When I walked in, she was sitting there alone, staring down at her feed painfully, sweetly, a bit sheepishly. I walked across the tiny room and sat down on the twin bed beside her, its colorful pillows propped behind us in the corner next to the window. I remember looking out that very window through the tall and slender in frame, watching robins hatch from their eggs back when I was in preschool. Now, here was my 16-year-old self sitting, waiting, hurting.
She was a curvaceous young woman, wearing her insecurity in obvious but endearing ways as she blossomed into her womanhood and body. I remember how I felt when I was in her body and mind; it was such a confusing time physically and emotionally. At 31, I now have so much forgiveness for her awkwardness; none of which she can offer just now.
I put my hand on her back and asked her what she needed to say to me. What she needed to know. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she let flow - with almost no hesitation - a rampage of wonder:
“I just need to be able to feel hurt.” I could see the words hurt as much in admission as they did in meaning.
“I’m just so confused. I’m happy that it happened and I know it turns out essential to who I become. But that doesn’t mean I don’t angry about it. It’s still unfair. Even if I’m grateful for it. It still makes me mad” she said, palms up to the sky gesticulating her own uncertainty as she spoke.
“I didn’t know you could have so many opposing feelings at one time. I’m happy and I’m hurt at the same time, and it’s just so confusing to have all these emotions at the same time. And I just need someone to say that it’s ok to feel everything I feel. All of it at once.”
I knew exactly what she meant. It was only lately in my life I gave myself carte blanche in feelings. I don’t shame myself for being mad at someone anymore. I don’t guilt myself for being lazy. I don’t curse myself for hurting someone anymore. I don’t feel bad about being broken, hurting, aching from the inside out. If anything I relish in it more than I banish it.
But she doesn’t know how to do that yet. She’s only 16. She only knows that she’s praised for being brave, admired for being strong, and loved for being resilient; so resilient in fact that she won’t even allow the pain to occur for her, for fear of letting people down. For disappointing people if they were to see that she too is human, and she too needs to cry and break down and be pissed off every now and again.
I held her in my arms and let her cry, transmuting the anger into pain, and the pain into tears, and the tears as release. In our shared safe space here in my imagination, I granted her the permission to hurt and heal at the same she’d long needed.
“I need it to be ok to feel what I actually feel. I need it to be ok with everyone for me to like what I like, to be interested in what I’m interested in. If it’s weird, what I like, fine. Then I need it to be ok to be weird.”
She cried some more and when she’d finished crying, she sat up and looked at me with a kind of understanding. I saw her for that strong, resilient and also highly sensitive woman we’d always been, honoring her fragility with my own vulnerability.
She paused and looked down at her heart space a moment, then seemed almost to reach in with a transparent hand, and pulled out from within her a small, glittering pearl. She handed it to me.
“I want you to have it. Keep it safe for me.” I was surprised and flattered at how she’d handed it over so willingly with one hand, while the other wiped away the last tears, as if giving something so precious was of no grief to her. As if relieved to give it to me.
I looked down and placed the pearl in my own heart in the same place she’d found it within her. When I reached into it’s likely home in the cavity of my chest, I found already there a diamond stone, large and heavy and shining brilliantly. I lifted the diamond with one hand, replacing it with the pearl, and handed her the diamond.
“Here,” I said. She took it with both hands, admiring it from every angle.
“We get polished by it all, I guess.” she said with a small smile.
“That’s right,” I said with a sudden understanding of our transaction. “Keep it safe.”
She took the diamond and placed it into her own heart space, and hugged me, and as she did I felt her succumb into the relief.
Be sweet, they’d told her. Be kind. Be forgiving. You’re the nice kind of girl, they told her, you’re not the kind to speak up too brashly. Be good at sports. Get good grades in math. Don’t be demanding, it’s annoying. Don’t argue. Be respectful. Reliable. Virtuous.
Now it was me (not teachers, not parents, not friends) telling her to allow fear to share place with gratitude. To allow love and forgiveness sitting at the very same table as anger and betrayal. And even shame, getting in bed with acceptance, tolerance, and inclusion. I had long believed that negative, painful emotions were not only shameful in their lack of virtuousness, but could not occur at the same time as positive ones.
Now I know, thanks to this teenage self speaking finally of her confusion, that they must. For one to empower the other, for the purging of either, they must.
I came to this moment through the work of Lacy Phillips in her Reparent program; which I highly, highly recommend. The workshop (and all her work) is truly life-changing for anyone looking to become more self aware, more conscious, and more empowered. You can learn more about it and sign up yourself on her website here.