The only way out is through. I am not the first to say it and tonight it was my wise son who reminded me what I have always taught him and his siblings: that it is only with the courage to communicate and willingness to become vulnerable that releases us from our past injuries. It is an active process, this letting go, which commits you to becoming emotionally intelligent. Learning to recognize and name the basic emotional currency of our daily lives is fundamental to allowing life to move through us and not get stuck in the stories that can easily come to define us.
I did not learn these lessons as a child. There was no emotional processing in my original family and my parents were already deeply steeped in emotional baggage from their own pasts. Lucky for me that I began therapy at the age of 13, where this basic skill of learning to name and witness my emotions saved me. It became the bedrock of all of my adult relationships and the first and only rule that couldn’t be broken as we raised our children. This is maybe the hardest work we do for ourselves and gets even more complicated in our relationships.
Some people, too many, run from their emotions. They believe it is possible to ignore or withdraw or subjugate their emotional experience from the rest of life. My mother would say over and over again to me, “I am not interested in living in the past… you can’t let go of it.” The truth of it is that I embody her past. All she has to do is look at me, and she is forced to see the emotional weight of her failed marriage and the many ways she abandoned her children.
When I went to her house and saw that she did not have a single image of me or my siblings in her house, I understood just how determined she is to divorce herself from herself. It was heartbreaking, and when I said so, she responded with the same refrain: “I am done with the past and don’t make me talk about it again.” She couldn’t understand, no matter how many ways I tried to explain, that the only way out of her past was through it.
This syndrome is more common than not. When we avoid the pain of relationships, we actually remove ourselves from the heart of them. Processing where things go wrong and recognizing our emotional responses as our own is the only way to maintain our ability to love and, even more importantly, be loved. My mother could only blame me, furious at the feelings she experienced in my presence. She couldn’t receive anything from me; she had nothing to give me. There was nothing but the past that she was trying to escape from between us.
Back at home, I am grateful for the simplest acts of communicating with my husband and my kids, of being able to express and share my emotional life. I know this is the source of my health and the wealth of this loving family life.