We need all of our feelings, they are there for a reason and they need to be felt. We need to know we're big enough to feel them all, even the most excruciatingly uncomfortable ones, even the ones that mean we have to disrupt the expectations of life and other people and our own limitations to feel them. I was raised in a culture, at a time, when I was taught it was not safe to feel my own feelings, not acceptable to express all the hues and shades and textures of my human emotions as they arose. What happened for me was that then my body became so full of all the suppressed feelings that couldn't be felt, that I had to leave my body because it had become a toxic dumping ground. Because I knew I would not be loved and held through the process of releasing the painful and uncomfortable or raucously jubilant emotions that perpetually bubbled up from within, I swallowed them down in a constant imperative to suppress. I used any means I had to spread wings and fly from the impossibility of being full of things one could not be loved for, but that had nowhere else to go.
I formed addictions which further added to the toxicity of my body as a place of residence. The perception that I was not safe to express who I was led to a sense of immense insecurity and self-loathing, I could not know myself in all my colors and so I couldn't truly know or trust others. I was so isolated and alone, I couldn't express my needs and so I did not feel safe, ever. Everything of value to me, everything life-giving, like creativity, sensuality, sexuality, boundaries, ambition, desire, intimacy, connection was all bound up with all the things I couldn't let out and so became inaccessible to me, became dangerous. I didn't even know what I wanted for myself let alone how to ask for it. I had a vast pain body and mountains of shame and a seemingly bottomless self-loathing.
Throughout my early life, adolescence and early twenties, more insults and injuries were incurred along the way, but the vastness of my withheld pressure cooker of rage and grief and panic and fear and love and joy was so densely packed in. How does one even begin to address the backlog, let alone attend affectively to the slights of the moment? I was tied, bound and gagged internally, crippled and contorted, hiding in my own skin. When I first became a mother at the age of 25, I had only just begun to address this dire dissociated state of shame and toxic suppression of emotion. I was voiceless and isolated from my own body, because of the things that hadn't been shared and accepted.
Motherhood changed the landscape of my psyche in such a fundamental way. Simultaneously I understood great love and saw the depths of my own trauma. For the first time in my life I felt a dimension of fierce love and responsibility that blew my mind. It showed me that to love and to hold my baby, I would have to begin to feel all the feelings that hadn't yet been felt, in order to offer true advocacy and a deep container of loving compassionate acceptance for all that moved in my child. I had to learn to love myself.
It also made me see that those who are suppressed will suppress in order to avoid feeling the feelings they have been indoctrinated to suppress, in order not to feel the terror and threat of death, abandonment and annihilation, that becomes associated with one's own emotional expression. The powerful instinct of my children to use their emotions to get their needs met was deeply triggering to the wounded child within me. Their anger triggering a deep fear and discomfort that would then lead me to unconsciously control their behavior in order not to feel so overwhelmed by my own toxic response to the purity of emotional expression. This paradox was so excruciating for me to live with, as I saw my own toxicity impacting on my pure and perfect children. I began to walk the long road toward a restoration of selfhood and healing, one I am still growing and learning upon in each living moment.
The story that it was not safe to be who we are, not safe to feel and be that which rises and falls like the magnificent waves of oceans or storm clouds or spring blooms, began back in the far reaches of our ancestral history, in the intricate twists and turns of our epigenetic traumas. The contortions of our complicit pretense, seeded in the fertile ground of our innocence, began long before our mother's mother's mother walked the Earth. I have been mothering my three children for 17 years now and I have made more mistakes than you could poke a stick at, just as I have loved them as fiercely always as I have known how to. In the years that have ensued, living inside the paradox of needing to fall apart and own my rage and grief and love and fear, let myself be undone, spill open, dismantle the iron maiden of my own withholding, whilst simultaneously holding space for small, vulnerable humans and trying to maintain healthy adult relationships has been fraught with times of chaos and immense vulnerability.
