“You’re going to feel some pressure,” the doctor murmured as he inserted the needle into my elbow. Turns out “some pressure” was the euphemism of the century. What I actually felt during the five-minute platelet injection was teeth-gritting, fist-clenched agony.
By the time the short procedure was over, hot tears were slipping down the sides of my face, along my hairline, over the edge of my jaw and down my neck, where they dripped one at a time, slowly and steadily like fluid in an IV bag, onto the white sheet beneath me.
Much to my surprise, once the tears started, they didn’t stop. Neither the doctor nor the nurse knew quite what to make of my silent but persistent weeping. The nurse thrust a fist full of tissues into my hand. The doctor advised ice, two Extra Strength Tylenol and limited elbow movement. And then they both fled, the nurse urging “take your time,” before pulling the door closed with a quiet click behind her.
I cried as I retrieved my purse from the hook and gingerly slipped it over the shoulder of my good arm.
I cried as I hurried through the waiting room, chin tucked, hair shielding my streaming eyes so as not to scare the living daylights out of the patients awaiting their own appointments.
I cried as I drove home, wrangling the steering wheel with one hand.
I was still crying as I tucked myself into the corner of the sofa, cradling my throbbing elbow with a cupped palm.
It was only then that it occurred to me that I might be crying over something other than my elbow.
Earlier that morning I had published the blog post I had written about my decision to quit book writing. As I’d sat in the orthopedist’s waiting room, I’d pulled the post up on my phone to read some of the comments that had begun to accumulate.
I didn’t expect any “big feelings.” Though I’d published the post about my decision that morning, I’d made the actual decision weeks before. Choosing to leave traditional book-writing and publishing was a decision that, after careful discernment, I believed in my heart was right and good. I acknowledged there was sadness – I even named it grief in the post – but mostly what I felt in the aftermath of the decision, and as I wrote the blog post about it, was relief, an unburdening.
Until, that is, the orthopedist’s needle pricked something else far beneath flesh, bone and tendon.
What began as a tearful reaction to unexpected physical pain crossed an invisible threshold. My tears at the sudden, sharp stab of the needle deep in the soft tissue of my elbow opened a portal of sorts into which I tumbled headlong, like a time-space traveler hurtling into an unfamiliar dimension.
The tears prompted by the unexpected jolt of searing pain opened the way to the sorrow and loss I had acknowledged in words but hadn’t actually allowed myself to feel.
Experts say that we Enneagram Type 3s are the least aware of and in touch with our feelings. Until recently I would have told you that I was a person who was very in touch with her feelings, thank you very much. But I am beginning to see this might not be entirely true. I am beginning to realize that just because you say you feel something and even name it publicly doesn’t mean you’ve taken the time and space to actually feel it – to wade into that sorrow and allow yourself to experience the confusing, uncomfortable, unkempt mess of it.
The truth is, it’s hard and deeply uncomfortable to feel, really feel, pain. No one actually wants to sit with and in pain. And yet, I believe the only path to true healing, growth and transformation is to do exactly that – to step into the pain, to stay in it and lean into it for as long as it takes. As so many wise people have said, the only way out of grief is through it.
After the emotional ungluing in the orthopedist’s office, I spent the rest of the week quietly and slowly reading through every beautiful, heartfelt, kind, loving, and encouraging email, blog post comment, Facebook message and tweet I received in the wake of my announcement about leaving traditional publishing. There were A LOT. (thank you!!!)
My inclination was to rush, to skim over these notes of kindness, empathy and compassion. I wanted to read through them fast, to get it over with in order to keep myself at arm’s length from whatever emotions might begin to rise to the surface.
But I didn’t do that. Instead, I read each message slowly and thoughtfully and responded personally to many of them. As I read and replied, I let myself receive and feel all the feelings – gratitude, love, joy, relief, regret, sorrow, fear, disappointment, grief. I stayed in the feelings, leaned into them – into their unruliness, into their stubborn refusal to be managed and contained.
It was uncomfortable and unfun to feel the real brunt of this loss. And yet, I believe it was an important and necessary step toward trusting in something that is, for right now, beyond what I can see.