I sat down next to a woman I truly admire. She’s courageous. Strong. Assertive. Kind. Affectionate. Capable. Clear. Decisive. Fierce.
She’s the kind of woman I would dearly love to be when I grow up.
I was in pain. I explained to her what the cause had been. Why I was in pain. She gave me flowers and chocolate (because sometimes a girl needs that in her life). Then she gave me the most precious gift of all. She gave me her pain.
As it turns out she, too, was struggling…and with similar challenges that I was challenged by. She was facing similar questions…BIG questions about her life and her path and where that will take her. Whether that path would include the relationships she has now, or whether it would mean separating from the unit she had helped co-create.
When she started to show emotion, she began to apologize. “This was supposed to be about you.” She said.
But she had absolutely no idea what it meant to me. She had no idea that by sharing a vulnerable part of herself (she…who is perhaps one of the strongest people I have ever met) she did make it about me. She met me.
They say “misery loves company.” That is sort of true. But I think it kind of belittles the power of something far deeper. The truth is …misery is just a symptom of feeling utterly alone and isolated. Misery is not sadness, for sadness is what we feel when something is coming to an end. Sadness is usually a normal and healthy response to a normal and challenging life experience. When my stepdad died of lung cancer, I was very sad. That was the right thing to feel, and I knew it. And others were around me to bear witness. Sadness never got a chance to fester into misery. Misery is not even depression, for depression is apathy. It’s the sense that life is neither good or bad. It just is and it is mighty taxing. No…misery is neither of those things.
Misery is the experience of feeling hidden from the world. It’s the feeling that I need to stay hidden. Because my woes aren’t worthy of unloading onto someone else. Misery is the offspring of sadness and shame.
And THIS is why, when a person is truly miserable, one of the most powerful things you can give them is your own pain. Are you in pain, my friend? Me too. It’s hard. You are not alone.
That was what I experienced when she shared her story. She gave me her vulnerability. She lent me her sadness. She let me hold it in my hands and see its shape. In doing so, she let me see that the shape of my sadness wasn’t so odd.
Perhaps another way of saying it is that misery really loves empathy.
I am still struggling with my private little life challenges right now. I’m struggling to figure out how to love and how to ask for love in return. I’m struggling to figure out how much to give and how much to keep safe within me. I’m struggling to determine what kinds of commitments are worth keeping, and at what point keeping them is a break from the commitment I should be keeping with myself.
BUT…I’m no longer miserable.
Because in the last few days, I have gotten evidence from some phenomenal people in my life that I am seen. Not just the parts I like to share…but the messy bits. And that while I might well be messy and unfinished and maybe in need of a stiff drink and a sense of humor…I’m still worth standing next to.
I’m sad. Uncertain. Unclear. But I am not alone.
Don’t get me wrong. In many ways we are all entirely alone. No one will ever be able to get into my skin and feel my personal experience with me as me. They will only ever be able to describe their experiences with me using a limited tool (language) and only to the best of their ability. But from what I can tell… in the space between the sharing of our two stories (limited though our language might be) we find love. Maybe because we are both setting an intention to share as much of ourselves as we possibly can given what we have to work with. It’s not just the stories that make the difference. It’s the space we set with each other as we share. To share my secrets is to say “I love you.” To listen to your secrets is to say “I love you too.”
And no matter WHAT emotion you might be experiencing (depression, loneliness, sadness, anger, joy, and, yes… even misery) they ALL surrender to love.
When you feel like you’re isolated and alone…what puts you in a space to feel less so? Do you feel connected in the presence of other people? Connected when you’re alone and in prayer/meditation? What makes you feel whole?