I have a section in Use Fewer Words titled Feelings. It opens with this:
You feel your way
Back to your heart
You don’t think your way there.From Use Fewer Words, ©Kevin Shinn, 2021
When a person experiences loss, regardless of what it is, it’s an emotional ordeal. It doesn’t matter if you lose your keys, your phone, your dog or your health, there is an internal price attached to it. It feels off, maybe even unfair. And all loss takes a toll on the body.
I began to feel the consequence of my losses most acutely in 2016. I was in the midst of losing my businesses and in the slow burn of losing my wife to cancer. I was losing control of my body to anxiety resulting in a feeling of being unmoored and adrift.
These losses, as difficult as they were, provided me an opportunity for clarity.
To risk saying the obvious, The more I lost, the less I had to lose. I could evaluate things differently. When my restaurants closed, I was no longer a businessman. When my wife died, I was no longer married. When I went bankrupt, I didn’t have any money to manage. These three titles of business owner, husband and fiscal steward no longer applied.
Then who am I without these things? Am I more than this? If so, how do I go about discovering who I am again?
Navigating loss can feel a little like trying to get out of bed in the middle of the night to get a drink of water out of the fridge without turning on the lights so as not to bother anyone. The walk down the hallway feels familiar, but I didn’t see the dog’s ball underfoot that nearly sent me to the floor. After tripping, I’m now extra cautious and put my hands out to feel the walls, then for the dining room chair. I touch it, but still afraid I’m going to stub my toe. I’m looking for reassurance that I can’t see, but hopefully can feel. I’ve seen that chair in the light before, but because of the darkness at the moment, I can’t fully detect it.
This was the word picture I gave myself as I began the process of sorting through all this loss with a therapist. I was going to have to feel my way back to my true identity. And I would most certainly trip over an unexpected obstacle or crush my toe on an unanticipated setback. I would need permission to walk without the luxury of clear eyesight.
I would have to feel my way back.
I’ve always been a man sensitive to my emotions. Even back to childhood, I was a very tender-hearted kid, but I didn’t grow up in an environment that recognized this trait in me. I was raised to treat emotions as something to be avoided or dismissed, because they tend to get in the way of work and survival. It never mattered what I felt as a child. My emotions and the opinions that went with them were not considered. As a result, I was never able to navigate them until much later in my life.
As I entered into marriage, this upbringing was reinforced. Emotions were not seen as safe and therefore not to be trusted. Anger was the predominant feeling that was allowed expression in my marriage. And that got old really fast.
As I found myself living alone in my new identity, I noticed that I could now pay attention to my emotions without fear of repercussion. I began to write in this direction, and this poem served as a reference point to what I was experiencing.
Don’t listen to your feelings Said everyone But wisdom insisted Don’t pay attention to that Its bad advice
Wisdom continued Never abandon your feeling Just as you would never Abandon your child Listen intently to them
Start by holding them Close As you would nurture an infant If you aren't sure what to do I’ll help you
Wisdom asked Do you think I am devoid of feelings I helped lay The foundations Of the earth You think I didn’t feel something During that performance?
A world without feelings And the hearts that birth them Would be dull and gray And that’s not what I had in mind
Show me your feelings Wisdom concluded And I’ll show you How to paint The most beautiful picture In the world
I write to give myself permission, but if, as a consequence, my writing gives you permission to explore uncharted inner territory, I feel like my story matters.
I wish the world were different, and wish that emotions were not a source of relational contention, but that isn’t going away anytime soon. I’ll put my new found energy toward giving sanction to those of us who process the world through our feelings and intuition, not via our logic and reason.
Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next time.