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Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping

January is named for the Roman god Janus, who presided over endings, beginnings, doorways, and transitions. As I’m sitting here on the cusp of 2023 it’s an opportunity for me to look back on where I’ve been and bring some intention and presence to where I’m going. No matter our age, every moment offers us an opportunity to reflect on the life we’ve been living and gives us the opportunity to consciously create our next moments.

These moments of reflection are not always fun. The inventory always contains regrets as well as celebrations. I’ve noticed that my happiness is often connected to the meaning that I’m making from what I remember and my ability to open myself to mourning. Have you ever noticed the habitual tendency to say “I’m sorry” when tears arise? As an internal medicine and weight management doctor, I watch people apologize for their tears as we wade through tender territory every day. I can notice that impulse also rise within myself, and I’ve gotten curious about its origin.

I think that we’re a society that fears our own grief. We’re a culture that equates success with being happy, so it can feel like a personal failure to get caught in mourning. “Why haven’t I figured this out by now?” or “Why does everyone else have an easier time at (fill in the blank)?” are often what my thoughts look like. In moments like this I think it’s important to remember my tears are often clearing me out for some new delight.

I’m coming to consider my tears as “good housekeeping” because they tell me that I’ve landed on something important that needs attention so that all the stuck emotion around it can clear. Often, it’s the realization of a deeply unmet need. I remember a moment when a dear one referred to me as “my angel”. The imagery that arose in that moment was the memory of holding my babies, now ages 14, 17, 18, and 23 in my arms. There was so much pure love in those moments. They were so innocent. We hadn’t had any of the moments of rage, disgust, fear, or grief that accompany every human relationship, especially the most tender ones. And as every mother knows, no matter what your child puts you through, there’s still this connection to their angelic or essential self. I loved those kids before they ever did a single thing. I loved them simply for being. I loved them when they cried all night, I loved them when they made (make) messes, and I love them even when they’re stepping on my last nerve.

Having another person call me “my angel” made me wonder at the possibility that they could be seeing me in a similar light. And in the next moment I realized that those two words reminded me to check in on whether I can see myself that way. And if I can’t, what unconscious contract is keeping me from remembering MY essential goodness? Usually, it’s the expectation that I don’t have moments of being a flawed human because I hate disappointing people. What are the contracts that bind you?

Hearing “my angel” from a loved one also connected me to my deep longing to be seen and held with a kind of exquisite tenderness that I believe we all deserve. This doesn’t mean that we don’t give an other feedback that may be hard to hear. And it doesn’t mean that we don’t take accountability for our shortcomings, but do we also have the capacity to give ourselves a break? Do we have the willingness to give other people a break?

So often we cover our grief with frustration and sometimes anger. While rage is an emotion that’s essential for life force, we often don’t use the energy it creates in the most life serving ways. The sensations created in the body when we experience an unpleasant emotion often leak out in reactive forms that land on others as judgment and blame. If you don’t know what life serving rage looks like, I’ll invite you to remember Dr. Martin Luther King whom we will soon celebrate. His legacy lives on because he knew how to channel his rage into essential strength which enabled him to write, speak and organize nonviolent protests and mass demonstrations that drew attention to racial discrimination and demanded civil rights legislation to protect the rights of African-Americans.

So what is your relationship to rage and grief as you enter 2023? What stuck emotions would you benefit from clearing so that you can reclaim your power and open your heart? Are there any emotional housekeeping items that need your attention? The world needs you to take care of yourself so that you can connect to your most generous impulses and your longing to contribute to the wellbeing of all. I invite you to join the choir of humanity as we cry our tears, shake our fists at the heavens and celebrate what we’ve contributed or accomplished. And most of all, I invite you to remember that it’s all perfectly imperfect.

Kara J. Nance, MD, FACP General Practitioner & Obesity Medicine Specialist

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