Things That Don't Suck
'Things That Don't Suck' by Andrea Gibson
The One Feeling I Didn't Allow

The One Feeling I Didn't Allow

When joy feels risky...

Hi Friends, 

Many years ago I sold a t-shirt on tour that read, FEELINGS ARE NOT THE ENEMY. As you'll see it features an image of an upside-down-umbrella filled with rain. I cherish the shirt for the permission it gives. “All of your feelings are welcome here, no matter how stormy.” (My team just recently re-printed the shirt if you’d like to add it to your t-shirt collection)

My therapist Julie long ago taught me how to “have my feelings”. By “have my feelings” I mean give myself permission to experience my emotions, as big as I need to, rather than stifle them. “It’s our attempt to make our emotions smaller that gives them so much power and makes them stick around so long,” Julie said. 

The key was to focus my attention on the sensations in my body and not the painful narrative I was running in my mind. “If you focus on the narrative,” Julie added, “the feeling likely won’t move.” 

Then Julie gave me a lesson on where feelings typically live in our bodies, in case I was ever unsure about what I was feeling. Anger can make a vice grip of the jaw. Fear often churns in the belly. Sadness is like an ice-pick to the chest. 

The first time I tried Julie’s practice I was shocked by how difficult it was. One day, furious with a friend, my mind became a one-sided hypothetical comeback machine racing with every way I wanted to prove my friend wrong, and me right. It took everything I had to focus on my jaw.  It was surprisingly painful. I was in my mid-twenties, rocking back and forth at the end of my bed. Somehow I managed to do it, sat with that rage in my jaw until anger gave way to tears.

Because I did this practice consistently for over fifteen years, I thought of myself as someone who welcomed ALL of my feelings. Not until my cancer diagnosis did I realize I was wrong. There was one feeling that I had been pushing away throughout my life: happiness.

I never knew I’d been barricading myself from happiness.  I thought I’d always had my arms open to a joy that simply wasn’t running in my direction. I thought I was juicing the sun for every sweet drop. I thought I, like the flowers, almost always leaned toward the light. But what I’ve learned these past years is that most of us don’t lean toward the light. We lean toward safety.  We worry because we think worrying will prepare us for all future outcomes. We hold a grudge because we think grudges are shields against future hurt. We talk unkindly to ourselves so nobody beats us to the punch. But this type of “safety” obviously isn’t shelter. It’s more like a dark dungeon where the truth can’t shine through. Falsely we believe that if we feel the heights of joy, we will have a longer and harder fall. But joy is not a tall building we can crash from. Joy is the cord of a parachute that can save us.

Two years ago I decided that any time I felt an inkling of joy, no matter how incongruent it seemed given the circumstances, I would allow it to bubble to the surface of my being. Since committing to this process I have found more happiness than I ever thought possible through a cancer diagnosis. For example, the video below is of me dancing on a day when I was having treatment-symptoms that, during another year, would have erected walls against any moment of potential happiness. 

My hope is that in sharing this with all of you, you too will have more access to the sweetness of this life. You, too, will pull the cord of the parachute. 

What are some surprise places you are finding joy lately? I’d love to read about it in the comments.

Hugs, Andrea 🖤

△ You asked, we listened! signed books are back for a limited time
You Better Be Lightning' ‘Lord of the Butterflies’ ‘Pansy’ ‘The Madness Vase’ ‘Pole Dancing To Gospel Hymns’ and of course ‘Feelings Are Not The Enemy’ t-shirt are now available in my store. Thank you so very much for your support.

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Things That Don't Suck
'Things That Don't Suck' by Andrea Gibson
A quest to uncover what shifts, when we shift our attention
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Andrea Gibson