I’m old enough that I have clothes from the ‘80s hanging in my closet.
And, like some of these clothes, I am experiencing my vintage years.
Between these clothes from the ‘80s and current fashion purchased from Forever 21 by my stylist daughter, I have a lot of hangers in the closet. Hanging with these clothes are memories; the holiday party I wore that sweater to, riding in gondola through the canals of Venice in that pair of pants. They’re all clung on to the growing collection of hangers.
As organized as I try to be by placing all of the empty hangers in one place, it almost always happens that I pull one out and another four come with it. “@#$%^! I have got better things to do than spending the next five minutes untangling all of these hangers! All I wanted was two!“ I can feel the irritation rise up the back of my neck and in a flash I am cursing at that bunch of hangers.
It happens so fast. I lost it. The hangers have won. Hopefully no one else or the dog has heard my rantings. It scares and upsets them. It’s humiliating. A nest of hangers has control over me and the loved ones in my life know it.
What the heck is going on? Is it that there are too many hangers in the closet or too many memories? Because of course, that’s how memories work. No memory is isolated from another and no memory comes without a feeling attached.
I remember a particular day I was running late. It was the beginning of the economic recession. The variable rate loan I had was now increasing at an alarming and prohibitive rate. I had tossed all night because I was worried about how to pay the mortgage. Finally at 5:00 am I got a few blessed moments of sleep. The result is now I’m 15 minutes behind schedule. My daughter was late to school and furious at me. I was late to work (because, of course, the car needed gas) and my boss noticed. I was attempting to do my best and my best was not good enough. That day was a nest of feelings: despair, overwhelm, heartache, fury, resolve and even pride. To the people in my life it didn’t matter I had figured out a solution; I had failed them.
The memory of that day is attached to today because I disappointed someone again.
In the moment my best is not good enough. So once again I am filled with not one feeling but many. They are all attached. It’s a mess. And just like that, the heat rises up the back of my neck.
The task is to take a breath. Slow down. Separate out the feeling from the event. Soothe the heartache and the panic. Make a plan. Do the next right thing.
I believe my story mirrors the story of many. Few of us were taught how to cultivate the emotional resources and practical skills for unraveling the nest of feelings that come with the daily complexities of living and loving. The emotional discipline to separate out our feelings and actions is an acquired skill developed over time. It is my view these skills are developed in the context of relationship and that the psychotherapeutic relationship provides a matchless opportunity to develop and practice. Spare the dog. Spare the spouse.