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The Courage to Feel



"I can't feel you," he says with despair in his eyes.


I stare back at him blankly. Strangely, I resist the urge to smirk.


When we first started dating he said something like this to me, "I have a glass heart that I wear on my sleeve, please be careful with it." It is hard to mistake how he is feeling because he always and naturally shows it, which is a sweet quality that sometimes puts me into a spiral.


For one, although I am not proud of it, there is a part of me who has contempt for such vulnerability. If I am honest with myself, that voice says something like, "He can't keep his shit together, how pathetic." Which is a brave and perhaps stupid thing to admit as someone who is trying to build a practice of supporting people. Hopefully you can give me credit for my consciousness, for my honesty.


There is a superiority complex at play there, a way of feeling powerful. I had very little power growing up, which is true of all children, and especially in being the youngest and a victim of abuse. My mom said of my childhood, "I don’t remember you having or expressing any worries or concerns or fears." I am absolutely certain I had worries, concerns and fears. It was by not expressing them that I found power in the family. I got a lot from being the easy one. And I got something from the interactions like this one with my partner, where my mom or whoever wants to reach me, but I won't let them. Once, a dead locked door was busted through to reach and hit me, so you can imagine how precious it was/is to me to have an inner room that no one could trespass.


So there is a part of me, aloof, that wants to leave him begging on the other side of the locked door of my heart.


Another part of me is bitterly jealous of his capacity for transparency, his innocent and free self-expression, his trust that his feelings will be well-held, or even tolerated. Everything that happens in his life is a story he is eager to tell. Sometimes, the more he shares the further I feel that is impossible for me, and I turn hurt and alone into my shell.


I want him (my parents) to come find me, to draw me out. And at the same time I feel fiercely protective.


I only know this is happening because I've experienced life outside my shell. If I hadn't, and before I did, I just saw it as a personality type. Other people are so dramatic and I'm cool and collected. What do you want from me? You can't make me feel. (One trouble with this strategy is that it usually leads to not showing feeling even to oneself. It turns from hiding feeling to being split off from it.)


I am nostalgic for that time of extreme hardship outside my shell. A couple of years ago I had a series of what I called somatic trauma flashbacks. These were moments or extended periods where the memory of my experience was met with the somatic felt sense of it, the coming together, for the first time, of affect and memory. I did ask for it, and it was excruciating. But it was also ecstatic because I was feeling deep and free. I was wild.


Sitting in council during that time I felt every flavor of what was shared. I lived others' experiences, inhabiting the emotional peaks and valleys, sometimes to an even greater extent than the speaker. Fuck I felt alive! I was totally undefended, vulnerable to the world. I prayed I would feel like that forever, to never lose that exquisite capacity to be affected.


But I did lose it. Necessarily so.


My nervous system didn't know how to manage it all and I couldn't sleep. Insomnia broke me down for over a year, forcing me to learn to take care of myself, to be consciously protected, to be selective of who I let in and when.


I guess I took it too far, or it was so similar energetically to that old way, that I slipped back into the groove. Maybe I healed to the extent that I'm now too far from my wounds. I don't really know how to conceptualize it, but I know I'm not feeling, staring with cold eyes at the one I love.


I'm not sure what to do about it. While I held a ceremony opening to my wounds back then, I was simply cooperating. It was Mystery that reached in, pulled me from my shell, and let experience puppet me, ran raw aliveness through me. I don't know how to come out on my own. I don't know how to let another human help me.

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