This post has come about at least in part because I've been seeing a therapist. Together, we've been devoting time to processing the vital and intricate ways communication colors all the different roles I play: sister, daughter, co-worker, writer, instructor, friend, follower of Jesus, neighbor, citizen... none of these are less valuable than the others and communication is important in all of it.
And, the other reason communication has become so important is that life has a way of physically manifesting my inner chaos. Has anyone else experienced this?
Just as I found myself needing to have three potentially difficult conversations in three wildly different areas of my life, my asthma began acting up and I was put on new medication that continues to make my heart race and leave me feeling like I might not have enough breath to finish a sentence. Just as I am being called upon to stick up for the health of my relationships, boundaries, and growth, my voice feels weak and powerless, all but lost to a loud and chaotic world... a world where it feels like we must scream to be heard.
I've never been a screamer. In fact, if you and I sat down together at a crowded coffee shop, you'd probably find yourself leaning close to hear me at all. I find this is more true as I get older. Words carry the weight of life and death. Our words (written and spoken) have the power to create wide open spaces for renewal and redemption. Our words also have the power to destroy, assassinate, and suck all the oxygen out of the room.
As I tip-toed carefully into all three of these conversations I felt the weight of life and death, the strain of my inhaler, and my courage wavered.
The first two conversations went well. Don't get me wrong, I dreaded them, I lost sleep over them, and then I was able to show up to them. I walked away from both of these interactions feeling like we had achieved a new level of understanding that strengthened each of us. Making time to have the difficult conversation relieved the pressure in the atmosphere. I learned that my small voice was exactly powerful enough to rise to the challenge. I felt like I was finally making some progress. Finally.
And then, the third conversation turned out to be a miserable failure. A total disaster. The Hindenburg crash was more graceful than this conversation. It's less fun to learn lessons this way. But these hard won lessons are far more valuable.
I am terrible at letting go. Plus, I am super capable at fixing things. This, I've learned, is a lethal combination. Sometimes we find ourselves at an impasse. Sometimes the other person is nowhere near a place where they can truly hear us. At this point, there are no magic words to right a sinking ship. But, man, I will nearly drown myself in the process.
When and how do I let go with some healthy boundaries in tact? And why is it so hard to let go of something that is clearly not working?
I recently read Emotional Agility by Susan David. I've been recommending it to everyone, so I might as well recommend it to you as well. Please go read this book. David talks a lot about letting go of emotions that do not serve us. The agility part comes in with beginning to understand how and when and why we are so triggered and why we cling to such fixed and rigid ways of thinking.
She says, "Just saying the words 'let it go' is enough to bring us a sense of hope and relief. But those same words can bring up the anxiety that we will be left with nothing--that we have resigned ourselves to a hopeless situation. In truth, we are left with everything else. Clinging to that one small piece of emotional driftwood prevents us from feeling part of the dynamic system that is the universe itself... Not everyone will be able to embrace quite the mystical vision, but for everyone, 'let it go' can at least become 'hold it lightly,' and when it happens, the heart expands. This does not mean a passive resignation to fate, but rather a vital engagement with the way things actually are, unfiltered and undistorted by rigid mental lenses." (p.110-111)
The "anxiety that we will be left with nothing." It is so easy for me to fall prey to this mentality of scarcity. I don't want to live this way. I'm practicing being mindful of the larger picture. It is a practice. It is easier said than done, especially when my exit only flares a series of blistering text messages that further solidify my hurt feelings and reasons for leaving.
How do I gracefully exit when I feel he still hasn't heard me? When I want nothing more than to stay and stand and shout? (And fix it!) When I feel like I must stand up for myself because he has clearly forgotten who I am and all that we shared? When do I get to the 'vital engagement with the way things actually are?' Should I respond to him at all? Do I need the last word? What would be the point? Are there any winners here?
Nope. And, I'm not sure that's the point.
The day of the text messages was especially long and emotional. I cried all the way home from work. I cried and I prayed. "What is there left to say? What can I possibly do to stop the madness?"
My answer came clear and quick: Call out the truth. Call out the Good. And then, hold it lightly.
This all sounds so simple now. But, I needed some time to clear the rubble and remember what was good about him. I spent the evening journaling, processing, praying for both of us. Late that night, I found I did have something to say. I did have some apologizing to do. So that's what I did. I showed up (via text) to apologize and call out the truth and call out the good. I did not have to scream or lose my voice. I needed to be present and open and honest. I am a work in progress. I am learning to let go. I might be practicing this for the rest of my life. Bear with me. This progress feels slow.