I don’t always recognize when I’m feeling depleted. Emotional exhaustion has a way of creeping up slowly, day by day, getting closer and closer, until it takes over. Then I feel it—the emptiness inside, the well that has run completely dry. I crash. I have nothing left to give. It has taken absolutely everything I have to keep going for days or weeks or however long I’ve been holding myself together.
My habit is to burrow like an animal when I crash. I’ll hole up, push everyone away, and try to heal on my own. It’s a tactic I must have learned when I realized that the adults in my world couldn’t handle big emotions or breakdowns or anything that looked like pain. It reminded them too much of their own. So I became a master at keeping my feelings hidden and burrowing until the crisis had subsided or the pain had lessened. I learned not to expect empathy or understanding. I learned to hold myself as best I could, rather than trust-falling into someone’s arms.
It still takes me by surprise when someone reaches out from the heart without expecting anything back. I still don’t know how to take the offer sometimes. I always believe strings are attached somehow or that they couldn’t truly handle me at my worst. It’s ironic, since my life’s work is holding healing space for others. I know how to let other people express all kinds of pain without judging them or taking it on myself. I know exactly how to be on the giving end of the equation.
I often think about what it must have been like for the medicine women who looked after the whole tribe or village. Who did they turn to for help? How did they allow themselves to be nurtured? What if they were the ones in need of healing?
Today, a dear friend and spiritual brother said “I love you, and I care about you”, and my instant internal response was “until when?” I could feel the doubt rising up, scratching around, and sniffing the air. That is the wounded animal in her burrow, feeling vulnerable and growling when someone gets close to her wound. I know deep down that there really isn’t any amount of my emotional suffering that my friend can’t handle. I know his intentions are pure, and his heart is deeper than the ocean. This is about allowing myself to be held and cared for by another when I’m down. This is about allowing myself to be a “beautiful mess” of sacred tears and softness without apology. This is not about the love being extended, but the love being received.
I am learning.
Walking a wounded healer’s path is full of complexities and more questions than answers most of the time. I work things out as I go. I follow a trail with no map. Maybe the wise women who came before me did the same. Maybe that’s what we’re all doing.
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.