the feelings, the fire, and being an empath

It has been a long time since I’ve said anything here. I think that is what naturally happens when you walk through fire – you’re more interested in staying alive in the flames than analyzing them, putting words to it and communicating something worth reading. And in the flames is where I have been.

Don’t consider it strange my friends – this fiery trial you are in… Well, thanks Paul, but it was strange – it was like the twilight zone at times. I guess his point was – don’t be surprised… But I was. I was surprised over and over by the flames that jumped up, licking me in the face, searing my edges, threatening to choke out my breath. And while that might sound dramatic – oh whatever, I am a total drama queen, but at the end of the day, as big and impossible as what I’m facing feels, I learn. I learn something about myself, something about the world around me and how this thing works.

All my life I have struggled with the fact that I feel things so deeply. I haven’t seen any real use for it because most of the time I would just shut down under the weight of it. I became a ghost – a shadow me. People told me – oh, Sallie, you’re an intercessor, you have a gift! that’s why you feel things so deep – so you can pray for people. For those of you who didn’t grow up in my circles, that’s all an intercessor is – someone who prays for other people – usually in a passionate manner – tears, wailing, crying – and somewhere along the line people got it in their heads that this made God perk up and pay attention. So the theory was that I would feel what was going on with other people so my prayers would be more specific and effective. But I rarely got around to the praying part. Most of the time I would end up on my bedroom floor or in the shower sobbing with no idea why. Sadness, rejection, fear, hopelessness – these were the strongest voices, these were more present with me than anything else, anything that would make me effective or useful to anyone. So feeling everything so deeply ended up being a cruel joke instead of a gift to me (or anyone else).

Cycles of depression were something I came to anticipate and fear – knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it, all the feelings crashing, diving down, then free falling into a black pit with no bottom – alone, afraid, angry and above all, hopeless. It’s been bleak, y’all. I ain’t gonna lie.

I guess sometimes it takes the fire to make sense of things – you know, purify, clarify, burn away the things that don’t count… And that’s all good and fine until you’re in the middle of it, your coat tail smoking, your eyebrows singed. For all it’s clarifying powers, the fire sucks, it’s hot and relentless and I don’t wish it on anyone.

But after this fiery season – I find myself thankful. Maybe I’ll share more of the details at some point, but right now all I need to say is that after walking through these past months I can see how this thing of feeling everything so blasted deeply is a gift and how it could possibly be of use. And it’s so simple – so much more simple than I’ve ever made it. Here’s a bit of what I mean.

You are in pain. I feel your pain through and through me, I feel it with you. I say – oh man, you’re in pain (not mistaking it as my own pain) – and you say yes, I am. And then I give you the space to sort it out walking with you as you look at that pain, name it and head toward healing. The key here is not getting thrown into thinking it’s about me. It’s not about me – well sometimes it is, but mostly it’s not.  I am a mirror. I used to think I was a fixer, that it was my job to tell people why they felt what they were feeling, that somehow if I uncovered why for them that they would magically heal – or that it was my job to carry their pain for them, lighten their load, or teach them where they went wrong to end up in such pain in the first place (eye roll), or worst of all i would think all their pain was about me because i could feel it, felt responsible for it and i would go into overdrive to make it better – which i never could, which sent me into a free fall into the black pit (again). So exhausting.

But it’s none of those things because when you are in pain and someone comes along to tell you why you’re hurting or to take it away from you or makes it all about them, that just pisses you off, destroys trust, and makes you stop sharing your pain with them. It has taken me a long time to get this – and I don’t even fully understand why this past season taught me that. But it did.

I know this post is a bit of a mess – that it’s probably frustratingly vague, but I don’t know that the details that got me here even matter. The point is I am discovering the point to being an empath – that this actually is a gift that has value and use, and I don’t have to free fall in a black pit or hide away because I feel everyone’s feelings when I walk into a room. Sometimes I am the thing in the room that people are responding to – and then i feel them reacting to me and it becomes this feedback loop of destruction and insecurity, which is generally what happens when you think you’re the center of the universe… but that’s a post for another day.  

I know I am not alone in this experience. I also know that people have struggled to put words to what we’re supposed to do with all this feeling crap. So that’s what I’m trying to do – turn around, look at it, call it by it’s name, and communicate it the best I can so we can show up for one another in meaningful ways, and stop burning our emotional energy on things that don’t help anyone but end up leaving us shut down and isolated. I believe there is hope for us – I feel it through and through, sparking belief that we are indeed headed toward the things we have only dared to long for – connection, intimacy, genuine love…

There is much too much to say for one post, so that’s all for now my friends. Until next time – be kind to yourself, we’re all just figuring it out – we may as well do it together. 

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