December 9, 2016

A 4-Step Guide to Emotional First Aid.

Sometimes it’s hard to live inside my own skin.

Within the first couple months of this year, my heart was broken. And that came on the heels of a divorce the year prior.

Month after month following the heartbreak I’ve continued to bravely put myself out there. I’ve been bruised and broken repeatedly each time.

The truth isn’t that I’m afraid to be alone. The real, raw, unvarnished truth is that I’m afraid I’ll never be anything but.

Imagine for a moment what that might be like. To retain little hope that there’s anything out there but unrelenting pain and suffering. To feel that whatever beauty we have inside of us will forever go unappreciated. To truly believe that nothing will change.

When I found myself at this point, I decided that it was enough. I benched myself. I took myself out of the game. I did so to allow myself to really practice self-care. I wanted to get to a point where I no longer felt broken. I needed to recover my belief in anything good ever coming my way.

I stayed in this state for a few weeks—weeks of peace and relief. The moment I stepped outside of that plan, when I tried to put myself back out there when an opportunity unexpectedly came my way, is the moment I figured out exactly how broken I actually am right now.

Because I just caved in on myself.

I couldn’t hold joy in the encounter for even a full day before I was overtaken by a sense of dread and panic. I went from being a perfectly normal woman enjoying a flirtation to a broken person trying my best not to fall to pieces. I realized at that moment just how much damage had been done in the last year.

I’ve been so busy moving forward and pushing myself to be okay that I didn’t quite realize that I’m not okay.

I am not okay.

I need more love than I’ve ever been given. I have more love in me to give than anyone wants, and it’s breaking me.

It was so easy to just patch up those cracks and pretend that everything was fine, but with every new break the previous cracks only got deeper. I’ve been putting a Band-Aid over a bullet hole and bleeding out all this time.

When we’re in emotional pain that deep, we don’t always see the full extent of the damage. For me, it took a break and then a reemergence into the dating arena to see that I am far from okay. Of course, life’s other stressors only exacerbate that pain and help disguise its true cause at the same time. We’re distracted from looking any closer; we feel that because we’re functioning on a day-to-day basis we must be okay.

And yet we’re not. We’re broken people whose very strength and perseverance is also keeping us from healing.

When we get sick or injured, we know that we need rest and extra care to heal. We take our medicine or utilize holistic healing methods. We get more rest, treat ourselves more gently and generally understand that it takes time to recover from an illness or an injury. And yet when we have emotional illness or injury, we just keep right on going like nothing has changed. We don’t always give ourselves the care, rest or even support that we need. We rarely allow enough time to heal and expect instead that we should instantly bounce back to our old lives.

Doing this—having this attitude toward emotional pain—keeps us from healing completely.

When we are able to see our emotional pain as equally valid to the physical kind, we can then begin to treat it accordingly.

Consider this your emergency first aid for emotional injuries and illness:

1. As with physical injuries and illness, understand that emotional healing takes time.

Allow time to process all of the emotions that come up and truly experience them. Be sad. Be angry. Feel loss. We need to sit with these emotions without judging ourselves for the way we feel or how long it takes us to work through each one.

I fell in love with someone nearly a year ago, and I get frustrated that I still have those feelings. I’d much rather look back and say, “This guy was a total a**hole to me, and I no longer have any love left for him.” That’s not reality. And I have to stop sitting in judgment for myself for feeling love and taking so long to heal from that heartbreak.

2. When we have the flu, we understand that rest is essential to recovery.

With emotional pain or injury, we also need to acknowledge the importance of rest. It’s okay to go to bed at nine p.m. simply because we’re tired or discouraged or have these heavy broken hearts we’ve been carrying around all day.

Additionally, a rest may mean more than just sleep. I placed myself in a dating moratorium when I realized that the stress of dating was actually exceeding any benefits. I decided that it was a good time to just focus on nurturing myself and following my personal priorities. It was a difficult decision, because I do still have the desire for a higher connection, but I chose to take a break to allow myself healing time.

I don’t want to end up choosing someone from my place of brokenness. I’d much rather do so from a place of strength. For me, this is another way that I can rest. For others, this rest may mean taking a break from certain friends or family members or taking a social media vacation to get away from it all.

3. We must understand what emotional health looks like.

Do we know how to communicate effectively with others? Do we practice empathy and compassion and kindness in our interactions? Do we apologize when we make mistakes or hurt people? Are we honest? Do we ask for what we need? Are we actively living a gratitude practice?

Not one of us is perfect, but I think we need to have a baseline understanding of emotional health to be able to heal ourselves to this point. There are those of us who have never experienced emotional health due to childhood circumstances or early trauma. If our goal is to be happy and find peace, then we need to know what that looks like.

More importantly we need to understand how what we think, say and do creates that happiness and peace. Or sabotages it. Healing ourselves means knowing what healthy looks like.

4. We need to understand that healing often occurs with the help of others.

If we are ill, many of us will see doctors, utilize OTC medication or practice home remedies. We’ll take some type of action to help us recover a little quicker so that we can feel better. Emotional heartache is no different in this way: we need support. That support may come in the form of self-help books, support groups, friends and family, long baths or whatever self-care ritual makes us feel a little better faster.

When I say support, I don’t mean chemical dependence or unhealthy behaviors that simply mask how we’re feeling and hinder the healing process. I mean true support. A long conversation with a friend. A walk in nature. A yoga or meditation practice. Time spent in prayer or with our particular form of faith expression. Why do we often expect to recover from emotional struggle alone when we would never approach our physical well-being in this way? Would we let a case of the flu or a severe cold go on for months and months without trying to help ourselves feel better? Of course we wouldn’t!

When I reached a point where my hope nearly flickered out, I knew it was time to address the emotions that I hadn’t truly allowed to heal. Instead of continuing to feel broken or giving up, I decided to reach inward to find my fortitude and courage, and I reached outward to surround myself with the positive, supportive people who make up my tribe.

Suicide rates often rise as we approach the holiday season. I offer this list in the hope that it may benefit those who find themselves at that point where the hope is flickering out.

When we get to a point where we feel more broken than whole, I hope we can remember to allow time to heal, to give ourselves the rest we need, to understand what healing will look like so we can work toward that goal.

I hope we can reach both inward and outward for the support we may require to get through this.


Author: Crystal Jackson

Image: Used with permission from @gypsieraleigh on Instagram

Editor: Toby Israel


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