Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The Gift of Sadness
I am usually a pretty even-keeled person, emotionally speaking. Not that I always feel positive, but my emotional pendulum simply doesn't often swing too far toward either extreme. I find intense feelings of any kind to be uncomfortable, so I do my best to keep myself in some sort of intermediate equilibrium. This often works...until, it doesn't. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, my mood plummets fast and furious.
Last week was one of those weeks. I felt disconnected and lonely, painfully aware of my relative lack of close local friends, and missing the intimate friendships that I've always craved but have seldom experienced. When I feel it intensely, loneliness grips my heart like a vise and sends me tumbling into emotional bleakness. Last week was no exception--low energy, depressed mood, and a short fuse made getting through each day feel like a tremendous feat. As I struggled to pull myself out of this slump, I found myself wondering what the "Jewish approach" to sadness is. As I read one article, a section of text jumped out at me:
"Judaism is not about being happy; it's about being whole. Wholeness, however, is actually the only true path to real happiness because then you experience an inner happiness even when you are sad. You take pleasure in your ability to feel pain. You embrace and celebrate the totality of your humanness. To be whole we must be willing to immerse ourselves in the complete drama of being alive and human."
How fabulous a philosophy is that?! I so often forget, when I am in the thick of negative emotions, how miraculous it is that I experience any emotions at all. For so many years, my feelings were locked away somewhere unaccessible--anger and elation, joy and sadness, all were numbed by my eating disorder. Although this was easier in many ways, it was also so dull...and empty. After all, the positive and negative emotions are flip sides of the same coin--we can't have happiness without also experiencing sadness at times. The difficult moments are what help us to realize what treasures the joyful times are. If I never felt disconnected from my friends, would I be able to fully appreciate the warmth I enjoy from our relationships? Probably not. In order to experience the joy, I have to be willing to open myself to the pain. No one gets to enjoy the former without the latter--that's not how the human experience works.
For so long, I was so intent on never being hurt that I also prevented myself from ever being happy. Now, I realize what a blessing it is that I am able to feel the full spectrum of human emotions...and, not only can I feel them, but I can also survive them. The next time I am in one of those dark emotional places (because there will surely be a next time!), I will try to remember that although sadness is in many ways unpleasant, it is also a gift, and a testament to the fact that I have the ability to feel. Hopefully we can all carry this perspective with us as we encounter the emotional ups and downs of recovered life.