By Melissa Black
You can find out a lot about yourself when you pay attention to what makes you cry.
Sometimes I’ll see something or hear someone say something that literally hits me so hard I break down right there, with no warning and no immediate explanation. I just start to heave, tears pouring down faster than I can make them. I start sobbing because something in me has been recognized, something that I’ve probably been ignoring or swishing away with my hand.
I watch and listen to a lot of interviews. There’s something almost addictive about listening to other people talk about life and how they live it; I want to know how people overcome themselves and learn to be alive without driving themselves crazy. Other people, particularly older and wiser women, seem to be infinitely capable of handing me pieces of myself that I didn’t know I’d lost. During one interview, the first I can remember that made me sob fiercely and unexpectedly, a phenomenally successful women shared with the audience what she would’ve shared with her sixteen-year-old-self if she had had the chance: Don’t worry, I’ve got this. You’re too young to be worrying about how it’s all going to pan out. Go have fun, go live, be carefree. I’ve got you. A powerful sadness erupted from me. I’d wished in that moment that someone would say that to me and mean it.
In a different interview, another woman expressed the most significant thing she had yet learned, she shared with us what she would have shared with her younger self in all of those years of searching: That voice in your head that tells you you’ve not done enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not enough of this or that, isn’t God. It isn’t Divine. It’s the critic in your head that never can tell when things are good and when a possibility of peace and self-compassion exists. I covered my eyes with my hands and I wept.
The most recent incident regarding this intense and sudden emotional outburst wasn’t from an interview, but from a lecture. This woman is so inspiring to me that she’s become intimidating – she’s like a phantom of a personal guru, always there to kick my ass into shape when I’m off chasing the tails of my fears. She spoke about forgiveness, belonging, home. My eyes are welling up at the mere thought of these words, the inner movement upon me before my fingers finished typing them out.
I wonder if I’m the only one who feels as though my problems are ridiculous, petty, and insignificant. A lot of people don’t have the luxury of being able to dabble in contemplations of spirituality. A lot of people are trying to survive on basic human levels while I’m blessed enough to have the time and space to learn to survive the voice in my own head. But this is the struggle I’ve found, it’s the struggle I know. I know about not having a home, I know about not being able to pay the bills, I know about the imminent and perpetual threat to the roof over my head, but I’m not trying to prove anything. The toughest challenges I’ve faced – I’m still facing – are those of letting go, accepting good things, and forgiving myself.
Perhaps it’s because people have often thought of me as mature and intellectual that the seeming smallness of my personal problems evokes so much shame. Who am I to worry about the impossibility of receiving? The hand around my heart that often forbids its opening, its breathing in of fresh and joyful air? Aren’t those the things that make me cry, that bring to light my deepest pains and struggles? People speaking about how they’ve learned to see themselves as enough, as loved, as a person who belongs in the human family – that’s the magic that brings me closer to my shadows. Maybe it’s refreshing to understand that other people nurtured these weaknesses in themselves – the inability to forgive oneself, the feeling of disconnection in one’s own life – other people thought of them as real problems, real issues that needed attention and love and kindness. Maybe that’s how they got to the other side. They took themselves seriously.
So who am I, then? What am I learning about myself when I witness myself tearing up when I hear Sheryl Crow singing if it makes you happy, why the hell are you so sad?
I’m sensitive, for one. I’m pretty sure I always have been. I feel things deeply, I grab at words and feelings and people and pull them into my heart, even when it’s not good for me. But I knew that.
I’ve been through a lot in the past three or so years. I knew that, too, but have I really honored that? The wounds of our hearts don’t heal as quickly as the wounds of our skin. The sacred platelets of our spirit take their time clumping to stop the flow of blood, the flow of memories, the flow of habits and beliefs. They don’t just pile up one on top of the other – they weave a quilt that gives us warmth, they etch themselves into a picture that portrays valuable wisdom. A lot can be learned when we allow time for healing. Even as our days are inevitably beginning and ending and beginning and ending all over again, there is space in the day that invites an intimate conversation with the wounds of our hearts. There’s always time to listen, even if we’re doing the dishes or driving to school or eating a meal alone. Apparently listening hasn’t been one of my strong suits. So I’m learning that for every eruption of sadness, of regret, is a small tear in the fabric of my psyche that hasn’t yet been tended to.
