I spent the first week of July driving around the incredible country that is north of Auckland. It was a holiday for just Lucy and I. All the research I had done told me that it was a beautiful part of New Zealand. It’s so cliched but I have to say it. Nothing prepared me for how beautiful it was. Hiring a motorhome meant no strict itineraries. Being able to make plans up as I went along was exactly what I needed after the crazy that has been this year.
On the second morning I was making breakfast. The previous night we stayed in a caravan park I found by surprise. It was off the main highway going north, down a twisty steep descent which ended at a grassy area between a cove and a small beach covered in black shiny rocks. I had parked the motorhome with the back window facing the small cove. It was beautiful. That morning while cooking breakfast, the new album from Florence and the Machine was blasting through the speakers. During the second song Florence sings ‘we all have a hunger’. I was dancing around like an idiot in the tiny space between the stove top and the bathroom door. Lucy was on the floor laughing that baby laugh. There was so much happiness in such a small space. And then the tears started.
I cried and kept crying throughout that trip. On the way to Cape Reinga I cried while driving down tiny roads surrounded by chicken farms. At night when Lucy had gone to sleep in the back, I sat at the front and cried in the dark. In the country that my mother was born and left before she was a teenager, I found it possible to start grieving her death. I also found the ability to really enjoy my daughter’s presence again. I found the power of vulnerability. To honestly sit with my emotions and just let them be.
In the last few weeks things started getting hard again. I was already struggling to deal with the weight of everything when we hit a period of teething followed by the flu. The lack of sleep made it next to impossible for me to regulate my emotions. I felt sadness waiting to engulf me like a tidal wave. I tuned out. I was tired, I was numb, and barely functioning. But then a small moment broke the dam wall. Something Lucy did made me laugh and the tears came as a relief. I started engaging with the world again instead of just going through the motions.
The thing with emotions is that you can’t just numb the ones you don’t like. I know because I’ve tried (and if we’re being honest, I’ll try again in the future just to double check). Shutting out the sadness meant shutting out joy. The world went from being full of vivid emotions to a watered down, grey colour. And that was fine for a while because I had some tough times to get through. Planning a funeral and telling people of your mother’s death requires a great deal of resilience. I’ve used the strategy of shutting down so many times in my life. This dysfunctional emotional regulation resulted in years of dysfunctional relationships. I needed a way off of the merry-go-round of dysfunction so that I can be a positive influence to my daughter. The last thing I want is for this crazy to be passed onto another generation.
The only way out is vulnerability. Sitting with and acknowledging emotions. Not necessarily buying into or investing in each emotion, but seeing their worth as they exist in the moment. Vulnerability is hard. It’s near impossible to keep up at all times. But if there’s a choice between actively engaging in life and shutting down, I know what I’m choosing.