Be strong. Take care of them, you are the strong one.
When tragedy struck, I was instructed to be strong, to take care of everyone. The fact I was the youngest in the group seemed irrelevant. I had a swirling of emotions happening, but I could not let them show. Head up, shoulders back, eyes straight ahead because I had a task to accomplish, I had to be strong.
Somewhere in my young brain, I interpreted strong with void of emotions. Yes, that was it. Being strong meant I was to show no emotion. Joy, joy and laughter were the only acceptable expressions. Sorrow? Grief? Sadness? All weakness.
How did I learn that? How did I learn to cast those feelings to the side so quickly? I could not cry; I was the comforter after all. I was the one to wrap my arms around others, to tell them everything would be okay. Maybe my physical strength, my ability to hold others up, meant I had to be emotionally strong too. I wanted to be strong, truly I did. But strong meant ignoring so much of what I was feeling.
Emotions are funny little things. They arise from seemingly nowhere, and at the strangest of times. I remember, I would be laughing with friends when a memory would find its way into my mind. Suddenly, emotions began to well up within me. But no, I was to be strong, I had to push them back down. Sorry, sadness, I cannot visit with you today, I’m much too busy pretending to be strong.
Sadness and sorrow began to manifest themselves with anger. Anger was strong, right? Surely it was better than laying down and wailing. I punched walls. I know, genius decision on my part, but it was always a better choice than punching people. Well, it was a better choice until I nearly broke my own knuckles. What do you know? I could throw a heck of a punch.
Maturity is often a wonderful gift. Moving away, living on my own, I could lay my weaknesses out in the open. In the silence of my living room, when no one else was around, I did not have to be strong. I could allow sadness and sorrow to overwhelm me, and I could yell in anger (and leave the walls alone). When others were around, I struggled, I struggled to reveal those feelings, the ache deep within my own heart.
Quit trying to be strong. You are not alone. You do not have to take care of everyone. Even as my husband spoke those words, I barely comprehended them. What was he saying? I do not have it all together? I do not have to save everyone else? I am free to express how I truly feel? Is that what a strong girl does?
I had to redefine strong.
In marriage, in motherhood, and in faith, I began searching for what it meant to be strong, and how these emotions we all seem to be born with factor in. Slowly, I learned the truth. Being strong is not the equivalent of being void of emotions. I learned I could sit and weep when my heart was broken. I found I could admit I was upset without lashing out at anyone within three feet of me. Really, I discovered experiencing all the emotions humans are packaged with is normal and healthy. Ironically, when I began to allow emotions to surface, I began to actually feel stronger. My energy was no longer consumed with keeping feelings from surfacing. In learning to identify my brokenness, my hurt, my anger, my frustrations, and my confusions, they no longer had power over me.
Yes, that is it. I found I am strong, emotions and all.