By Heather Walton
In the past few years, I have had to let go of quite a few people and things. Some of the things I let go of were for the best, because they were toxic parts of my old life. I made many decisions over the first four decades of my life that were more reactionary than thought out. I did things that I thought would please others, that would keep the peace, that I thought I “should” do, or that I felt trapped into doing.
For decades, I didn’t allow myself to feel much of anything. I simply pressed forward. I spent much of my time stressed and anxious, but I can’t say I had many true highs or lows emotionally. I didn’t get happy or sad much. I didn’t get elated or angry. I did what I could to alleviate the ever-present stress and anxiety. Mostly I stayed really, really busy doing things that distracted me from the pain of toxic living. And I did whatever I felt would keep the peace with everyone else. Trouble was, I didn’t have much peace for myself.
In the past several years, I have gone down the path of codependency recovery, and it has brought inner peace, confidence, and independence. It’s also brought something I didn’t expect, and I couldn’t have planned for–deep feelings. I have learned how to love. To really, deeply, passionately love. I have experienced true happiness and true intimacy. I have learned what it really means to trust and to be vulnerable. I have learned to feel good about decisions, even when everyone else doesn’t approve.
However, I don’t believe it’s possible to have deep positive feelings without also having deep negative feelings. For most of my life, I viewed negative feelings, such as anger and sadness, as bad. I was good at looking good, putting on a happy face, and presenting a mask to the world. But just as the good feelings weren’t real, I also never gave myself permission to have any negative feelings.
Just as I have learned to love, to be happy, and to enjoy life, I also have experienced anger and sadness over the past five years, literally for the first time in my life. Anger gave me the ability to set boundaries in the first place. This was productive. I understand that there is such a thing as sinful anger, and trust me, I have felt that too–more often than I would like to admit. But anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as we deal with it properly.
But the biggest surprise is sadness. My dad died when I was 8 years old. No sadness. I moved and left friends behind too many times to count. No sadness. I spent many years in a loveless marriage. No sadness. I simply didn’t know how to be sad. I didn’t cry for many, many years. Not even for a death. The well of tears was dry.
However, going through a separation and a divorce brought many tears over a three year period. I spent many hours crying out to God in prayer or crying myself to sleep in loneliness. When I remarried, the joy of new love soon brought the news that we had conceived a child. But three weeks later, we were devastated to find out that I was losing the baby. This has furnished me more tears than I knew existed, and it has brought a steady supply of sadness.
It has been nearly a year since that child was conceived, and most of the time I don’t think about her. But sometimes, seeing a baby, an expectant mom, or walking past the diaper section of a store will bring that grief right back to the forefront. Other times, that familiar sadness will just materialize out of nowhere with no explanation. I’ve been told you never get over losing a child, even an unborn one, and I’m starting to believe it.
So, about these feelings, I never understood how intense they could be. I had been emotionally numb for so long that I couldn’t have imagined the potency of raw emotion. Don’t misunderstand: I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There are few things more tragic in life than a life void of true feelings. Sadness and grief hurt like nothing I’ve ever known, but these are the price of true humanness. And there would be no depth of love, no rejoicing in victory, no real happiness, no true fellowship, without the inverse feelings of sadness, anger, disappointment, and loneliness. I have passion and feeling in my life that didn’t exist before, and it’s worth every tear I’ve shed along the way.