My new shoes.

I still don’t fully understand our fight or flight response, or why everyone seems so concerned at overriding it. I realize it is not ideal if those responses become chronic and exclusive. Yet, I wonder if there is something significant to be found in that initial human reaction to the unforeseen, the painful, the surprising and potentially dangerous. Brené Brown shares that, “Our bodies often respond before our conscious minds, and they are hard wired to protect -- to run or fight.” It is primal, this response. It is protection and I believe it is also a beginning. For me, the fight was the beginning of wrestling with and choosing to engage in my new reality. 

I began the post - on fighting - in the grips of anger. For those that know me, anger is not an emotion of choice. I feel it reluctantly because I fear it. I fear its grip, wondering if it will let me go once I give it space to move and breathe. I didn’t want to be angry with my OB who may have missed some warning signs, with my body for not doing what I desperately wanted it to, with my God for letting this happen to us, with every pregnant woman and new mom for having what we didn’t. I didn’t want to be angry because I wasn’t sure I could control it and in a desperate attempt to suppress it I noticed it coming out sideways. 

Sometimes we don’t have a choice in feeling what we feel. When I did not allow myself to acknowledge my anger it turned into irritability, frustration and shame. I became undone in the little things - when the lid to my water bottle wouldn’t fasten and fell to the floor, I gave up, exasperated. I walked away and again my husband so sweetly, so graciously followed behind me to pick up the pieces. One afternoon, I remember chucking my pants across the room because I could not find a pack-n-play to borrow for a visiting friend and her son, collapsing on the couch in tears and just a t-shirt. How I had my pants readily available in my hand for chucking I cannot recall. Another afternoon, I think it was a Sunday, I ended up sitting on the not too chilly deck in the sunshine writing furiously in my journal, hot tears streaming down my cheeks then crumpling down onto the wood, letting it absorb my tears, my hurt. It was there that I realized sometimes it feels good to fall apart a little bit. These moments finally (with a nudge from our counselor) turned into signals, that there was probably something else going on deep down that I was not willing to let surface. Something I was fighting to keep in, keep quiet. Something that needed to emerge so fiercely that it was bursting forth in any way it could.

After reading my first post in this series, my brother-in-law asked me: “What are you afraid of? What are you worried will overcome you if you don’t fight?” I think that was it, I was afraid of my anger, my hurt, my grief. It turns out the crying, the crumpling and falling apart, the smashing of glass in my basement was the manifestation of my anger, the transformation and the release. 

I don't have all of the stages of grief memorized nor am I convinced that the journey through grief can be limited to clean cut stages, but I am discovering that the “anger stage” is definitely underrated. We must not deny ourselves that in a rush toward acceptance. As much as I tried to suppress and avoid my anger once I let it surface it became a profound source of healing.

For someone who spent some in-between years denying her fiery instincts, I am proud of my fight. Coming back to this part of me is like trying on a new yet incredibly familiar pair of shoes. When I was young there was a paper bag in the top of our bedroom closet. In it were pairs of used, but new to me shoes that I could not wait to grow into. Every so often I would convince my mom to take down the bag so I could revisit its contents, trying each pair on again to see if my feet were now big enough to fill them. We are always so eager to grow into the next thing, aren’t we? Eager to find the right shoe that will carry us into the next step. Until we find ourselves in a place that we don’t want to be and we try desperately to get back to where we were before, but we can’t. The shoes no longer fit. We can’t ungrow our feet. We must wear the new pair, until they are comfortable and worn and have carried us where we needed to go.