Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Feeling Better

A while back I had a pretty bad experience. I found out that some people I cared about deeply had been dishonest with me in ways that really mattered. It was incredibly hurtful.

I quickly ran through several intense emotions. I felt beat up. I felt mistreated. I audibly asked, to no one in particular, why someone I cared about would choose to behave this way.

Then I cried. More than I care to say. And once the tears stopped flowing for sadness, they started flowing for anger.

I was angry over the loss that I recognized was my new reality. I was angry that I had let myself become vulnerable enough to make this pain possible. I was angry that no response to what I was experiencing seemed all that helpful. And I was angry that I felt like I had to just deal with all of this emotion completely on my own, for fear of "gossiping" or making the situation any worse.

The emotions boiled up in me over the next several days. I played the situation out over and over in my mind and wondered what I should have done differently to better protect myself from the betrayal. I saw all of my past interactions in a new light. And this just made me more and more angry.

You could say that I sort of bottled up the emotion. And before too long, I began to feel sick.

A friend noticed that I didn't seem right. He told me he sensed that I was about to fall apart. I told him this was probably true. He sat down with me, said that he was there to listen, and told me to go ahead and vent.

And I couldn't believe the things that came out of my mouth for the next thirty minutes. I don't think I took a breath. It was one long run-on sentence of practically-profanities. My face was red and tears flowed. I vented my frustrations. I shouted unkind things. And I did it all with my voice raised and my fists clenched.

When I finished yelling, we sat there quietly for a few minutes. Hunched over in my chair, I took some deep breaths. Then my friend asked me, "do you feel better?"

I thought for a moment. "No."

He responded, "Of course you don't. Because anger doesn't make you feel better. Only charity can do that."





It was the last thing I wanted to hear in that moment. The last thing I felt like I should hear in that moment was that I was supposed to love and not hate.

But he was right. He was 100 million percent right. And I hated that he was right. Because right then, sitting in that chair, I wanted to be angry.

Not an irrational or unjustified demand. True. But I wanted more than to just be angry.

I wanted my anger to make me feel better.

This shouldn't be a shock. It's human nature to seek internal peace. I think, whether conscious of the quest or not, this is what we are all constantly doing. Every action we take, we do so for the purpose of "feeling better."

We exercise to feel better.

We eat ice cream to feel better.

We work hard at our jobs to feel better.

Maybe we're working hard at our jobs so we can better provide for our families. Maybe we're doing it for the sake of gaining power and prestige. And maybe we're just doing it so we won't get fired and have to live on the streets.

Whatever our cited reason for our actions, we ultimately perform them so that some kind of better feeling can replace an alternative feeling that the action is supposed to avoid.

The problem is, we, the human beings of planet Earth, are notoriously bad at doing the things that are going to make us sustainably feel better.

So we overeat the ice cream, only to feel better in the moment and shame in the aftermath.

Or we ditch our responsibilities to feel the elation of adventure, only to experience the stress of later facing neglected responsibilities.

Or we choose to be angry because it's an easier emotion to let in, even though charity is an easier emotion to actually live with.

It was true, as I thought about it. It was true that my anger and my frustration and my sadness wasn't letting me feel anything other than . . . anger and frustration and sadness.

But as I persisted in dwelling on those emotions, I could expect nothing other than the negative and exhausting feelings that necessarily accompany those emotions.

I recently saw the movie Philomena. [Spoiler alert] A kind and loving elderly woman, the eponymous character of the film, is searching for her son with the help of another man. The film also has a terrible villain. An old nun who completely ruined Philomena's life by giving Philomena's son away without permission when he was a toddler and then actively kept the two from finding one another over the next fifty years.

At the conclusion of the film, this man and Philomena finally go to face this awful, terrible nun. The man screams at her and Philomena pleads at him to stop.

The man turns to Philomena and says something to the effect of, "here's the woman who ruined your life. What do you have to say to her?"

