You recognize that familiar, dull feeling in your gut—as though something is wrong, though you can’t quite pinpoint what. You start to take inventory of your life. You recount your job, your salary, your friends, what so-and-so from such-and-such time in your life would think of you now, your nice new profile photo on Facebook. The pieces, when put together, form a picture that should nullify that feeling.
You go through life stymied by that ache. It crescendos and crashes. You get distracted by the news or your job or Twitter, or something that temporarily scares you a little bit more.
It goes on, until one day, you realize you’re being levied, haunted, by a pain you can’t quite decipher. Slowly, it wears you down. It’s harder to get up. It’s harder to go out. It’s easier to drink and then drink some more. Or maybe eat, or shop, or post photos of yourself to Instagram. Everyone has a different vice.
The more you are confused by the small, scary feeling you can’t figure out, the worse it gets. And the worse it gets, the more you become convinced that it’s a warning of what is to come. You start to attach thoughts to the feeling, fear stories.
The stories, you realize, are illogical. You’re overreacting. You’re convinced your world is imminently coming to an end and these “gut feelings,” the ones you’ve been implicitly told to trust for so long, are simply warning you to take cover.
What you can’t see right now is that nothing is really wrong.
Actually, things are really right, which is why you finally feel safe enough to feel what you really feel. Stop projecting. Stop telling stories. Those dull, unsettling feelings are not in the future—they’re in the past.
You’ve been carrying them with you all this time.
If we don’t finish processing our emotional experiences, they stay with us like the food we can’t metabolize, or old clothes we never get around to packing up and putting out at the curb. Sometimes, they hold within them nourishment, wisdom and guidance. Other times, they’re debris from a chapter long closed.
Either way, they are signals to the spaces in which we are not yet free.
When you’re ready to heal, you will need to lay yourself down in a very safe space and focus on those tense feelings. Have them show you their origins. You will begin to see moments you forgot about, feelings you forgot you ever felt. The past will come up in blinks and vignettes. Slowly, over time, you will awaken to what is really wrong—which is the piece of you that had to break off and build a wall around your heart because behind it was a wound you did not yet know how to heal.
When you are ready, you will step behind it.
You will know that the anger, the sadness, and the anxiety are a veil, a trigger trying to wake you up, not knock you out.
You will need to cry. You will need to cry for the 13-year-old that got her heart broken, for the 16-year-old whose friends were mean to him. You will need to mourn what you lost and when you lost it. You will need to go back in time and insert yourself into those memories as an adult and tell your child self to say what they really needed to say at the moment they needed to say it, though they couldn’t find the words or the courage. You will need to do this, over and over again, until you slowly realize you are becoming lighter. You are releasing. Though you cannot change time, you are, somehow, changing your story.
You will need to sweat. You will need to stretch and move your body, and pay close attention to where you are tight and what feels uncomfortable, and where you are pent up and storing all that pain.
You will need to shake. You will need to lay on the floor and literally shake out everything you’re holding. You will need to let yourself feel vulnerable and small—both of which are, at the end of the day, the two feelings we guard ourselves against the most.
You will need to surrender. Through the tears and sweat and shaking and shifting, you will stop fighting it. You will see your past life for what it was, so you can see your present life for what it is: filled with hope and potential.
Eventually, you will get up, and your world will start to change.
You will exit relationships and begin others. You will call someone you haven’t talked to in a long time. You will suddenly be inspired to attend a new class, or find yourself drafting your resignation email. You will begin writing, reading, sitting outside, and drinking water, feeling grateful for these simple, nourishing things. You will sleep a bit easier. Gradually, you will start to return to yourself. You will enter that emotional fire and burn off everything blocking the core of you from truly being in the world.
Then you will know that when you lose someone, you must cry.
When you’re frustrated, you must be frustrated.
When you want to say something, you must speak.
In the healing process, you don’t just learn how to go back and fix what you didn’t finish. You also learn how to press forward, how to live more intently and presently, how to process your experiences in real-time. The more you do this, the more you will awaken and begin to show up for life. You start speaking again, you start feeling again, you start being again.
When you feel strong enough to look at what’s wrong, you begin to unearth your soul.
It was always there. It was just buried under years and layers of identities and styles and beliefs and ideas that had adhered themselves to you like a shield.
You were never lost.
You were only hidden.
All the time you spent feeling so uncomfortable was just your deepest self trying to speak to you, trying to remind you of its presence.
It was only the core of you saying: Keep going. There is more to life than this.
This is an extract from When You’re Ready, This Is How You Heal by Brianna Wiest, published by Thought Catalog Books. You can buy the book directly from the publisher here.