If you watched Sesame Street in its early days, you might remember a mail carrier lady named Molly played by Charlotte Rae.
I thought, of course her feet hurt. She was a mail lady in a big city. (I thought it was Phoenix because it’s where KHET channel 8 broadcast from.) Poor Molly had to schlep around the city with a big old mail bag all day. No wonder her feet hurt. I felt terrible for her.
One day Bob or Gordon or maybe Susan told Molly to try pretending her feet didn’t hurt. Just keep saying “my feet do not hurt” and keep walking. So she tried that. She stepped forward repeating the words, “my feet do not hurt” over and over. I don’t remember what happened but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t optimistic about that helping. It seemed ridicules to think that the pain would go away just by saying it wasn’t there. At a young age I grasped that, even though I didn’t know the word denial.
It seems I had good emotional and spiritual health back then. But the years passed and I began to develop coping mechanisms to deal with life. It wasn’t long before I discovered the sweetest friend, the most comfortable place that felt safer than anywhere in the universe. It was a little world I created for me to live in. Denial. I could tell you that living in denial is like hiding under a warm blanket in bed on a freezing winter morning. Everything feels right about staying and wrong about getting out.
The problem is that denial is unhealthy. Just like staying under that blanket, I would starve if I never came out. And in real denial, I can’t do anything productive, maintain any relationship or grow in any way by living in denial. I won’t starve, but I will stagnate.
And I have recently been reminded another side effect of denial. It’s laborious and will suck the life from life. I should have realized it when I was so entrenched in it for so long. This is kind of where the analogy of lying under a warm blanket gets lost, because a blanket requires no effort. But living in denial actually expends a lot of energy. It’s not just trying to hold up the sky over a false world, living in a lie is just wrong. And no matter how much I thought I was okay, deep down, I knew I wasn’t. The level of anxiety that caused was exhausting.
And while I was living in denial, those around me were aware that something was seriously wrong. Denial takes a huge toll on relationships.
I am so thankful that I was blessed with a healthy childhood. I just knew it was wrong for Molly the Mail Lady to try to medicate her pain by denying it. I’m afraid that some kids the age I was then have already learned denial. Don’t talk about things that hurt… Pretend that didn’t happen… Family secrets… I learned denial outside the home by not coping with how the world was. But I grew to it just the same and dove deeper in as the real world failed to meet my liking.
Looking back now I don’t know how I could have done things different. I didn’t know how to cope. Neither did Molly. The poor woman’s feet were killing her and the best someone could tell her was to deny it. What do I think should have happened? Maybe the Sesame Street gang could have given her a hand. I don’t know if it’s a federal offence, but what if Big Bird and friends had gone and carried her bag for her for awhile? Maybe that would have helped. But at the very least, someone could have said: “Molly I’m so sorry your feet hurt. Thanks for doing such a good job delivering the mail around the neighborhood. Let me know if there’s anything we can do, okay? Please feel free to stop here anytime and take a rest for a spell. There will always be a cold drink in the summer and a hot one in the winter. Hang in there Molly, we love you.”
There, the pain is real and we know you’re hurting. We want to help and here’s what we will do.
Sorry, I sound self-righteous like that’s what I always do. Knowing what’s right is nothing next to doing what’s right and preaching what’s right is not much use at all. I don’t always do the right thing. But other people have helped me to step out of denial by encouraging me to go ahead and admit that the pain is real. To me, stepping out of denial was the hardest thing to do, and the most freeing.
So if you’re hurting and you know it, clap your hands. Admitting it can be the first step to healing. If you clapped, tell someone. Is it time to shake off that warm blanket and take some nourishment?