THE BLOG

Embracing Your Pain

10/25/2012 02:04 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2012

"The secret of joy is the mastery of pain." -- Anais Nin

Ahh, it's fall again. The summer is over, and the air is crisper. This is actually my favorite time of year. New beginnings, and better hair weather! But for me, fall also brings the dreaded Jewish holidays.

I was brought up a Conservative Jew. I was bat mitzvah'd, Hebrew schooled... the whole nine yards. My family wasn't very religious per se, but Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were definitely observed.

The holidays included temple, rituals, and -- of course -- big family gatherings. As a child, I never really loved the temple/ritual part, but I did love the family traditions. As much as I didn't want to go to temple for the holidays, I always went for my father because I saw that it gave him great joy. And I reveled in his pride of me, so it worked!

As I became who I am now, I decided I actually didn't believe in organized religion and rituals, so I slowly but surely started to give things up, although I still valued the traditions of family.

All of this changed five years ago, when my father passed away. On top of that, my brother and his family moved out of state. Both of these events left some huge holes in my life that I wasn't sure how to fill.

So during the past five years, I tried a variety of things to manage this "new normal." I went to temple with my mother (for her) but realized that without my dad there, it felt too painful. I sat at many different tables with extended family and friends, but never felt good. Overall, I never felt successful here. So this year, I made the decision not to participate.

I worked through both holidays, which were filled with clients and, I guess, distraction.

I coasted right through Rosh Hashanah, so as Yom Kippur approached, I was hopeful that maybe this year, I finally found the right thing for myself.

On the day of, I woke up feeling very tender and emotional, but I started my packed day of clients at 7:15 a.m. And the reality is, when I'm at my most tender, I do my very best work.

I knew this day would be filled with helping others, which is my greatest passion. However, as my last client left for the night, it was quiet, and everyone I knew was breaking fast. I had no choice but to face myself and, of course, my feelings. And the sadness, and how much I missed my dad, and the way it all used to be, came flooding over me.

As always, I was reminded of what I know, teach, and live on a daily basis: Distraction doesn't work! Maybe it works for the moment, but in the end, we really do have to face our emotional selves.

And so I did. I cried for my dad and how much I miss him.

For those who don't feel their feelings readily, or even see the point, let me just say a few words about this.

The truth is that the most important thing for our complete and total well-being is to authentically be in touch with our emotions. Not allowing ourselves to feel what hurts is, in my opinion, the main cause of poor mental health. The ability to let yourself truly feel your feelings is really the key to joy.

So if you are someone who distracts, pay attention and find ways to be still. It can be done by meditating, turning off all electronic devices for a night, giving up the alcohol... You get the picture. You must allow for time and space to release all of your emotions. It's okay to feel sadness; it doesn't last long. If your feelings are properly dealt with, you can be sad for a while, and then go on to have a great day.

With all of this said, I actually gained great clarity this year. No matter what I choose to do on these holidays, I will also have to face the pain of loss. And it's okay, and freeing. By allowing myself to feel, I woke up the next day, back to me. So I consider this year to be my first successful negotiation for this holiday.

Although I will always feel sadness around this time of year, I did do what was in my best interest; I spent my time doing what I value the most, and I know my dad would feel very proud of that.

For more by Dr. Debbie Magids, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.