Here’s a confession, with a bonus realization: I’m really good at “sucking it up,” and I don’t have to do that.
So have I stopped sucking it up? Not entirely. When you’ve been a well-oiled energetic vacuum cleaner for almost forty years, it’s not easy to go cold turkey. But I’m keeping an eye on myself, and that’s half the battle. The other half involves learning new patterns and ways of being, which is exactly what I’m revving up to share with you here.
I don’t think I’m the only person to have perfected sucking it up. Many women seem especially adept at this, and like me, might benefit from some serious deprogramming and detoxifying.
In case you’re one of them, in case you’ve ever inhaled pain or cruelty or sadness and can still here it rattling around somewhere under your skin, this week’s FHP is especially for you.
For me, the universe parceled out this particular realization over the last six months or so. To bring you up to speed, allow me to offer a brief seasonal recap:
Zig-zag flights riding summer’s momentum until blindsided by loss, knocked to the ground. Welcome change only to realize it means—wait for it—change! Stretchy, angsty, unsettling. Can I unroll that welcome mat? Finally surrender to a long winter’s nap.
When not able to actually nap for four months, rise slowly, miraculously, like Inigo Montoya after being stabbed by Count Rugen in The Princess Bride. Begin a thousand-mile trek through what I like to call Cosmic Sludge: big shit; life compost; all of the Old Stuff.
Blooms surprise, air clears, light enters, heart lifts. Try to catch one hundred bouquets, tossed by one hundred brides, sure that one of them will guarantee long and happy perfection. Cling to fifty of those while blasted by hurricane force wind, use other hand and both feet to grab onto anything near by and heavy so as not to be blown away.
Holy business, Batman. I mean really holy, sacred business.
If your last six months have been anything like my last six months, you might join me in a gush of survival gratitude. Thank goddess for therapy and writing and crinkle cut French fries and fresh air and beloveds who are willing to remind you that they still like you and that you’ll be okay.
Can I get an Amen?
Now back to that realization thing.
During my winter surrender and trek through that Cosmic Sludge, as I put on my honesty glasses and stared down my past and my patterns, I saw that in the midst of hard situations or big feelings or toxic people behaving toxically around me (sometimes I was one of them), I had developed this unconscious coping mechanism: I’d take a deep inhale, vacuuming in all of the ick, and then stop breathing. I suppose I thought if I held it there and froze on the spot, I could contain the ick, stop it somehow.
In part, this isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Pema Chödrön writes of the practice of tonglen, in which, with compassion and awareness, you breathe in whatever suffering you experience or notice. However, in that practice, you also breathe out relief. You exhale.
I fully admit that I inhaled, but I hadn’t been exhaling
Instead, I was an unconscious martyr, swallowing poison. And not the rockin’ Brett Michaels kind.
How I learned to vacuum is a different story, but here’s the bottom line: all of that inhaling had been about me trying to control things I wasn’t built to control and hold things I simply didn’t have room for and which didn’t belong to me.
As a result, I’ve got pockets of things I’ve unconsciously ingested scattered throughout my body—grief in my hips, anger in my knees, anguish in my IT bands. My mind had selectively forgotten about taking all of this in, but my body had not. Now I have the opportunity to slowly and steadily release these pockets of ick.
I also have the choice not to suck it up ever again.
And I hope more and more women will do this. For so long and in so many ways, we’ve been told to suck it up. Dutifully, like the good little girls we were trained to be, we’ve held the world’s sludge, without any release mechanisms in place. Sometimes we haven’t learned how to release. Sometimes release is forbidden. Sometimes release is frowned upon. Sometimes release puts us in danger.
Sometimes, all of the above.
Our natural release mechanisms are often considered problems that must be stopped or hidden—our moon cycles must be mitigated (quarantined, cleverly hidden, stopped altogether), our tears have no place where they may be needed most (boardrooms, war rooms, law rooms).
It’s a sad state of affairs that I have more than one story of men telling me to stop crying. Not out of compassion, but because it made them uncomfortable. One time because he was “a Protestant and didn’t do emotions.” Another because someone in the restaurant patio (population 3: him, me, and every fifteen minutes or so the server) where we sat, might see and think it was his fault. Not to mention his cruel and troubling behavior that had, in part, elicited those very tears.
In that moment, confused and hurt and vulnerable, I vacuumed back not only my tears, but also my rage that someone dare take them away from me.
Thirty-six hours after the restaurant incident and six months after entering that relationship, I spit out all that I’d sucked up from that particular man and walked away, and I was proud of myself.
Now, I’d like to get my time down. Be a respiratory samurai. I want to be so good at not sucking it up, so precise at being present that it wouldn’t take me even a millisecond to exhale such toxicity, and with such force that it would carry me instantly to a different and friendlier shore.
As it is, the shores we all inhabit are in a sad state.
Our tears still often have no place. Our righteous anger still gets labeled bitchy or crazy.
So much of our anguish at being raped or abused or harassed still swept under the carpet, with any remaining bits collected by our energetic dust-busters.
Well the vacuum bags need to be emptied, and the carpets need to be ripped up, shaken out, washed clean and hung in the sunshine, flapping in the wind.
We are beings with lungs; we aren’t meant to be lockboxes. We are born of ocean wisdom, tides flowing in and then out. We cycle as the seasons. We are meant to flow.
I have a vision of all of the women, all of the humans who have swallowed all of the things, tilting their heads back, opening their mouths, and letting out a vast and voluminous cry, a call of the wild vibrating the whole earth and all its inhabitants until we pop and resettle onto our bones with a sigh. A global chiropractic adjustment.
Until I can figure out a way for all of us to gather and yell and pop together, I’ll trust in the power of each of us releasing all that we’ve sucked up in our own small and beautiful ways.
In the spirit small and beautiful things and of choosing to enjoy and engage life in the here and now, here’s your FHP activity to get you started on a new pattern:
This week, when some sort of toxicity comes up in or around you, go ahead, breathe in. Life is gasp-worthy. But don’t just suck it up. Add on this part: Exhale
Someone calls you incompetent. Exhale.
Disheartening news about cruelty in any form. Exhale.
Someone shushes you or forbids your reaction. Exhale.
Fight with someone you love. Exhale.
Someone tells you to suck it up. Refuse. Exhale.
An exhale can come with a yell or with tears or with a prayer or a promise to your heart that you will never again burden it as you have before, that you will live in the here and now with your eyes and release valves wide open.