Philomena turns to the nun and says, sincerely, "I want you to know that I forgive you."

The man gasps and says something like, "are you freaking serious?! Just like that!? You forgive her?!"

Philomena responds with deep-seated emotion, "no! Not 'just like that!' That's hard. That's hard for me. But I don't want to hate people. I don't want to be like you."

The man yells back in defense, "I'm angry!"

And Philomena replies, "it must be exhausting."

And it's fascinating and inspiring to watch. Because there stood this elderly woman who had every reason in the world to hate this terrible nun. But in her wisdom, she knew that hating her, rebuking her, seeking revenge, none of these things were going to make her life any better.

The older I get the more I believe that it's true that the only true recipe for inner peace is love. Love for oneself. Love for others. And the biggest threat to our well being does not actually come from what anyone or anything can do to us. It comes from our own disciplined quest to defeat hate and apathy when those emotions are easier to feel.

That doesn't mean we have to be a doormat. That doesn't mean that we have to accept that a person's hurtful behavior is deserved or justified. But it does mean that if we want to succeed at feeling better, we have to do a better job at loving the actor who did something that's not so lovable.

In my own situation, I can say that the stern but sincere nudging from that thoughtful friend has opened me up to healing much more effectively than anything else I was trying. Or wasn't trying.

And while it continues to be a struggle, it's now a struggle I identify. So when I start to feel anger or frustration or when I start to try to convince myself that I should feel apathy or hate, I now get to experience the liberation that comes from reminding myself that I don't have to feel that way.

That I can instead choose to love. I can choose to remind myself that my hate or apathy won't make another's actions less hurtful. And that I can choose to remind myself that no person is perfect. Which in turn makes it easier to love myself when I make similar errors.

And it's wonderful.

Because anger may be easier to feel. But charity is more comfortable to live.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. This is amazingly put Eli!

  2. Here's my charity to you: my friend met Paul Simon tonight at some charity thing in DC! She posted a pic on fb and I immediately thought of you. :-)

  3. Wow I actually needed to read this. Thank you for sharing this wonderful perspective. I think your hair is so nice cuz it grows on top of an amazing brain!

  4. Thank you. This is why I love you and your blog. You post humorous posts and serious posts. Usually your serious ones really make me think about situations in my life but this one really affected me. It's opened my eyes to my own anger I've been struggling with lately.

  5. "The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

    "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

    "...In the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him - mentally and spiritually."

    -Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor E, Frankel, p.65-66

    1. Thank you for reminding me that I want and need to read that book again.

  6. This is all so true. I have a few family members that are just a mess. One is an alcoholic, and one is just miserable. On her 3rd marriage, and still miserable. And both of them hate so many people, and are so angry and unforgiving of every single injustice ever, whether real or percieved. I have thought forever that it must be the most exhausting thing in the whole world, to be able to sustain so much hate and anger. What you wrote is very well put. At the end of the day, it's just better for so many people - not just yourself and the person whom anger is directed at - but at everyone around you who has to deal with your misery as well, to forgive, accept, and try to be the bigger person and let it go.

  7. I'm sharing this on Facebook. I hardly ever share things on Facebook (except Family History and nerdy comics). I have an 'enemy' who I slighted years ago (because I wouldn't lie and the 'enemy' wouldn't tell the truth) and for 2 years this person has sought revenge. I have been forgiving this person for 2 years. Almost daily. But hate is so heavy, only forgiveness frees me.

