When my husband came in to tell me about the shooting yesterday morning, my first thought was “Sweet Jesus, turn off the television. Our kids understand English.” Immediately following that thought, I’m ashamed to admit, was “I can NOT do social media today.” I started envisioning my feed filling with stock images of the Vegas strip at night with #prayforvegas superimposed over it and I just…couldn’t. I threw my phone into my laundry basket and flopped face first on the bed. My husband was all, “uh…the kids are currently regrouting the kitchen tiles with oatmeal. You okay?”
No, I thought. No I’m not okay. I cannot go out into the world today and be reminded to pray. I will not listen to mothers in the parking lot say “oh, isn’t it awful…did you know that guy belonged to a Golf Club?!” And if I’m told even one time to “hold my loved ones close and count my blessings,” I might punch a sister in the face. I asked Sheldon to give me a minute so that I could gather myself and when I got quiet, it dawned on me that I’d spent ten minutes armoring up against other people’s reactions but hadn’t had a single recognizable feeling about the actual event itself. What is that? Why am I systematically picking apart the assumed potential responses I might encounter from others and giving them either an eye-roll or an even bigger middle finger? What’s wrong with me that all I want to do is hide away from other humans, armor myself against their humanity, and disconnect?
We didn’t do feelings in my family when I was coming up. I mean, crying at funerals was acceptable, but those who could remain stoic through even the most difficult of circumstances were the ones lauded as being strong. Worthy. Yes, I just sliced through this finger, but I rubbed some sugar on it and took a shot of whisky. It’s fine. Do we have any super glue? I learned early to shove all emotion deep down inside and be okay. The problem with pretending like hurt isn’t there is that…well…it IS. And it’s going to stay there and fester until it has an outlet. People who knew me when I was getting loaded know that my drinking tended to result in one of two things: I was in a snot-smeared heap in a corner weeping about God-knows-what, or hurling poison rage all over anyone who had the misfortune to get in my path.
Getting sober meant coming to terms with my feelings-phobia, and starting to get curious about what it would be like if I allowed whatever I was resisting to have a voice. But it’s a practice, y’all. And I’m still not great at it. When things like this happen, I go into my default mode of shut down, armor up, wall-off. And when I see other people having big responses to tough stuff, I don’t trust it. It’s easier to be numb, isn’t it? I can’t imagine I’m alone in this. Even for those of us who learned to appropriately feel and express emotions as children, we’re 300 mass shootings in this year. Three. Hundred. It’s just too much. It’s too exhausting. It’s easier to just throw “praying for Vegas” into a social media post and go on about our lives. I think I got so squirrely yesterday because I want to stay numb, but I have enough experience with exploring emotion and vulnerability to believe that owning them is crucial for my well-being and necessary for living an awake, open-hearted life.
Every time my ego or my brain runs wild, I try to give voice to the feeling associated with the train of thought:
Oh my God. We have to DO something. We have to get rid of all the guns. Why do all these people have guns. GET THE GUNS. Also, cancel the movie outing with the children.
I feel afraid.
Even if we do get gun control laws passed, there are thousands of illegal firearms already circulating through this country. If someone wants one badly enough, he’ll get one.
I feel hopeless.
This is not new. We all think that right now is the age in which we start our hand basket descent. But unthinkable acts of violence and terror have been happening since the dawn of humanity. Semi-automatic weapons are the new “rape all the women before you lock them in the church and set it on fire,” and smartphones and sensationalism give us all immediate and urgent access to information, but humans have always and will always commit horrifying atrocities upon one another.
I feel despondent.
I can predict literally everything that I’ll read on the internet today should I choose to open Facebook. Pray. Hug your kids. Love heals. Gun Control. It’s a script. It’s the same shit every time.
I feel disconnected.
I’ll call my damn senator but the NRA will never allow for any of these (useless) proposed solutions to stand. So I’ll probably do nothing. My voice doesn’t matter anyway.
I feel impotent.
When I acknowledged and gave voice to my emotional reality, I felt relief. My relief gave me just enough space to not take the frustration that accompanies resisted emotion out on my precious children, who must grow up in a home of relative safety and serenity if they are to walk through the world healing it with love. My relief allowed me access back into my body, to integrate my truth rather than avoiding it, which allowed me to interact with everyone I met with a bigger container for their feelings (or resistance to them) and with more grace than self-righteous judgment.
My relief, however, did not erase my understanding that the world can be terrifying, people do horrible things and suffering should not be ignored. I heard that one politician said something to the effect of “sitting with our grief is not enough—we MUST move to enact change.” I get it. I’m with her. We must be the change and all of that. But so much of our culture these days feels built around out-performing, out-running, ignoring, avoiding, detaching. I cannot be a fully alive human if I do not make space for the full wingspan of all my different emotions. Sitting with the discomfort and acknowledging it before I move to act is crucial if I am to act in a way that comes from the truth of my humanity.
People who shoot machine guns into crowds of people have lost their humanity. Somewhere in the caverns of hurt and pain and suffering, perhaps in the chasm of mental illness, this man’s very personhood was lost. I don’t believe that any one alive was born evil. I just don’t. I believe in God and I believe in the infinite wonder of his creation and I don’t think this man came out of his mother bound for mass-murder.
I’m told day after day that to succeed as a blogger I’m supposed to offer solutions, answers, and quick-fixes (Ha). I have none. None. I will, however, say this: in a culture already bogged in the mire of resisting feelings and numbing out, it becomes ever easier to shove away the hurt that accompanies yet another horrifying shooting. We must reclaim our humanness and feel this stuff deeply and thoroughly if we are to pursue real solutions. Those of us with children have to make the tough choice to sit with pain and inhabit discomfort, to model for our kids that feeling our feelings is not only normal but necessary.
I don’t know how to end the problem of mass shootings in the world. But I know that the more I show up in my humanity, the more I make room for those I encounter to show up in theirs. The more we acknowledge and talk about feelings in our homes, the less shame and isolation our children will feel. And the more room for feelings we make in our communities, in our country, and in our culture, the less alienation, fear, and anger will drive us as people. Yes, YES. Gun policy must change. But also y’all? People who feel safe and held through feeling their feelings, who can allow all of their emotions without bottling, resisting, or numbing are not people who shoot semi-automatic weapons into crowds of people. That may be a provocative and over-simplifying statement. But it’s what I believe.