Struggling in Recovery and Getting Better at Feeling

By Shannon Kopp, MFA

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.

The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver

Our dog, Simba, died last Friday. After almost 13 years here in the world, we eased our golden boy out of his tired body. We kissed his nose and head for the last time, watching his final breath leave his chest, crying so hard we couldn't breathe.

As I type this, I’m staring at Simba’s empty dog bed in the living room. We just don’t have the strength to remove it or even empty his water bowl. The silence in this home—without Simba’s old-man barks and toenails scraping the wooden floor—is too much.

What’s more, is how when you lose someone not even the most detailed description of them can capture the particular qualities that made you love them so deeply. Loving who you love is an inside experience, and losing them is, too.

And yet, how important it is for each of us to talk about our inside experiences.

I’m struggling. I hate that I’m struggling. I’m 37 years old, and I’ve spent almost half my life seeking treatment for mental health issues. One of my favorite clinicians, Dr. Ashley Solomon, says: “What matters is not feeling better, but getting better at feeling.” I know this to be true, but I hate feeling discomfort. I hate feeling grief. I don't know if I can "get better at feeling."

I call a friend. I tell her I’m an emotional wreck. Not only now, because Simba’s gone. But always. I'm too sensitive. I'm too this or that. I can't seem to stop putting myself down. Eventually, my friend says: “What if you give yourself the space to feel this loss, and it doesn’t mean you are wrecked or broken? The reason you feel so deeply is because you loved so profoundly. And how can that be anything but beautiful?"

By the end of the call, we decide that as painful as the experience of losing Simba was … as painful as recovering from bulimia and postpartum depression was ... as painful as my current grief is ... I will no longer use the term “emotional wreck.” That is because I and all of us who feel deeply are emotional beauties. We feel so much because we love so fully, and that's a gift.

I hang up the phone and think about our 13-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Simba. I don’t know where he is now, or what to believe about the afterlife. But I do know, with absolute clarity, that my dog would not want me or any human being to waste another moment calling ourselves a wreck or putting ourselves down for what our hearts and minds are experiencing.

Simba would want us to remember, especially amidst struggles—in our boxes of darkness—that we matter. We smell good. We are loved. And whether we realize it or not, every day we get better at feeling. Every day we are beautiful.

Written by

Shannon Kopp, MFA

Shannon Kopp, an Eating Disorder Recovery Center National Recovery Advocate, is the best-selling author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to…

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