Ardena Joy Clark (file photo)

If I had to choose one word to sum up my 2017, that word would be painful. I’m talking, all consuming, heart wrenching, you can’t sleep, have difficulty concentrating, your emotions are RAGING and you feel completely out of control kind of pain.

Most of us have had to endure emotional pain at some point in life and it’s never pleasant. As a young child, I certainly experienced my fair share and by the grace of “LOVE” I was able to overcome it and not allow it to weigh me down as I continued to journey on. Because of how the world began to open up to me, for most of my adolescent and young adult life, I was under the impression that I had escaped that trauma and completely healed, even though I understood that there would always be a sensitivity that remained. Well last year, I discovered that that wasn’t exactly true. Yes, my rational mind no longer suffered or harbored any conscious hate or ill will toward the people that inflicted the abuse/pain. I was not bitter and after some years even grew to have a forgiving heart. I knew that I had nothing to be ashamed of and that I was no worse than anyone else for my experiences. In fact, I believed (and still do) that I grew stronger because of them. I was not afraid to go create what I wanted to create in life. However there was something that I would not be able to see about myself for decades. There was still more work to be done in this area and I have pain to thank for bringing it to my attention.

Throughout the years, some of my closest friends, out of concern, would remark that they viewed me as guarded and I never had any idea what they meant, considering how open I felt I was with people. They’d say, “there is a part of you that don’t let anyone come near,” but it was easy to dismiss given the fact my life appeared to be and for the most part, really was, good . I did know that I have always been very selective about the people that I allow to come into my life. I selected only those I deemed “safe” and whose intentions I trusted to be around me and am always quick to cut anyone off who steps out of line. Now, I love my “tribe”. I support and encourage them and they know that I have their back. I was very comfortable giving love and showering people with affection; however, what I’d come to learn about myself is that I never held any expectation of that love being reciprocated, though, more often than not, it was. Still, I avoided expectation as it would have put me in a vulnerable position. With expectation comes the possibility of being let down. I came to realize that I preferred, unconsciously, to maintain an emotional distance. What I was forced to realize is that I didn’t want to trust people with the responsibility of loving me and I believe that it was my subconscious way of avoiding being hurt.

How Did This All Come About?

Well, last year I was blessed with a new relationship which quickly penetrated my boundaries, and I soon found myself in completely unfamiliar territory. There we were standing, naked, right in front of each other, coexisting and operating, each with our role to play, with different ways of moving through life and it was impossible for us not be impacted by the actions of the other. I found myself in a place that I had managed to avoid for so many years, vulnerable and desiring to be loved by someone.

In every relationship there are disagreements. We are all different, do not see things the same way, and for those reasons and others, can often misrepresent intentions. For example it’s easy to mistake absent mindedness for neglect, a lack of discipline as someone not caring, and passive aggressiveness as being mean-spirited rather than a person making an attempt to get a handle on their emotions. We all assign value differently and have different needs. Now, the control freak in me rejected the idea of things not going “my way” and thought that I needed to micromanage my environment in order to feel safe. Well, contrary to most of my previous, serious intimate relationships (yea it’s horrible but that’s what happened) things did not always go my way and when they didn’t.  Emotions that I didn’t understand and had no idea were there would well up inside of me, largely fear and that would manifest as anger and rage which was very painful. It took me a while but what I eventually realized is that this was not a response to disagreement. It was the “emotional residue” from my previous childhood experiences and that more than anything I was afraid of not being loved and abandoned. It was my ego’s immature attempt to protect me by pushing the potential “danger” away. You see, though I had overcome quite a bit intellectually and emotionally, to a degree, my emotions, had not been given the opportunity to fully evolve with me in such an up close and personal setting. The emotional distance that I unknowingly prefered prevented those old “triggers” from being identified and dealt with earlier on. This is where the real difficult work began. Even though I finally realized all this and that it wasn’t normal or healthy, it did not make my fear, pain and anger any easier to endure. When I felt slighted or let down (from my perspective), for months I still became extremely volatile but slowly I was able to at least come out of my emotions and “watch myself” in real time. Have you ever had the experience of behaving in a certain way and watching yourself with disapproval, as if from outside of your body, while simultaneously unable to intervene in that moment? That’s where I remained for months but each time having more dialogue with myself, while behaving irrationally. I’d say to myself things like, “What are you doing? These emotions that you are feeling have nothing to do with this disagreement. Why do you continue to unleash on this man?”. I’d say, “You are so much stronger than this. Don’t allow your emotions to dictate your behavior” “You’re not a coward. Have the courage to let this man love you in his way. This isn’t you”. After more agonizing months of this, something began to change and I was able to “catch” myself in the middle. I’d still get angry and even begin to argue, but then I’d stop myself, be silent and allow the tears to well up and feel whatever it was that I was feeling. I’d go do something, work out, listen to music and allow myself to feel the anger and pain but also attempt to sooth it with a productive outlet. That REALLY hurt! For me anger and lashing out helped mask pain but just bearing it without an attempt to project it was excruciating. It was by no means a perfect transition and “slick” comments came out here and there but I was regaining control, not of others, not of my environment but of myself and my own emotions. They began to fall under my command and as my self control increased, despite the way my emotions were inclined to have me behave, I found my way back to my “center”. I still become emotional from time to time but what I noticed is that the more I resist acting out how I feel the less strong the feelings when they return. I, in a very real way am healing myself and would not have even known there was anything left to heal had it not been for pain.

The experiences of this last year have enabled me to achieve a higher degree of freedom in my life than I have ever known. 2017 was amazing. I wrote my first book “The Art Of Choosing Joy” which was well received, began a new chapter, with a new partner, in a new state, was recognized by a couple of wonderful organizations for my contributions as a global “thought leader” and grew my capacity to “educate my emotions” thanks to the persistent presence of pain.

We all go through painful times and there is no shame in it. Pain is a necessary part of life and points us to areas that need our attention. We can work through it, heal, and become even better equipped to face life’s next inevitable challenge by the grace and power of “LOVE”.

“Weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning”

May 2018 be your best year yet! Choose Joy.