In a recent session with my genius therapist she encouraged me to speak of what was making me angry.
“Tell me one thing that’s making you angry.”
“Just one thing?” I replied. (I’m funny, friends).
“Start with one. We’ll work our way from there.”
I then shared some aspects of anger (a particularly potent emotion for me). We discussed triggers of that anger, along with fear and frustrations. Then after a while, in a lull of conversation, she announced;
“We’re going to stay in this moment.”
“What do you mean?”, I asked.
“Keep feeling what you’re feeling. Don’t summarise, explain or justify. Just feel it”.
“No thank you”, I replied. Nope. I didn’t want to. I was uncomfortable with the focused attention and lack of permission to move on out of the moment. But she pushed back, told me to ground my feet, to sit up straight in the chair, and then added; “Keep looking at me. Keep making eye contact with me.”
“That’s ridiculous”, I countered. No thank you. Again.
“You have to do it – even if you can’t maintain it. Keep checking in with me.”
Now dear reader, when you read this, the process of getting me to sit in my sadness and fear, my anger and frustration, may seem like a cruel act. Indeed, it was excruciating to experience. In sitting in the feeling, my emotions quite quickly manifested physically: My jaw started clenching. My breaths became shallow. My back began to ache, and my legs began jiggling. And then I started dry heaving.
It was really full on. Instead of diminishing how I was feeling, however, my therapist calmly collected her rubbish bin and placed it at my feet, just in case I needed it. She talked me through some deep(er) breathing. “This is normal”, she said. “Your body is catching up with your heart. Let’s ride this out. Keep checking in with me. Keep making eye contact with me.”
“Why?!” I asked, exasperated. “Why do I need to keep making eye contact?!!”
– If you can believe it, for me this was by far the most painful part in the whole experience.
She smiled, and replied – “Because you need to know that someone is here while you’re in it”
I’m going to write that again.
I was floored.
The whole experience was about 15 minutes. It felt like hours.
But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
What a revelation and gift that presence was.
I was accompanied in the awfulness.
and it made it better.
The Christian heritage tells of a Jesus, who in the hours leading up to his death, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, desperate for respite, reassurance, and wisdom. In the garden we are presented with a man who was deeply anxious. Who was desperate. Who felt his fear – and felt it deeply. We are told that Jesus’ sweat was like drops of blood – which is actually a confirmed medical condition of hematohidrosis – where severe anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system, hemorrhaging the sweat glands. We are presented with one who did not deny his humanity amongst the fear.
I’ve always been arrested by this story. It is a central moment of God displaying his humanity in the person of Jesus – and this is the very point. He experienced deep fear, deep pain, and deep anguish.
Thus when we too feel deep fear, deep pain, and deep anguish,
we too can be companioned in it,
because he has experienced it too.
KJ Ramsey has beautifully noted,
Fear doesn’t have to be an enemy to conquer –
it can be a place to be companioned by love.
Accompaniment. What a privilege being soothed – not thrashed – back into strength.
No one ever moves from a space of fear by experiencing more shame.
No one has ever moved from a place of judgement and terror via more judgement.
But judgment and shame is often what we think we deserve when we have failed, or are doubting, or are tired, angry or resentful. When we judge others, I suspect it is often a misdirected projection of our own perceived inadequacies.
So let’s turn this narrative on its head.
What does it look like when we are accompanied in those moments of frailty?
What does it mean to recognise – as we see in the stories above – our humanity within reality?
What could it mean to be accompanied in those moments of terror, of dread, of brutality, of depression, of hopelessness? What does it mean to accept (with kindness) – or even tolerate – or be in the same room as – the parts of ourselves that are frail or burdened with heavy realities?
From personal experience, it is life changing.
Here’s genius therapist again:
“…you need to know– genius therapist.
that someone is here
while you’re in it.”
Since when did we believe the lie that we’re supposed to experience life alone? – To be more specific, when life feels like you’re enduring, and surviving rather than thriving – who told you that you’re supposed to work it out on your own? It’s a lie. It’s a load of bollocks. The lie is three fold;
1) That anger/fear/frailty is something that to be ashamed of.
2) That anger/fear/frailty is something that can be squashed, intellectualised or compartmentalised away.
3) That when we do feel these fears, when we are ‘in it’, it is something that should be endured alone.
Lies, Lies and more Lies.
Some friends and I were discussing this confrontational – but also strangely hospitable – vulnerability recently, and one shared a stunning confession with us;
Sometimes I look around and I genuinely feel like I’m the only one who’s thinking, “But this is all still terrifying, right? Are we allowed to say that?”…I am reassured by how the Lord is not particularly impressed by how “fearless” or “strong” I am (and I certainly know he doesn’t need me to be) and how precious and beautiful my brokenness and weakness is to him.
Another dear friend echoed the need to forge language and space for our humanity and frailty.
The need to only show a story or victory, dominion, mastery and perfection is exhausting at its best, and destructive at its worst.
Feeling alone while you’re in it
is one of life’s tragedies.
it’s one of life’s realities.
But it doesn’t mean that it is how it should be.
Maybe fear can be a place to be companioned by love;
“Sometimes life is particularly hard and the soul suffers and feels eroded or crushed. At times like these we are tender and extraordinarily sensitive. If we can find a soul to accompany us and help us to open these wounds and sores to the light and love it can be a source of great healing and beauty.”Daughtry & Green, 2020
The next time that you are ‘in’ it, (and let’s be realistic, it’s a when, not if), I would ask that you not berate yourself for feeling what you’re feeling. I would invite you to consider the possibility that you can – and really should – be companioned by those who love you – in that space. I might offer the question of what healing, beauty and sacredness can be discovered in the companioned moment. I might also ask what it could look like to offer that invitation, and hold that space, for your own loved ones when they’re in it.
It might be awkward and weird. It might be painful and clumsy. But that’s where the glory is, friends.
May you be companioned in it, friends.
Daughtry, & Green, M. (2020). The art of accompanying. Immortalise.