It seems to lure us in and then lets us down. It leaves us feeling disappointed when it doesn’t offer its part of the bargain- our happiness. We have an agreed upon contract with expectation- it doesn’t get a vote- we call all the shots. It’s supposed to do exactly what we want, how we want, and when we want.
The other side of expectation is a disappointment. The downward spiral of doubt, despair, and disbelief…. The 3 D’s.
I am alone by myself this thanksgiving due to an unexpected- unanticipated- uninvited guest- Covid. After 2 years of having it’s presence seemingly ruin every major holiday and life event - including my husband's death- it is still lingering while calling all the shots. It is a non-negotiable.
While sitting in the silent sulk of defeatism, it has amplified how much I was expecting this Thanksgiving holiday. To be with my family…. To be with my friends… to be with my community…. To enjoy delicious food and wonderful traditions…. To nestle close to my grandchildren and giggle…. To sit by the fire and feel comforted by its crackling heat…. To have happiness and contentment engulf and surround me like a gentle, warm blanket.
None of that has happened. And I thoroughly expected- with great certainty, that it would. All of it.
So I am wallowing in my pity- smothering myself with negative self-talk- and playing a story in my head with me starring as the suffering victim- alone, despondent, and bereaved of love. It is a very familiar storyline- one that I like to visit quite frequently. It soothes me in some weird way- giving credence to my belief system that I have held onto so tenaciously for most of my life. The problem is- I hate this story- it sickens me while it seduces me into more misery. It is what I refer to as the molasses swamp…. It gets stickier and stickier the more I walk through it.
I “decide” to do something to add in a different storyline…. After all- it is “thanks”-giving. I may not be able to completely erase the story I have created that has been so cunningly crafted by false expectations, but I may be able to add in a different plot line- what do I have to lose?
What can I be grateful for in this moment? Gratitude is known to be one of the great antidotes to joylessness- it actually has neurologically altering effects by its release of dopamine - a pleasure hormone- in our brains. It will literally rewire our brains to increase our sense of well-being and happiness.
I start making a list of all the things I am wonderfully grateful for… it flows out of me like a river…. One thing after another of blessing upon blessing in my life. But something very odd happens. I actually don’t feel any different. I haven’t talked myself into feeling happier by this reciting of wonderful things spoken with a cheery disposition.
I have totally recognized that I have much to be grateful for - very much- but just the mere recognition of that alone hasn’t changed the fact- I am still by myself, sick as a dog on thanksgiving, and have serious FOMO. Now I start making a nice big shame sandwich that I can eat for thanksgiving dinner- I berate myself for not being more grateful for all that I have- what a spoiled little stink I am- whining and complaining with all the benevolence of the universe dropped in my lap. How dare I ?????
The fact is - this is not what I was expecting. I had a different plot line- one with a happy ending and it was all wrapped up nice and pretty with a big bow on top. Gratitude isn’t making that better- if anything it is falsely accusatory because it isn’t allowing for my true feelings- utter disappointment.
So, I literally google- “how to let go of expectation.” Turns out, Dr. Google has much to say on the subject. One of the first things I read is so simple yet completely foreign to my experience…. “Acknowledge your disappointment.” What the ????????????? “Allow yourself to be disappointed- without trying to blame anyone or anything for the way you’re feeling.” Are they kidding ?????????
I should know this. I am a life coach- an Enneagram junkie- a spiritual seeker deeply desiring awakening. I preach this over and over to all my constituents- the way out is the way through.
Yet, in some very familiar, habitual way- I usually try to immediately reframe what is a very disappointing and negative experience into some positive niceties. Now, I am not saying in any way, shape, or form that gratitude is not an essential ingredient into our emotional healing. It’s just that I am jumping ship too soon- I’m not there yet- I’m still feeling sad, jealous, lonely, sick, and disappointed. That reality hasn’t changed based on my gratitude list…. What I wanted is for my expectations of thanksgiving to be fulfilled and they weren’t.
I begin to sit with my disappointment- I even actually invite it to sit with me- pull it in a little closer- feel its aching in my heart- touch its longing and desire for something different in my gut- recognize my mind's continued story of rejection and abandonment. Scary stuff.
I want to push it away quickly- acknowledging these feelings can take me down some rabbit holes that feel overwhelming. There can be a very real contradiction between expectation and reality- I’d rather play the fantasy game of don’t go there/just suck it up buttercup than the truth - my heart is broken right now.
Yes, as the disappointment draws closer- I begin to recognize I want something very different right now. I want a connection. I want love. I want compassion. I want understanding. I want validation. And that’s ok. It's really, really, really ok. Something starts to shift- I notice I am feeling a teeny weeny bit lighter.
As I sit with my acknowledged disappointment, I realize that it is just me and my two stinky chocolate labs here right now. Fortunately with having covid- I can’t smell them- but they are two of the stinkiest most loyal dogs in the universe, And yes, they are a great source of companionship and a loving presence. But what if I can give that to myself as well… a stinky dog presence. It ain't pretty- it's messy and smelly and confusing. But what if this is an opportunity to give to myself those things that I so desperately want right now. I am here- I am present- I am available in the midst of my stinky yucky holiday disappointment.
What if, in my deep disappointment with these unmet expectations- I begin to offer to myself the gift of companionship, understanding, and acknowledgment. What if, just like my dogs- I give myself permission to be present to my feelings and relax into them… a little dose of tender loyalty to myself. What if, in some small way- I care for my aching soul with empathy and acceptance. What if, I recognize that I am allowed to be completely disappointed and give permission to the reality of my hurt?
Wow, that’s a game changer for me. It's writing a different plot line- one that affirms the myriad of the wants, needs, and desires that live inside of me while giving it the freedom to be fully expressed.
Stinky-dog presence… by acknowledging my disappointment to my unmet expectations… a new paradigm to help me write a different plot line.
About the author:
Bev is a Registered Nurse, Health Coach, and Riso-Hudson Certified Enneagram Teacher through the Enneagram Institute. She's also a professional member of the International Enneagram Association.