Clearing the air
Do you ever get the feeling that there is something that needs to be said, but you don’t know how to say it? Maybe you are fearful of causing further damage to an already strained relationship. Maybe you feel you don’t possess enough courage because "you are not good at that kind of thing." Perhaps you feel as if you were the one who was wronged and that it is the other person’s responsibility to extend the olive branch. Maybe you feel it is not that big of a deal.
I felt all of the above recently as I contemplated the reasons why a good friend and I had lost touch. It was a gradual distancing and it was getting more awkward and more painful as time went on. I tried telling myself that it was natural for relationships to wax and wane and that often people move on. I told myself that we were different people. But this logic didn't work.
In the past, instead of confronting her on what was bothering me, I kept my mouth closed wanting to believe it was better this way. There were a number of times I could have called, sent a text, or emailed, but instead I came up with all sorts of excuses not to. The uneasiness just festered making the emptiness emptier, the confusion more confusing, and the space between us too wide to make amends.
I knew it was time to reach into my hurting heart and speak my truth. Because nothing good was coming from being silent, and nothing could grow in this place of heartbreak, fear, and imaginary walls.
I recall that after my father died, a therapist I was seeing told me to write my father a letter to tell him the things I didn't get to say. I thought it was the stupidest suggestion I had ever heard. Now I get it. Of course it was never about his response. It was about me being honest and open. It was about me sorting through the mixed emotions...separating truth from fiction, anger from sadness, and guilt from fear. Until I “got it off of my chest,” I would remained scared, on edge, and powerless as I gave away all of my life force to an external event completely out of my control.
I now realize that we can't attach ourselves to the outcome of such conversations. Instead we need to focus on being honest with what is happening in the present moment. When we talk about how we feel with authenticity and honesty, there is nothing to disagree with or argue about, it just is what it is.
Just like the example with my dad, it may be impossible to talk with the person with whom you need to clear the air. And maybe it is wisest not to have direct communication due to issues concerned with our safety and stability. Perhaps this is when writing, singing, moving, creating artwork, or getting engrossed in a project helps give voice to what is troubling us.
But we must clear the air, and it takes practicing sitting in fiery discomfort and having difficult conversations so we can breathe more deeply and calmly. Whenever I doubt whether communication is truly what is needed, I ask myself how I would feel if the person I am distanced from were to die tomorrow.
So last week when my old friend and I had coffee, we exposed our fears, our flaws, our hurts, the misunderstandings, the expectations…all of it. It was time for me to forgive her for wrongs she didn't even know she had committed. It was also time for me to forgive myself.
Mind games and not wanting to appear needy, dorky, or wrong have gotten in my way before. But I am dorky and needy and wrong a lot.
"The ego will always tempt us to think that the breakdown of a relationship has to do with what they did wrong, or what they’re not seeing, or what they need to learn. The focus must remain on ourselves. We’re affected by other peoples’ lovelessness only to the extent to which we judge them for it,” writes Mary Ann Williamson in A Return to Love. She adds, “It is our failure to accept people exactly as they are that gives us pain in a relationship.” I've given thought to how hard I have worked on accepting and feeling compassion for my flaws and how much I need to extend that very same effort to others.
I hear too many stories about people and their strained relationships with family members and friends. Often times the parties involved don't even know what happened. It just got weird and the air got thick. Understandably, most of us avoid discomfort as a form of protection. But when we deal with what is unsaid, we free ourselves, and we liberate the other person too.
In an article written by Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, published in "Spirituality and Health" magazine, he wrote,“If your own well-being - your physical, emotional, and mental health - is not enough, if your life and your future are not enough, then perhaps you will forgive for the benefit of those you love, the family that is precious to you. Anger and bitterness do not just poison you, they poison all your relationships, including those with your children.”
We owe it to the next generation to clear the air that is thick with what is unspoken.
At the end of our chat last week, I felt like my friend and I had moved mountains. It was hard, but we walked through the obstacles standing in our way. By acknowledging what went wrong, we laid the foundation for a new, more understanding, and loving relationship to grow. And now there are open windows were there were once imaginary walls.