I keep on believing that what I’ve been doing has been working, but the fact that it truly hasn’t been couldn’t be more blatant. I know this because it scares me to think about it – it scares me to consider that the way I’m living and treating myself isn’t going to work anymore and I have to change in a radical way. Because who knows how to go about doing that? Who knows how to start being a different person today, right now? It doesn’t matter how persistent the dull pain of living as the ghost of your own potential happens to be, familiarity seems a lot more comfortable than the obscurity of changing oneself. We think we’re changing ourselves when we move, or hang around with new people, or listen to different music, or eat new things or move our bodies in new ways or read books that diverge from our regular status quo, but we’re not. We’re changing things about our lives, which is important and influential. But in order to change ourselves, our being, we have to change the way we talk to ourselves in our heads. We have to be more discerning about what we believe, what we react to, where we place our attention, what we buy into. We have to be naked enough to stand alone in a moment of our lives and make a new choice that we’ve never made before, the choice to be differently. And it’s scary, and there’s no guarantees, and there’s no path laid out conveniently before us. So I’ve learned about this, this huge risk that I’m continually trying to take but keep sort of backing down from. I’ve also learned that a million other people are in this exact place, this exact threshold between the person they’re growing out of and the person they really hope to grow into. So maybe it’s a human thing to struggle through personal transitions, not a crazy person, wimpy, lazy, disappointing, chickenshit thing.
It’s easy to believe I’ve forgiven myself when I close my eyes and declare that I have. But guilt haunts me, and it’s so hard to talk about because people ask what there is to be so ashamed of and I can’t come up with an answer. That’s the worst of it. It’s hard to shake because it’s elusive, it’s a ghost, it doesn’t have a face or a name but it swells up inside me and makes me close down. I feel guilty when I don’t feel well, I feel guilty when I haven’t worked out yet even when its 9:00 in the morning, I feel guilty when I’m insecure, I feel guilty when I’m rude to people and impatient with people and judgmental of people because I’m insecure, I feel guilty when I want to rest because most of the work I do is in my own head so it doesn’t seem like I’ve produced much, I feel guilty when I don’t write because writing is a gift I’ve been given, I feel guilty for not knowing what I want yet with total clarity, I feel guilty for not always wanting to engage with silence. I suppose it’s the same sort of guilt that everyone probably feels on some level – the guilt of not being right in this moment the person we think we ought to be. So I try to forgive myself and I try to understand myself and my weird and random shame, and some days I feel free and some days I feel like a prisoner. I’m learning that, if I really have witnessed the true and divine presence of love (and I know I have) I certainly haven’t been allowing myself to partake in it. I talk about it and write about it but rarely do I send it inward, not the whole capacity of love, not the unconditional stuff that really heals and severs ties to old habits of isolation. Thinking of myself as deserving of peace, of belonging, of being taken back into a pair of loving arms no matter who I haven’t been able to be, has been challenging to say the least. But I keep aiming toward that, I keep hoping for that. And hope isn’t cheap and it isn’t taken lightly by the strong and persevering selves of our deeper hearts.
I function, and I laugh, and I smile and engage with the people around me in meaningful ways. I’m not depressed. I know this because I’ve been depressed and I’m in a whole different world, one where my heart can be touched at any moment and where I’m willing to be wrong in my harsh judgements and criticisms of myself.
I write, I’m pulled to my keyboard, my notebook, my journal. I am consistently pulled here to this space of usefulness and movement and truth, and that makes me cry a little too when I think about it. I avoid my own words, raw, splayed out across expanses of white, for weeks sometimes because I know change comes when I articulate my own wisdom, but I always come back because I have no choice. I’ve been given a gift of intimacy, a gift of longing; the desire to have a voice and to craft what’s inside of me into a cohesive picture never really fades. So I cry about the good things, too. About the little blessings that make it impossible to forget how far I’ve come, like how rational I can be, how calm and unreactive in the face of my own chaos.
I can navigate my sadnesses knowing that they point me inward to a sacred place. I’m learning every day. I’m becoming, becoming, becomin
Melissa Black is 20 years old and a sophomore in college. She has turned to writing as a source of expression and healing.
Featured image courtesy of Tiffany Lucero.