As we sat watching Moana in the darkened movie theater, my heart ached for my husband, who feels so much. There’s this beautiful scene where the spirit of Moana’s grandmother comes back to remind her of who she is so she can accomplish a task. And my husband was feeling a whole lot because he’s in the middle of a powerful personal transformation, one I’ve been through. We listened to Lin Manuel Miranda’s percussion move the story along brilliantly. I cried, too, when Moana broke years of patriarchal tradition. We watched Moana remember who she was. We watched Moana heal years of destructiveness with peace.
It’s a big thing, to be accused of unethical practices, by family whose company you enjoy.
I’d always heard about other bloggers getting attacked by family members for posting painful material about their family, or for writing about raw feelings. I didn’t think it would happen to me. I tend to be pretty naive about thinking others will treat feelings with the same tenderness and carefulness that I do. So when a family member unjustly accused me of snooping through my company files after I disagreed with another family member online (I tend to be naive also about thinking everyone wants to, and can be engaged in healthy debate, and f*&% that election anyway), I was shaken to the core. Did everyone think I was a fraud? Did people think I was unethical? Did everyone resent me? Did people think I just wanted attention? Did they think I was prideful? Was this whole blog just a big reason people used to laugh at me?
With the help of a compassionate mother who has typically put feelings first, and a husband who can see the beautiful in me despite the tornado I’ve been, I got over it. But a lot of the words stayed with me. Trying to resolve the conflict, I called the family member who believed I had done some very horrible wrongs. During the phone call, I was criticized for putting my feelings online. I was laughed at for recovering from alcoholism and an eating disorder and being out about it. I was ridiculed, in essence, for being vulnerable.
Which is what it is. I’m fine, and usually will be. But it got me to thinking about why it’s still so goddamn crucial that we talk about feelings.
Someone who makes fun of another’s vulnerability – they can’t be comfortable with it. They can’t be comfortable with feelings. They have to have learned early on to hide that raw, vulnerable bodhichitta, as Pema Chodron refers to it; they have to have tucked it early on and donned a mask so they survived. I get it. So did I. It was called alcoholism, an eating disorder, emotional affairs, and argumentativeness.
And although I can never pretend to know what it’s like to be one of seven in a Massachusetts family with very limited resources, I’m guessing there’s hurt there. I’m guessing people had to be tough just to get by. I’m guessing they had to, at times, be someone they weren’t. Not the carefree, jovial, loud, horse-riding spirit that they were, but something else…safer.
When I got sober, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a sponsor who told me the most important thing was that “I found my truth”. Until that point, I thought I was a dependent, shy, unintelligent, Sex-and-the-City-wannabe. And with meetings, and step work, and the company of women who chased spirituality, I peeled away layers. I found out I was anything but dumb. I discovered I loved to be by myself. I realized that I actually didn’t give a shit about trends. I learned that I loved to use my body because it was useful, not because it was pretty.
And most importantly, I learned I was put on this earth to be vulnerable and human and to talk about feelings with others. No matter how messy and embarrassing they were.
I learned who I was. Who I am.
The unfortunate thing about this alcoholic is that if I don’t live my truth, I tend to act out. I look for an escape. And although it seems impossible the same little girl who clung to her mother at family gatherings is capable of destruction, trust me. And the ten other people I can contact from my present and past who can attest to this.
So I can’t stop speaking and writing. I won’t.
And that’s me.
And I resent a world in which little girls and boys are instinctively taught to “stop crying”. To be less feminine or masculine. To exhibit less joy because it embarrasses their family. To “not be a pussy”. To be reactive on a facebook comment thread instead of sitting with their own feelings. To be so scared of being judged for being a new parent, they grow terse with others. A world in which someone can take advantage of someone’s vulnerability and scar someone indefinitely.
Feelings are not something silly, or even something serious. There’s no morality attached to them. They’re simply glorious visitors that tell us where to go.
At the end of the movie, Moana approached the fiery monster who had tried to kill her and her island and walked straight up to her. She stood right in front of her, touched her and told the monster,
“I know this is not who you are.”
I’ve learned a lot from this wise character.
So to the family who survived: I stand in awe. To come from very little and create the best construction company around – I bow down. To lose a brother and still be the most compassionate woman around – I am not worthy. To come out of the closet in a time where it wasn’t accepted – I am genuinely humbled. To adopt two beautiful children in a racially charged world – I cannot imagine the challenges you might face. To the gymnastics star – I’d break my back. I am amazed by your talent.
And to be the fiercest, most energetic, most loyal grandmother, sister, mother, and aunt despite the challenges you’ve faced – I know that the words uttered to me is not who you are.