One who is suppressed has no idea who they might be on the other side of their expression, one only knows one's self for the shame of not being true. Over the years I have allowed myself to feel it all, rivers of tears, snot and spit. Violent rage ripping through my body, spewed out to self and other. Tender apology, stripped back remorse. Cycling in, cycling out. There have been times when I have longed to medicate myself, times when I have felt I was going mad, when I felt I was deeply insane, times when I have wanted to die because it felt too hard to be alive inside my body, with all the things it didn't know how to feel and express, but felt all the same. Damage has been done, my unravelling has taken it's toll, on my children, on the men who have partnered with me, on my body. There were also the more gentle unfurlings, the tender courting of release and surrender. The dancing, meditating on the visceral sensations of unfoldment, the love-making, the crooning and keening, the art and song and sisterhood, the dreaming and all the while the great body of Earth beneath me, and the celestial magnificence of the cosmic dance above, helping me to trust myself and to know that I could be loved in all my shades.
I have had to incrementally grow my self love and acceptance with each new offering of courage to feel and show what has been there, hiding inside of me in all its monstrous ugliness and raw beauty, like the Minotaur trapped in the labyrinth beneath the palace. I have been doing the work of taming him, coaxing him out, feeding him, bringing him home to love. I have been learning what it looks like to be an internal mother for myself, who says yes to it all, who knows how to hold the vast array of human experience without turning or faltering or shaming. It's been a big journey and I have failed to find a path of grace so many times, when my children's unrestrained expression would trigger my own suppressed emotion and there would be two four year olds doing battle for control. My lack of boundaries and my disembodied absence have made mothering an enormous task, the ask of finding my way into a capacity that I could feel proud of, that I could name as true.
Our salvation has resided in the magnitude of fierce maternal love that was birthed in my being along with my babies, the instinct to hunt for truth and discard that which is poisonous, to always follow the scent of love, even if the way was messy and steep. I have time and again conjured up the humility to say sorry and to reweave the broken or frayed threads back into a semblance of unity and belonging, with each rupture or tear. The reparation of tactile affection, tender gestures of care weaving our bodies back to wholeness, again and again. Our salvation has resided in the magnificent resilience and creativity and kindness and intelligence of my children and there profound capacity to forgive and to make anew, in their keen mistrust of falseness and their wholehearted embrace of truth, they have been my teachers. We so underestimate the life-giving intelligence of our children and their capacity to know what they need. This to me is the true task of motherhood, unfathomably valuable to a culture, brave and hearty work, dismantling and re-membering the ruptured heart and body and soul, again and again in the face of a world that is sometimes cruel and thoughtless.
In this work of processing the great archive of suppressed feeling it sometimes seems that the strands of my very DNA have restructured themselves, that millennia of acculturation have reformed themselves in my cells, that generations of ancestors have been given a voice and a reason for enduring all that they too were forced to withhold. This journey for me is far from complete but I want to share something small that felt big, that happened recently for me. I picked my little ones up from school and my 8 year old boy was hot and grumpy. We are coming into some warmer weather after a long cold winter. He wanted to go to the river. This is a familiar request and often we will be found there on a warm evening, cooling off in her gentle waters. But not today, internally I had to balance his needs with the needs of the rest of the family, cooking dinner, I had things to prepare for an event the following day, our floor desperately needed vacuuming. I said no.
My beautiful boy started up, threatening and cursing, crying and raging, throwing his weight around. I checked in with him around safety and reminded him not to let his body stray too far over to his sister's side of the car seat. I told him I was here, that I loved him, that I felt really good that he could really share with us everything he was feeling. When we got home and moved inside there was some more tears and frustration, I offered a hug or just my close physical presence, he wanted space. I offered water, the tears lessened, the anger had a few more cycles to pulse through his system. I stayed in the same room as him but gave him the space he asked for. I kept my energetic body open to him, making my own etheric body available if he needed to draw strength from me and I was deeply holding him in my heart. He eventually softened and lay very still, soft and quiet on the couch. For nearly an hour, he lay, dreamy eyed.
I sat with him for a bit, stroked his brow, asked him what he needed. He was fine, content just to be. As I looked into his face, he held my eye contact and we just gazed for a while, at the wide open soul exposed from within, and my heart opened so deeply at his beauty, like a landscape after a storm has passed, and the sun breaks through and there is peace and grace and a deep restedness within the body. In that moment he looked so exquisite and pure. We talked about what had happened a little later but the work had already been done, he'd moved on. Later that night, my son came out from his room, where I had already put him to bed, and in the most casual, present way he said, "Mum, if you watch a movie tonight, could you not have the sound too loud because I'm very sensitive to the noise." I said "Sure, thanks for letting me know" and he went back to bed.
