I often joke that I became a therapist because I wanted to find a way to explain away my feelings so I wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore.
Today is Father’s Day in the states. A day ripe with feelings. This will be my 5th Father’s Day without my Dad. He was the inspiration for the book The Happier Approach, and I talk about him in more detail in the first episode of this season’s Happier Approach podcast.
A few days ago, my husband mentioned something about Father’s Day coming up and asked how I was feeling about it. “Fine,” I said. “I totally forgot it was Father’s Day—I think this year it is going to be fine. It’s been five years, I am good.”. To be clear—I am not saying FINE while hiding my feelings of sadness. No, I am so good at putting my feelings in a box I am not even aware those feelings are there. I genuinely believe I am fine.
But there are signs—my anxiety has been high (one cause of anxiety is pushing down uncomfortable feelings)—my stomach has been upset (I know that feelings and my IBS are linked hand in hand)—my fibromyalgia is flaring (could be the weather pattern we are having but today I woke up feeling like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz) All those physical signs, and STILL, if you asked me how I am feeling about Father’s day I would say fine because I WANT it to be fine. I don’t WANT to deal with feelings and feel sad.
I talk a lot about feelings here because feelings and anxiety go hand in hand. This is also why I am so passionate about self-loyalty because allowing feelings even when they are messy and inappropriate is the ultimate act of self-loyalty.
Here are a few stories I tell myself about feelings that I am actively re-writing.
High Functioning Anxiety encourages all or nothing thinking. So my story is if I allow the sadness, it will overwhelm me. I will be a giant mopey crying mess all day curled up in a ball on the couch, sucking everyone into my vortex of sadness. The new story I am trying to remember is twofold. The first thing I say to myself is, who cares? If I am a mopey mess on the couch because my feelings are that intense for one day—I will survive, my husband will survive. Yes, people might judge me but is that the worse thing? AND in reality, that isn’t how feelings work—I am not going to go from not allowing my feelings to being a sobbing, crying mess on the couch. Feelings are way more subtle than that.
Case and point this morning, I was making my way around the kitchen, making coffee, feeding the animals, letting the dog out, and I thought of Dad and wished I could see him today. Some of the memories I had pushed down into that box came out, and I let myself remember. The safety of his hugs, the sound of his bellowing laughter, the unconditionalness of his love, his constant worry, and checking in to make sure I was safe and happy. My Dad loved hard. And I started to cry, a big ugly cry, sobbing as the dog looked on, wondering what was happening. And then it runs its course—it takes a feeling 90 seconds to move through your body. EVERY TIME I let myself feel, I am amazed how it doesn’t suck me under. I feel it; I feel better, I move forward. And then I am reminded—when I put my feelings of sadness in a box; I also lose the happy feelings. I lose all the fun, good memories of my Dad. After my sobbing, I started thinking about the times Dad made me laugh—feelings are messy—they aren’t straight lines—they are all over the place, which is hard.
And then comes in the “you have nothing to be sad about other’s have it worse” story. Dad died. You miss him, yes, but he lived to be 78. He was suffering, and his death brought him peace. Plus, other people have lost their Dads in way more tragic ways. Who am I to feel bad about losing my Dad, who died a natural death in his home. The new story I am writing is owning my story. Yes, I am blessed to have had my Dad around until he was in his late 70s. Yes, other people have way more traumatic stories. But pushing my feelings in a box, not allowing my experience, isn’t loyal to anyone. It isn’t practicing self-loyalty. It isn’t helping the other people whose Dad story is way more traumatic. In fact, honoring my story, being sad, crying allows me to be more present to other people’s stories. I remember on my first Father’s Day without Dad, a friend of mine who I didn’t know well but had lost her Dad a few years before reached out to me to say—today will be hard, and that’s ok—sending you hugs. That simple message helped so much, and I think about it every year on this day. She was able to acknowledge my pain because she had acknowledged her pain. She knew this day was hard, and she gave me permission to know this day was hard.
So to all of you who have lost your Dad, never had a good relationship with your Dad, or just miss your Dad. I know it is hard, and I am sending you big hugs.
And to all of you who still have your Dad and can laugh with him and hug him and hear his silly Dad jokes—give him a big hug. Soak it up and love every minute of your time with him.
I will be over here trying to unhook my stories around feelings and allowing the sadness and joy that happens.