  8. This could not come at better time for me. Today, I am waiting to hear about the results of my mom's second major cancer surgery. Our family never gets sick and within the space of six months, my father was placed in a nursing home, my mom got diagnosed with lung cancer AND kidney cancer, and I've had to wrestle with guilt, uncertainty, and anger. When I first learned that she had two cancers and we didn't know if it was metastatic, I was pretty sure she was going to die. I was numb and stunned for a few days, and then I realized that even with this bad news, I had no regrets: I love my mom and she knows I love her. We're close. She's had some great experiences in her life, even if this completely blows. So I decided to have a mini-Thanksgiving the weekend I found out, to express that I was grateful for all the good things in my life, cancer or no cancer. It helped a lot. And now, months later, as we wonder if her cancer odyssey might be over, at least for a while, I think I need to express gratitude and thankfulness again, because the uncertainty and anger at the situation is surfacing again. Every time I think, "This isn't fair! This shouldn't be happening!" I need to think about all the love I've been shown, and the support I've gotten. I know it's not the same as feeling the sting of betrayal from a friend, but I think both experiences share the same sense of anger at the unfairness of the situation. It is so hard to let go of the anger, but once you do it, you wonder why, and what, exactly, it is you were holding on to so hard in the first place.

    1. I'm so so sorry for all that you're going through. This weekend was a horror for my family as well. I can relate to your situation. My husband's cousin just had her fourth baby at the beginning of April and was diagnosed with breast cancer last week. She's 38. Then, on Sunday (Father's Day of all days,) my father in law had a mini stroke and is now in rehab. Both situations stink big time. We're lucky that the stroke wasn't that major and the cancer is end stage 1, but it still stinks majorly. We've been thinking of ways to rally around them (my husband's family is very small,) and show our support. I love your idea of having a mini Thanksgiving. We usually do Christmas Eve at our house, but I was too sick to do it this year (good reason, though...we're expecting a baby next month.) We still have the turkey, so, I hope you don't mind if I steal your idea. :-) I'll be praying for your family and hoping that everything comes back squeaky clean.

  9. This is so beautiful.

  10. I love love your blog. In fact there are times I wish I was you! How is that for stalkerish. Thank you for this post - a good reminder. I am sorry for your pain and I hope you know that you are loved by so many - more than you can possibly know. (And not just for your fabulous hair!) I will be in Utah later this summer and know that your guest bedroom is available . . . . .

  11. "And while it continues to be a struggle, it's now a struggle I identify."

    There is so much power in that statement. I think one of the most frustrating things about human interactions is that there aren't one but two (at least) sets of emotions and histories involved. So anger ends up being a blanket emotion for this whole slew of other emotions- and a need for understanding why people do the things they do. But that's a need that can never be met - even if we track down the person who wronged us and demand an explanation. Because of that, we have to find a source of peace within ourselves. Identifying that need is the first step towards healing.

  12. Wow. This is really a masterpiece. Thank you so much for taking the time to share these thoughts. It can't be easy but it is so so helpful to so many people. I'm sure I'm not the only person who felt like they really needed to hear this today.

  13. "Anger may be easier to feel. But charity is more comfortable to live." That last line has been ringing through my head since I first read this post last night. Curse you Eli! Why did you have to go and say that!

  14. I wish I could bottle up this blog post and slip it into the drink of all the vengeance-minded parents who walk into my office demanding custody or child support but really only wanting to wield their children as a weapon to wound the other party.

  15. I'm just wondering if you've managed to forgive the person who hurt you yet. And if yes, how. Because I was also betrayed a few years ago by what I thought was a friend and while I've managed to not actively hate her, I'm not quite in the realm of love and forgiveness...

    1. I think forgiveness is the ability to feel charity toward someone who has done something wrong. I find I can most effectively get there by actively trying not to focus on myself and to instead attempt to understand how the person's own pain and circumstances might have led them to act the way they did. I don't excuse their behavior in the process. But there is something about seeing things from their perspective that makes me feel more compassion.

      In this situation, I think I keep getting there, slipping a bit, and then having to get there again. It's an ongoing process. In that sense, forgiveness isn't a one-time action. It's a state of being that you can only achieve with concerted effort and consistent practice.

