Are you ever at war with your feelings? I am.
As an incest survivor, I have lots of powerful emotions, memories, and experiences. Most of them do not feel very good. As a kid, I spent a great deal of time strategizing how to get those annoying emotions to go away. I would take out my boxing gloves and try to beat them up. I would stuff them all into a suitcase and sit on the lid as I locked them in. I would look right past them into the distance, hoping if I ignored them long enough they would move on past. But no matter how hard I tried, they stuck around and beat me up, nagged to be let out, and forced me to constantly focus my attention on them. We were at war and I wanted to win.
As an adult, I have learned through therapy that it’s not healthy to lock feelings of abandonment, fear, and anger away. I’ve practiced letting them go at times, and it always felt hard. I understood that my inner self was afraid to feel - totally understandable for someone experiencing sexual abuse early in life.
Today, as a sexual violence prevention advocate, I’m busier than ever. I give talks, write pieces, convene meetings, and build relationships. On top of two jobs and a family, it’s quite a responsibility, yet I love every moment. I’m using my life experience for something positive, but at times it taps my energy. Lately, I’ve reserved my precious Saturday mornings for a trip to the sauna. For four hours, I relax and sweat. The eucalyptus steam room, the turmeric sauna, even the Finlandia room rest at a toasty 150°. I sweat in them all. Sweating helps me to release and process those tumultuous feelings inside that don’t get the attention they deserve all week. The sauna has become a refuge away from the experience of my survivorship and the busyness of my life.
But today, at the sauna, unexpectedly, I found myself at war with my feelings once again. They beat me up, nagged to get out, and forced me to redirect my focus onto them. I knew from therapy that I was supposed to release them to relieve the pressure, but today I was a disobedient patient. Instead, I broke out my boxing gloves, I slammed the suitcase shut, I looked back toward the distance and awaited for my feelings to move on past. But it wasn’t easy, and by the time I made my way to the charcoal room, I was sweating more like a perspiring pot trying to corner and cover those feelings. This time, there was no relief.
Then, three hours in, everything shifted. All of a sudden, I felt a loosening – a relaxing of my body and my will. Maybe it was the extreme heat, but I began to let go and let those darn feelings just wash over me. I put my boxing gloves down, unlocked the suitcase, gazed inward instead of outward. I’m not going to lie – It hurt.
It hurt remembering the incest I experienced and the way I was not protected. It hurt knowing that even as I stand up to give voice to survivors, my own voice sometimes stays trapped. It hurt, realizing that no matter how long my healing journey, I’m still going to feel this way. But today, I remember that although repressing my feelings once helped me to survive, now I could practice self-compassion and let out all the pain of the past. I could allow my feelings to drip out of me just like the sweat that trickled down my skin in this sizzling sauna. I began to feel space for a healthier and more serene environment inside. Once I gave up the war, I created space to welcome peace.
If you are at war with your feelings today, I get you. I hear you. And I encourage you today, for just a little while, to switch out the boxing gloves and gaze at your feelings with self-compassion so that you too can create peace in the present. This war should have never have been fought, I know. I also know that we will win when we welcome peace.
- Suzanne Isaza
Suzanne Isaza's passion is raising awareness about incest and other forms of interpersonal violence. A survivor, she founded the Sexual Assault Advocacy Network and IncestAWARE.org, authored an online column, and has given over 100 talks on violence prevention. You can reach her at SuzanneIsaza.com.