ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

Holiday Heartwork

Illustration by  Mari Andrew

Illustration by Mari Andrew

“What happens when people open their hearts?”

”They get better.”
— Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

The holiday season is marked by Hallmark movies and hot cocoa, gift wrapping and good cheer. Many consider the month of December to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Others, like myself, struggle to fend off the familiar sense of dread the moment the days grow shorter, the skies turn gray and the temperature drops far below sweater weather.

As the sun begins to set well before dinner, Winter whispers, “Remember me?”

Contrary to cultural clichés that celebrate the rest and relaxation of “the most wonderful time of the year,” the hibernation wintertime brings requires hard work—heart work—to shape us for the new year to come. Winter elicits introversion and introspection that other seasons simply don’t demand. Cabin fever forces us to face the true emotions behind our hurried and socially-conditioned responses to, “how are you doing?”

“Oh, just fine.” (Insert smile or emoji to confirm acceptable emotion and shorten conversation length.)

Winter enters in, despite our desperate pleas, fixes us a pot of tea and asks, “No. How are you really doing?”

While I am grateful for the Winter season to tune into my intuition, take stock of the yearly accrual of emotional battle scars, strip away what has died or needs to, I admittedly tend to resist the healing process. Whether setting aside some space from a toxic relationship or resisting FOMO with my friends for some evenings of journaling, candles and self-care, sometimes I just don’t feel like feeling.

Feeling―and healing―can be incredibly demanding of the human soul. Healing takes time, perseverance, focus and impenetrable hope. Besides, by the time healing summons my participation, I’ve usually already convinced myself that I’m doing “just fine.”

I’d much rather stay busy—spend time shopping or aimlessly scrolling the internet. By mindlessly disconnecting, I can construct a batterment to constrain the burdens in my heart, head, hands, shoulders—wherever. I’d rather suffer endlessly from the weight of stress and worry if it means I don’t have to unpack, unload, face some pretty painful memories and actually deal with them. Masochism in its finest.

Our instincts provide us with powerful resources for recovering from trauma. Shock grants us a short-term coping mechanism to ease us back into the rituals of daily life, but, if untended to, fresh cuts can rot and remain underneath scabs of selective memory.

Oftentimes, when a painful feeling arises, we’ve nearly forgotten the origin of the wound in the first place. So when a memory floats to the surface and pulls the pain up along with it, we’re taken aback.

“I thought I got over this days/months/years ago!”

We treat unresolved emotions like unwelcome dinner guests devoted to delaying us from reaching our dreams and destinations. So we slam the door shut the moment they arrive.

But Winter is persistent. “Make time for your heart. From it flows the wellsprings of life.”

If we surrender ourselves to the process and bravely face the feelings rising within us, we would soon identify the link between our undiagnosed outbursts of abnormal behavior and that thing that happened in 2nd grade that nearly destroyed us. The cavern in our hearts reserved for unresolved emotions can provide a roadmap of clarity to help us better understand ourselves and provide healing to our relationships with the world around us.

But sometimes healing hurts more than we’d like it to. Sometimes healing hurts like death. It can be messy, scary, ugly and shame-inducing. So we’d rather just sit this one out―for life.

So how do we heal when we really don’t want to? We begin by accepting Winter’s invitation to peel back the layers of our hearts and remember the experiences we thought we’d long forgotten.

The wound is where the Light enters in.
— Rumi

What ways do you tend to resist processing painful emotions? Set aside lots of time this winter season to surrender the denial, the excuses, the shoulder shrugs. Be still and feel all you’ve been storing away, shoving down, hiding from.

Reserve an evening or weekend just for you and your heart. Sit with yourself for a while in a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine or camp out in your bed under a bundle of blankets, pillows and popcorn. Stay at an Airbnb in a remote, preferably wilderness location (so you won’t be tempted to resort to your usual distractions/defense-mechanisms).

Be still. Breathe. Ask your heart about all the hard stuff. I recommend using self-proclaimed ‘Advocate of Ease,’ Sandra Pawla’s list of self-discovery questions.

Write. Listen. Respond.

And begin to heal.