Can It Be What It Is?

What follows is a repost from 10(!!) years ago so not all of the examples are relevant anymore. For instance, I no longer have a neighbor who plays loud music, nor am I waiting for my passport in the mail. I’m also far less anxious and melodramatic but the general wisdom about not spinning out and attaching a story to an emotion still applies. Enjoy.

I had a very interesting conversation this week with a friend. He said there’s a difference between feeling an emotion and attaching a story to it. For instance, I may be sad about losing a relationship, which is a natural emotion, but what makes it worse is the story I tell myself on top of it such as, “I’ll be alone for the rest of my life,” “No one will ever love me the same way,” etc. I can compound an emotional state by adding a story and really working myself into a tizzy.

What’s hard for me to do is let the emotion go through me. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life doing what I could to not feel, to avoid feeling my feelings at all costs, to keep them at bay because I was afraid of feeling the feeling. In my mind, it was better to not feel angry, sad, lonely, etc. in the first place. So now that I’m sober (i.e., actually feeling my feelings and not trying to numb out), I still have a hard time letting my emotions pass through me, precisely because I can drag them out by adding a story to them.

wind blowing through sea grass

Can we let things move through us like the wind blowing grass? Photo by Abdallah Kokash on Unsplash

The emotion turns into a big dramatic thing. I make it so much worse by piling on untruths such as, “I’ll feel this way forever,” or, “Things will never change.” There’s a lot of “always” and “never” in my stories. And a whole lot of catastrophizing where I jump from, “My neighbor is playing loud music,” to, “Oh my God, I need to move somewhere else!”

I’ll admit that much of this has to do with the fact that I’m anxious and melodramatic. For those of you who aren’t, you probably can’t relate to what I’m writing about. But for those of you who can, I want to point out how these stories and the catastrophizing make the emotion so much worse than it has to be. If I allowed myself to feel my moments of grief or loneliness, they wouldn’t last NEARLY as long.

I’m not sure what to do about all this other than to make myself aware of it. My dear friend who’s a therapist often tells me that awareness alone can make a huge difference. Maybe by understanding that I tell myself a lot of false “truths” I can catch myself in the act and remind myself they’re not the case. Just because I’m scared about not receiving my passport on time to leave for Europe, doesn’t automatically mean my boss will get pissed and fire me and never send me to Europe again. Instead, it’s better for me to stay present with what is and acknowledge, yes, I’m anxious about my passport arriving in the mail, but that’s all I get to be anxious about because nothing else has happened.

It all comes down to being present, to paying attention to what’s in front of me, and not future tripping or spinning out about what could be. There are a million things that “could be,” and when I start attaching emotion to all those possibilities, that’s when I really get into trouble. Can I let it be what it is instead?

I dream of a world where we feel, process, and let go of what’s before us. A world where we stick with whatever emotion we’re feeling and not compound it by telling ourselves falsehoods. A world where we allow emotions to come in and emotions to go out, understanding the process can be fast or slow depending on how much extra stuff we throw in. A world where we just let things be what they are.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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