Is Sadness the Easy Way Out?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
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I’m in some ways a melancholy person by nature. I was a melancholy child growing up, and naturally my teenage years did nothing to cheer me up either (do they ever? For anyone?). This showed in my preference for sad songs, solitary walks in the forest and tragic romances (mostly fictitious). I usually deal with my melancholy moods on my own and can enjoy them as well. There’s a subtle beauty to them, as you would find it in the style of the great Romantic poets as well.

Sadness is part of this melancholy mood but, for me, sadness specifically points to a feeling that has to do with a particular event or situation. It comes in a variety of shades and colours, and can be the underlying base emotion in forms such as guilt or grief. I can feel sad because my children grow up in a broken home. My son feels sadness when he loses a favourite toy. My mother feels sad about the parents she has lost. We carry sadness with us, and in my case, apparently I carry a lot of it.

Yesterday was a day that started out with a few sad memories, but soon became overshadowed by sadness. It crept in ever so sneakily while I was talking with my partner. I mentioned something about my childhood and felt the tears well up even before I had finished my story. Throughout our conversation, more stories and circumstances came up that matched my sorrow, and the tears flowed ever more copiously.

I felt myself retreat. I built a little island on top of this pool of tears and sat there, alone, sinking into this sadness. Allowing myself to feel this sadness instead of trying to get a grip on it, is part of really caring for myself. In feeling my sadness, I’m showing myself that it’s okay to be who I am, how I am, at any time and in any state.
But there’s a caveat when this sadness lingers, as it can do for me. It starts to become the undertone of many of the memories I hold, and new memories I make. It feels so familiar, and in that way also sort of comforting. And that’s exactly where it becomes too easy.

Sadness pours out of emotional wounds that haven’t healed. As my partner pointed out: “If a cut doesn’t heal, you can keep pushing it open and there will always be blood flowing from it. It’s the same with sadness.”
Thus, sadness that keeps flowing can only be diminished by actually taking on the wound from which it pours forth. That’s where the challenge comes in.

We don’t like to actively engage with our own pain. We’re very much programmed to run away from it, screaming loudly and flaling our arms about in a mad-like fashion. It’s my usual go-to strategy as well. I know that, from one point of view, confronting our own trauma’s sounds like the stupidest thing you could do. You mean to relive old pain? You mean to dig up the fragments of a broken heart? Why wouldn’t you just leave them alone and look forward toward a brighter future?

But festering wounds don’t heal without ever touching them or looking at them. And they keep hurting, over and over again, whenever something touches upon them. You need to clean them out and dress them appropriately. In the case of trauma: We need to clarify the story, release the emotion that is attached to it and reframe the story from our own, adult perspective. That’s dressing the wound in a manner that allows for it to heal.

I once fell out of bed and cracked my collarbone. It was the middle of the night, and I was about 5 years old. It hurt a lot and when I was brought to the hospital, the doctors treated me in a way that for me, as a 5-year old, felt not at all careful or gentle. It takes retelling this story to clarify the complex of feelings, smells, sounds and other impressions that surround this event. When this complex is triggered, by something happening in real time, the emotions that are associated with it come up as well: Fear and sadness, perhaps also anger. It’s easy to add this sadness to the heap of other sorrow from other minor or major trauma’s and to rest in that emotion. It’s easier than taking steps to actively pursue healing, because that means you momentarily increase the pain.

So how do you begin to heal this? You talk through it, with someone you trust and who will support you. You allow someone else to help you hold the sadness, carry the grief, fear or anger. You learn ways to release the emotions around it and you rewrite the story from your current perspective, so it loses its hold over you.
It helps, for me, to acknowledge that the initial response to the event, the feelings associated with it, were the way in which I coped as a child. It was a survival mechanism that was needed at the time. Whether it was crawling away in a corner where I felt safe, or distancing myself from emotions that were too painful; the response I had as a child was the best possible response at the time. It just no longer serves me to hide away in corners when I want to live a life that’s free and brave.

Sadness has a way of dragging us down and taking all our energy with it. It takes our awareness of the allure of sadness, the mesmerizing hold it can have over us, to break through it and grant sorrow its rightful place: As part of the tale, but never the whole story.

Says my sorrow…

Stop drowning me in drink
Or heaps of food
It never worked before
And it never will

Stop stomping on me
With heavy beats in cheerful music
I’m still holding your hand
In every dance

Stop hitting me, screaming at me
Trying to belittle me
I’ll only grow bigger
For you to notice me

Stop burrying me
Between the pages of your work
Between the sheets of your bed
It only ever makes me
Want you more

Just for this once: Listen to me
I’ll speak gently
Just let me be here
And I’ll set you free
I promise you

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