If you haven't read part one yet, click here for context!
I wasn't planning on writing a follow-up to my last blog post, but a few things have happened in the past two weeks that really want to come to the surface and be shared. I'm feeling so grateful for an opportunity to reflect on this life lesson of emotional expression, and to be able to deepen my practice of it. So, without further ado, story time:
My family has been fortunate enough to vacation together pretty much every summer since I was born - we've been able to keep this sacred tradition going for over 20 years. As we've all gotten older, I've begun to realize the time is finite. We will not be able to do this forever, and as my grandparents enter their 80's, it's become even more clear that we will only have so many more years left to enjoy time together. It seemed this sentiment really shined through without being said at the beach this year. My cousins and I are all adults now, with relationships and houses and jobs - some of our partners joined in on the trip, adding to the fun and new flavors of quality time with the whole family. I am immensely grateful for every experience I get to share with this growing group of people. It's not lost on me how special it is, and I'm working on voicing that more often.
As great as it was - through the nighttime walks to get ice cream, new card games being taught each day, slopping tomato sandwiches over the sink, and hosting cornhole tournaments on the beach - something was off. Someone was off. One family After our first day together where things seemed normal, they closed off to the rest of us. They skipped meals, hid in their room, and would leave the house without telling anyone. They came to the beach, but would sit ten feet in front of us and tilt their chair so we couldn't see their face. This behavior only lasted a night before someone else would try to intervene, but when anyone did, they would lash out and isolate further. We couldn't figure out what was wrong - they simply blamed it on "a lot of things."
This strange behavior had the rest of my family each individually wondering if we'd done something to hurt them. My mom thought she'd said something mean. I thought maybe they heard my mom talking about them. My grandma even wondered if she had caused the problem, and believe me when I say, my sweet grandma could never cause such a disturbance even if she tried. The issue never resolved because no one could get through to figure out what the problem was. They never allowed anyone in. It remained this way for the duration of the trip, and they didn't even say goodbye when they left early one morning, before the rest of us had woken up.
We had an amazing time, the rest of us. We ate great meals and went out to play putt-putt for old time's sake. We visited a beach market for new time's sake, and told stories and cracked jokes and made fun drinks together (to see who could secretly get grandma a little drunk). But as amazing as it was to gather, celebrate old traditions, and create new ones, I knew that we were all secretly hurting underneath and not wanting to discuss it. We all wanted to know what the fuck was wrong with our isolated family, and why they were acting so strange, why they were taking it out on us. We felt confused, shaken up, and even openly angry at points. It wasn't fair to be so cruel, to take such a sacred gathering for granted, and even worse, dampen its joy by acting like a child. What gave them the right to have a five-day tantrum, then push away anyone who tried to help?
By the time we'd left, my mom and I shared a few choice words about it together. I knew she was seething, but I didn't have the words to comfort her adequately. I didn't even know what to do with my own anger other than talk the situation to death. And I've learned through many social situations this year, that this can only do so much. The anger has to actually go somewhere.
So, when I got back home, I practiced what I've been preaching.
When I had the house to myself Sunday night, I set the scene of my emotional landscape right in my living room: I lit a single candle in my altar, and turned the rest of the lights out. I let the tension build in my body and mind, recalling all the actions from the past week that made me upset, made me want to scream. I pictured that family member sitting in the chair across from me, and I began the conversation I'll never quite have with them: "What gives you the right to try and ruin our family vacation?"
"Don't you realize how special this was? How you wasted it?"
"How deeply you hurt us?"
"How selfish, how manipulative you are?"
"Don't you realize this could be the last time we get to do this?"
I threw things. I screamed into pillows. I turned on red lights, blasted the angriest music I could find, Metric and Ashnikko and Rage Against the Machine, and writhed around on the floor until I made my head hurt. I gave myself a container, too - five angry songs or so - about 20 minutes to complete the scene. Then, I queued "What Was I Made For?" by Billie Eilish, a sad, slow song I've been loving lately. I changed the lights to blue. I began moving slower until I found myself lying on my yoga mat, trembling, in child's pose. I surrendered in front of my altar. I breathed as deeply as I could until my head stopped pounding, my heart slowed, and the anger melted from me. I remained there to find equilibrium, stretching and moving slowly, until I no longer felt angry or sad. I finished the practice with a prayer to my family member, asking for guidance in their ability to speak up honestly. Asking for a way to lift their pain and find them help. Then, to carry on with my night, I blew out the candle and set up a cooling bath infused with blue light, mint, rosemary, cypress, and helichrysum. I sang in the tub as a way to fully come back to myself.
And would you believe it? I feel so balanced in the days since then. I hold no anger, no resentment, no words left for anyone. I only feel compassion and gratitude. I feel forgiveness.
While I hope for my family's ability to practice these things too, and while I await a future where this conflict will need to be resolved with words, I've been able to transform my inner landscape into one of understanding, just by practicing expressing the emotion. Through this process, I realized that it can be done without an audience if that is too difficult or too much to ask at first. By embodying the anger and giving it space to live and move, I've allowed it to leave my system. A situation like this would normally stay at the forefront of my mind for days or weeks after; the next time I see this person, I would give them the cold shoulder and resent absolutely everything about them. Now, I can imagine myself practicing stage-two communication. I can imagine expressing that their behavior hurt me and hurt others, and I can say it without a hateful tone or malevolent undercurrent. It can be honest. Whether or not it will be received that way is not really my decision, but ensuring the intention is pure can only help.
As crazy or foreign as it may sound - to scream at an imaginary person in the room or to convulse on the floor to an intense musical breakdown - I really want to encourage you to try a similar practice the next time big feelings arise for you. I hope you can create a private space for yourself to do so, as I've come to recognize that this work doesn't have to happen in front of an audience. The key to feeling safe with your own emotions is having a safe space to explore them. With time and practice, we can begin to bring its lessons to our relationships, and create an entirely new realm of emotional honesty. May we all find that we have the ability to cultivate such a magical thing.