Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rethinking Normal

"I'm sorry," she blurted out through her tears.

"Sorry... for what?" 

"I'm blubbering all over the place..." her voice trailed off. She oozed misery, ashamed of her inability to control her emotions.

Her friend stared at her in disbelief. She was living under a great deal of stress, she was in nearly constant physical pain, her husband had abandoned her and was sleeping with someone else, and one of her kids was dealing with a life-threatening illness. 

And she was supposed to "keep it together"??


I think that many people have gotten a warped view of what "normal" is. It's not "normal" to be unaffected by the body-blows of life. If it were, we would never have been given emotions to begin with. They were given as a pressure relief valve, a way to identify when boundaries have been crossed, or when we have experienced loss or injustice. They give us a way to identify what's wrong and take the first steps toward achieving balance.

I agree that it's never a good idea to pitch a tent in the wilds of self-pity and stay there for months or years. However, when life deals us a bad hand - as it is bound to on occasion - it's okay to react. It's normal to feel those unpleasant feelings.

In fact, as hard and horrible as some of those feelings are to experience (and I must admit there were times I wished that I could shut my feelings "off"), in the final analysis, I'd rather feel them than shove them underneath, subjugate them, and have them show up (and they WILL show up) another way: ulcers, heart disease, high blood pressure ... maybe even cancer. 

Our culture seems to place a great deal of value on "having it all together." However, it's been my experience that those who seem nonplussed in the face of tragedy - with rare exceptions - are putting on a front that they think others want to see. They're living in denial, lying to others and sometimes even to themselves. They shut off not only the unpleasant emotions, but they find they are unable to feel the pleasant ones after such a long time of "clamping down."

I used to live like that - and I prided myself on it, even to the point of making such an aloof exterior seem virtuous. 

When the facades came down and I started discovering who I really was, I learned that it's okay to be human, to be vulnerable, to admit weakness, to own up to mistakes, to have emotions and express them, .... in short, to be real. Many of the experiences through which I learned ... were hard lessons, to be sure, but having lived like this for nearly four years now, I'm realizing that this life ... this unmasked, unwrapped life ... THIS is normal. 

And - even though it is sometimes risky, and sometimes I cry - it's still good. I'm more alive than I ever was behind that mask - and it's worth a few tears now and then, to be able to know happiness.

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