“I’m here while you’re in it”: On being accompanied when you’re at your worst.

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.

Because you need to know
that someone is here
while you’re in it.

Genius therapist.

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
that someone is here
while you’re in it.”

– genius therapist.

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.
For many,
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.

Keep checking in with me.
You need to know that someone is here when you’re in it.

May you be companioned in it, friends.

x

Daughtry, & Green, M. (2020). The art of accompanying. Immortalise.

black friday, true crime podcasts, & all that is unmissable

You may have heard that my husband and I are building a house. Which we have been building for the last 299409 years. She is a beauty and I can’t believe that we’ll be actually living in it someday soon. This piece is not about building a house – I’m sure many will come of the like – but it is about the fact that when you’re at the end of a house build, you rarely have money. The money you do have should and does go into buying boring things like curtains. and septic tanks. and doors. You know, the things that make a house liveable…but not sexy. Septic tanks are not sexy.

Now despite the reality that I know I should be buying roller door fire retardant seals (clearly the most exciting product on the planet), this weekend I have found myself scrolling Instagram and Facebook, seeing add after add of “BLACK FRIDAY SALE”, and wanting so desperately to buy all of it. Whatever IT was. Not only do did I want 1200 thread count sheets at 70% off, or that gorgeous Gorman dress that would be so amazing over summer, but the hard truth is that I cared less about how wonderful all these purchases would make me feel  (which is the #1 rule and trick of consumerism) and the identity I am creating (which is the #2 rule and trick of consumerism), and more about how anxious I was on missing out on the opportunity to feel better about myself and support the image that I am creating (which is really the driving force behind #1 and #2).

Let’s state that again. Yes I want wanted dresses and sheets and crockery and Rollie shoes and environmentally sound keep cups. But the anxiety on missing out on the opportunity to gather these items was a far stronger force than any desire for discounted Kikki K 2019 diaries.

I just didn’t want to miss out.

The thing is, this is what the consumerist society is designed to do.

Consumerism is DESIGNED TO MAKE YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT YOURSELF.
SO THAT YOU BUY MORE STUFF. It is defined as Perpetual non-satisfaction.
IT is BEST FRIENDS WITH ANXIETY and man, do they have a good working relationship.
The system works so well: Guys, buy stuff to make you feel good & represent your identity. But more than that, do it NOW so that you won’t miss out on becoming/staying part of the in crowd who have already done so.  

I’m not knocking purchasing. I do it all the time – just take a look at my 63 strong hoard collection of vintage dresses. I’m not even talking about the role of of unethical purchasing or irresponsible stewardship of our money, which are both really important things to consider in our purchasing habits.

But if you are feeling anxious about shopping – and what you’re missing out on, please. take a breath. wait a minute or hour or day to purchase.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE CLOTHES.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE HOUSES.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE T2.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY.

Perhaps you are one of the chosen ones in our society who aren’t implored to shop. But maybe you like podcasts instead. I love podcasts. They’re so good. Give me a true crime, or a revisionist history, or a tv show dissection, or a 99% invisible, or a Cultural Theory, and I am done. I am happy. and I am probably smug that you haven’t heard of the podcast yet and I get to introduce it to you.

But here’s the thing. I have been anxious about podcasts too! In my work commute I have an hour of juicy time to listen to my episodes. But more frequently than I care to admit, I have caught myself thinking “What podcast am I missing out on? What knowledge or in joke or unbelievable-but-true crime am I missing out on knowing the ins and outs of?”

This is dumb.

Podcasts are a privilege of the elite and learned. Podcasts are a joy of creation and thinking and sharing of knowledge and humour and wisdom and musical theatre. We should delight in the fact that they’re free and that we get to listen to them. We don’t have to be anxious about what we’re missing out on. Just put it on the list and you’ll get to it if and when you can.

We don’t have to add a consumerism lens to our resources and time.
We just don’t. It’s exhausting and robs us of joy and peace.
Maybe we can choose not to. 

You and I, dear friends, have far greater things to spend our time and energy on than feeling anxious about the purchases that we should be making to feel good or the podcast that we’re missing out on.

If you are feeling anxious, I implore you: Name it if that’s what you’re feeling, and consider why you are feeling like you’re missing out or feeling crap about yourself today. Talk to someone about it. Pray about it. Read some truths about yourself – Such as you are an incredible masterpiece, a gift, a delight, someone worthwhile.

It might save you some dollars and maybe also give you some joy and peace that lasts longer than it takes to open the package.