. I get it. I’ve got some stubborn wounds, too, and it’s taking years to scrub the container of the old, sludgy stuff. A lot if it’s from my legacy, crap passed down through generations.

We’ll, I guess that’s what adventures are for.

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