All these things are very ordinary occurrences, just an example of the everyday navigations that life with children entail, but they are also miracles. We have been through these moments countless times, with varying degrees of surrender and presence from me. But on this day I very clearly saw that my child was free to feel his feelings and that he knew what his needs were and was able to ask for them to be met. In the wake of this experience, a penny has dropped for me and something so fraught and traumatized has come to a resting place within me. All those days spent lost in my own darkness, all the tears berating myself for my preoccupation with my own underworld, my dark underbelly, while everyone else was getting on with their bright and shiny lives, all those endless dark nights of the soul where I came to court death and oblivion while my babies rested in their beds, my love for them singing so powerfully in my heart with the calling for restoration and regeneration and the finding of a way through. I suddenly saw that it was all worth it for this moment, where without knowing that I was even doing it, I was teaching my darling, beautiful son that all of him is welcome here, all his feelings, his rage and his frustration was welcome, not as an inconvenience, but as a treasure, the treasure of the animal body finding its way in the great jungle of life.
I could offer him this because I have finally given enough of this to myself, relentlessly unravelling the tightly curled spring of my pain body to finally make my skin a safe home for my soul to reside in. My son has learnt, or actually is learning still as I am, that it is not helpful to project our feelings onto other people, neither passively or aggressively, but we are welcome to release that which arises from within us, however messy that appears to be. I will undoubtedly make a multitude of mistakes again, but in this moment all the uncertainty of whether that small instinct to move towards the pain rather than continue to remove myself from it, would lead eventually to healing, rather than insanity and persecution, felt to reach a place of peace and integration within my being. At this time in my life, I feel much less volatile, much less passive, much less willing to hurt my own integrity to please others, I feel much less hidden and much more available to honesty and truth, I feel much less defended and controlling. I feel much more self-loving, more able to tend with presence and compassion, to that which arises, from moment to moment, to be seen and integrated into the field of experience, into the heart of love.
I'm not sure that there is an easy way to shed the shackles of being confined to a torturous captivity within your own psyche, I don't know if there is an easy and graceful way of disposing of decades of suppressed emotion without creating some havoc along the way, but I do know that feelings have a purpose, and that the feeling of them is necessary. They have a medicine and guidance and insight, the expression of which is cleansing and purifying and recalibrating. They are the voice of our bodies. They are love's foot soldiers, crafting the rugged terrain of our capacity to be life, bold and unrestrained, wild life.
I think as a culture with such a backlog of shame and pain, suffering and trauma, we have vastly underestimated the sensitive needs of the visceral body, of the complex nervous system to unravel and be felt, given space and advocacy to discharge and return to a state of equilibrium. A culture that raises its girls to be compliant and subservient and to always serve the needs of others, to be good and to be nice and always to please, groomed for the cultural imperative for us all to be alluring and gorgeous, dewilded and safe, tame and placating, voiceless, empty, available, raises a culture of women and mothers who carry a toxic load of suppressed grief, shame and rage. Raising our boys to be tough and unfeeling, ruthless and unquestioning of their right to take what they want, stoic and numb, brutal and colonizing, driven and unyielding is an ecological and inter-personal disaster. This conditioning expresses itself as emotional or sometimes physical violence, and an ongoing cycle of suppression and shame, which we pass on to our sons and our daughters. I don't want to keep doing this. It is time that we create a world that does not leave the soft animal of our bodies, of our feeling selves behind.
As I reach across time to hold the wounded heart of myself as a four year old girl, who made the choice to swallow the pain rather than tantrum it out, for all the times i felt one thing and showed another, for all the times i said yes when I meant no, I bring that advocacy and healing forth, healing the present and in so doing the future. As I learn to love instead of judge and punish the searing despair that rises from the depths, the isolating unbelonging that threatens to engulf me, the misfitted malcontent, the hungry ghosts of my exile, I am, through each gesture of compassion and care, homing the instincts and intuitions, the powerful boundaries and vast capacity that is required of us to bring our world back into balance with the timeless lore of life, which is that there is actually enough love for us all, each to be exactly who we were born to be, there is in fact the time and space for all our feelings to find there rightful expression, to convey their rightful information and to return the body to its natural state of freedom and availability, of communion and belonging.
Image "After the Fire" © Lucy Pierce
Text © Lucy Pierce 2017