    2. I would love to hear any other thoughts on this from the oh-so-wise Strangers.

    3. When I found out that my best friend had been lying to me about some pretty major things for over a year or so, I was devastated. Not only from being lied to, but the things that I’d been lied to about destroyed me for a while, and still continue to make my heart hurt to this day. I've never wept more bitterly in my life then I did during that time. For me, I wanted to be angry. I wanted so badly to be angry, but in my brokenness I couldn't seem to muster the strength, and instead, I felt sorrow. I told my friend when I talked to her that I didn’t want to tell her right then that I forgave her. I didn’t want to say those words, not because I didn’t feel forgiveness yet, but because I didn’t want to say it in the heat of the moment, and then a month later be angry and unforgiving. I agree, forgiveness is definitely a continual choice, and a conscious effort. For me, the choice is made easier (if only slightly) by the understanding that I’m just as capable of making the same choices as the people who hurt me. That I’m just as capable and just as prone to causing pain as everyone else. Sure, this doesn't help me much in the moment when the wound is the rawest, but in the days, weeks, and months that follow, it’s helpful to remember that my heart can be just as wicked, if not more so.

    4. Thank you, both of you...maybe I'm getting there. Sometimes I can feel downright charitable and wish her well, and then ugly things come bubbling up from the depths of hurt (that I had thought I'd dealt with) and I'm right back to hoping for a karmic injunction and that her life implodes in on her. But thinking of forgiveness as an on-going process (and constant choice) instead of a one-time deal makes me feel better about my ability to eventually get all the way there.

  16. Thank you, Eli...
    I'm going thru something pretty similar right now...and reading this helped me gain some needed perspective. From the bottom of my heart...thank you. <3

  17. How do you manage to make me roll with laughter one moment and have all the feels the next? You sir are a wizard.

  18. Beautiful. So incredibly beautiful.

  19. Thanks, Eli. I agree that forgiveness is to stop hating and see somebody with charity. Hating is bad for us.
    Years ago, a major tragedy happened in my family that we will never recover from in this life. I sometimes have felt overwhelming anger toward the guilty party. But from the beginning, I have felt that the only way to keep myself from going insane is to forgive. My three steps: Remember that I also have sinned. Look up to God always. Trust God to make everything better, even if not in this life.
    I think all of us face a choice at some point in our lives: Be angry, hate, make yourself crazy, or forgive, trust, be at peace.
    But don't be a doormat. If you're in danger in any way, get yourself to a safe place. Forgiving doesn't necessarily continuing the relationship.

  20. Beautifully put. Oh, by the way, your hair looks fabulous!

  21. While I'm sure you were wronged, or at least feel wronged, this post is incredibly self-indulgent. I'm generally a big fan of your blog, but it's posts like this that make me disappointed in you and your generation of "professional victims".

    1. Professional victim? Is that really a job?! HOW MUCH DOES IT PAY?!

    2. In all seriousness, did you read the post? I hoped that my point was that I'm learning not to be a self-indulgent victim. To be able to look outside of myself and how I "feel" wronged and focus instead on how I can love another person, accepting that nobody is perfect, myself included. I certainly don't need validation from all that I'm a wonderful person, but I'm concerned that you have chosen these types of thoughts to attack. Surely this type of introspection shouldn't be labeled as negative.

    3. Oh my gosh! Did I just become a victim in my comment?! SOMEONE PLEASE START A CHARITY FOR ME! We can have a 5K for all Eli McCann's who have been targeted in semi-annoyed anonymous Internet comments. We'll call it, "Race for the Professional Victims."

    4. I signed up for that charity run last week, but it was cancelled because something tragic happened to everyone involved so no one could run.

      On a serious note though, I did read your post entirely. And calling you a "professional victim" was not an attack, it was just an honest commentary from my perspective. What I take issue with is that you write about how you've decided to focus on charity and love and not "gossiping", but the undercurrent of this whole post is about how these terrible, awful, bad people in your life wronged you. And I imagine that your real life friends, who you interact with on a daily basis, know exactly who you're calling out.

