Lesson #17: Don't leave your baggage unattended.
This has happened to me a few times over the years: I become convinced that the reason my “stuff” keeps coming up is because I’m in therapy. I tell myself, if I just stopped seeing my therps the stuff would go away on its own. Don't dwell, right?
Because I haven’t ever wanted to just simply leave therapy, I’d reschedule sessions or try to wiggle out of appointments. Or I’d spend weeks on the couch just talking around certain things. Shoot the shit with my therps, if you will.
And then, sure enough, I’d come to a session a few weeks later absolutely bursting from the seams about all the things that I hadn't been processing. Which is why I’d come to therapy in the first place - to process the things I wasn't processing on my own or in my relationships or with friends.
This happened a lot after Sheri died - not right after she died but a couple of years later, when it seemed like everyone had recovered and was living a normal life and I was still drowning, trying to pretend I wasn't constantly struggling for air. And then weeks later - sobbing about her dying too young, grief pouring out of me at less "appropriate" places - the BART train, my office bathroom.
"Why are you pushing all these feelings away from the space that we’ve created to process them?" Therps asks. She asks gently because she knows I’ll bolt if I feel threatened. I’ll become defensive.
I’m too tired and too sad to be defensive.
"I just feel like - is therps this place for just stewing in my issues? If I have all this baggage, isn’t there something to be said about just...not...talking about it all the time or unpacking it and just leaving it? Wouldn’t I be happier?"
"Are you happier?"
There's a pause.
"You know in airports, Nina - what they say about baggage? Don’t leave it unattended?"
(Have I mentioned again how much I love when therps brings me a metaphor in my time of need? Nothing engages me more, seriously.)
She goes on.
"You don’t leave your baggage unattended because it begins to appear dangerous to people. Leaving it unguarded actually makes you more vulnerable. And ignoring it or leaving it behind, won’t stop it from being yours."
"So I’m better off just hauling it off the carousel?"
She smiles. "I think so, yes."
When I leave my baggage unattended - the bags of grief and of abandonment, of struggles with my demons about relationships and partnership - it just all gets worse. It festers, it ticks. It makes the people around me nervous.
A note: the opposite has also been true for me. Dragging the baggage around, Badu style. I am the Bag Lady, I will wear this baggage like a suit of armor and no one will get through to my squishy tender heart. Hear me roar. Mostly from pain. Because I’m carrying too many bags all the time.
Here’s what I’ve realized about the baggage we carry. When we unpack it, it becomes lighter. When we own it, we accept that it exists and we are empowered to do something with it. But when we drag it around for the purposes of keeping people at arm’s length, we become heavier and tired and burdened.
Baggage I thought I would never process, could never process, I have been able to do with the support of therps. She’s the friend at the airport that says “oh, let me get that for you” and helps you lug it off the carousel because it’s too heavy for you to carry on your own. She rolls it behind her for a while. Make no mistake, you both know it belongs to you. But she helps carry the load for a bit. She helps you unpack. She helps you move forward, breathe a bit easier. Until the baggage is just a case, light enough for you to hold on your own.