      It's your blog, and your life, but I take issue when I see you or others blantantly trying to manipulate sympathy and adoration, while at the same time proclaiming themselves to be only motivated by love and acceptance.

    5. Ah. I can definitely understand that. And if it really was the case that the people in my life would recognize this situation from reading this post, I wouldn't have written this like I did. I can see how that would be hypocritical, and my intent in writing this was not to gain sympathy or to rally folks to my cause. I hope not to be TOO passive-aggressive in this blog.

      The situation I'm referring to is a very personal one that is known by very few. (It's also distant enough now that it might not even be recognized by those very few). And part of why I wrote this is because I believed that those very few would benefit from hearing these thoughts. I don't believe I was attempting to manipulate sympathy and adoration here. And I also don't proclaim to be motivated by love and acceptance. But I do proclaim that I'm starting to see how being motivated by such is a better way to live and so it's something that I'm trying to strive for.

      True humility is an ongoing struggle that I absolutely do not claim to have mastered. I'm working at it day by day, and hopefully moving in the right direction.

      Thank you for the comments.

    6. Reading this post, I didn't get the undercurrent of "these people are terrible" at all. There was more of a sense that no matter what the people around us do, we are better off if we try to love and not hate. I actually thought it was really brave of Eli to share this. He owned the fact that he felt and acted uncharitably and was corrected by a friend. And I found the humility with which he describes his attempts to overcome anger to be really inspirational. I think if you see so much negative in this post, you must be focusing on the wrong thing. An angry person sees himself as the victim. A person who decides not to be angry is the one who has decided not to simplify all human relationships into antagonist/protagonist.

      (Different anonymous)

    7. There are way too few references in this comment chain to how good my hair looks today. And, to be honest, it's kind of starting to piss me off. Because, no, I'm not having the best hair day of all time. But it still looks pretty good.

  22. Eli, I always enjoy reading you posts. Thank you so much for sharing, especially topics such as these, which must be hard to write about. This reminded of something I always tell myself when I grow particularly frustrated or upset with someone over what they have done or said, which is "everyone has a story". I feel like it is unfair for me to judge or assume negative things about someone because they have a story which contributes to who they are as a person. I don't know what they might be going through or dealing with. Compassion and understanding are so very important! You're right, no one is perfect, and that is what makes us so interesting! :)

  23. After going through a " little"part of Hell a few years back I too realized that being angry is so much easier. It seemed that anger was right at the top waiting to pour out. It's hard work to forgive and choose to be ok again. Loved this post!

  24. This was so helpful to me. Thank you. I needed to read this today.

  25. I lived this (and still live it because time heals all wounds but...it takes time.) All I can say is thank you for posting this. I feel as though letting those who have wronged me keep me angry, is just giving them power that isn't theirs to wield. There are so many people that are negative about the idea of forgiving those who have wronged us, I sometimes wonder if my attempts to walk the line between forgiving and not being a doormat really is the sign of weakness everyone calls it. It is nice to know that others walk that line too. Anger is exhausting, charity and compassion aren't easy but are freeing (and the right thing).

  26. Thanks. I was pissed off yesteday. working on being charitable

  27. Beautiful. I went through a similar situation with my sister. She hurt me in a terrible way. I held onto my anger for years. It ate me up inside to the point that I became severely depressed.
    I forgave her and told her so. But also yold her why I was so angy and hurt. Still on the path of mending our relationship.
    But thank you for this post. Reminds me that while we may be angry we don't need to let it take over our lives. Breathe, forgive. We are not perfect but we have the power to change and forgive and grow

  28. This is a beautiful post, Eli. I'm sorry for what you had to go through, but glad you were able to learn something valuable from it and grow. That's what all of our experiences are really for anyway, good or bad.

    And I loved the movie Philomena. Such an amazing story of forgiveness.

  29. Eli I love your hair this much (picture my arms very far apart.).