Enabling Joy: Holding Space


For the first 5 or so years I was in recovery, I hated having to go to those damn meetings. I was a binge drinker, you see. I didn’t drink every day. A couple of times a month… once a week … I couldn’t control my drinking. But I hadn’t been able to quit altogether, and it was too scary when I did drink. I had to do something. And, once I got around the meeting crowd, I wanted what they had. I wanted the laughter, the closeness, the instant community that I saw. So, I kept coming back.

Jessica and I were talking yesterday about experiencing people REALLY listening to you. The beauty of support groups is that you don’t get advice. Some of them are geared for that, but most are just places where you can speak about whatever you want, and people just hold space. When you are done, the next person speaks their mind. No one judges. No one tries to fix your problem. Nobody quotes inspirational sayings to motivate you to get back on your feet. There is just beautiful profound silence. It is as beautiful a gift to give as it is to receive.

There is a shortage of listening in this world. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that I’m the only person they know that will let them cry. It’s such an honor to hear people tell their story AND ask them to tell me more. I had to learn how to do it, and I also had to learn how valuable it was. I used to believe, too, that we need to just overcome this stuff, think positive and let God worry about it. But I found that to overcome it, you have to let it out. And God made us to do that. That’s why the scriptures say to confess your sins to others and why He wired us for connection. Yes, we need to talk to Him but we have to talk to others, too. It helps us heal, and it helps us to feel true joy.

Our bodies are containers. They hold emotions. Yoga is powerful because it helps us stretch out and open those places where we hold old emotions. It’s not unusual to see a new yoga student burst into tears as they hold their first intense Camel pose or to get irritable and angry as they start to move repressed anger around during practice. We are told to stuff it. We don’t intentionally hurt people with our advice; it’s just our cultural bent. That’s why I feel like it’s a sacred offering to hold space for someone to process long held hurts, fears and pain.

When we repress anger, fear and hurt, we fill up the container. Little by little unmet needs, slights, rejection, abandonment and unprocessed grief start to fill up our container. The problem is that when we are half full of all this heavy stuff, we can’t really feel the lightness of joy. We can feel happy, but we can’t truly experience joy. After working my spiritual program for awhile, my depression started to lift, and I started to feel moments of true serenity. First it came in hours… then days …. then it filled up the majority of time. I had no idea I could feel that way. And, it finally came around because I had cleaned out – with another person AND God – all that negative crap I’d been carrying around since I was a child. No one gets a free pass on this planet. We all have stuff buried down there. Some have more than others. That’s why I never want to tell somebody to buck up and get over it. I actually don’t know how much stuff they have buried in there. They may not even be able to see over the top of it.

I would hear people say they were grateful to be in recovery. Well, I hated it for a long time. I just wanted to drink normally and have fun like other people or be able to not drink and have a good life. I couldn’t do either, so I had to do this. Eventually I realized that recovery is not about the drinking at all. It’s about keeping the container clean. If the container’s clean and something painful happens, it can be processed quickly. When there is no pain…. there is no hunger for numbing. Holding space for others is also my job. Somewhere along the line, I realized that God gave me this job because this was my place in His world. And, even later, I realized that I loved it. I am a healer. All I need to offer is silence. And, now, when I hold space for someone else in pain, I know that I’m in the right place. That is true joy.

11 Comments on “Enabling Joy: Holding Space

  1. I’m not sure what, but it think there is a message in this post that was meant for me. Just can not put my finger on it. Maybe my container is just to full.

  2. Thank you Sharon. I didn’t expect your response so soon. I have been reading your other blogs sense I posted the above message. As I’ve read a couple of things popped out. You said something to the effect “people think I have it all together, but I don’t” I’ve also been giving that container thing more thought. And maybe it’s normal, but it just seems that yes others have problems. But nothing like the ones I have, Haa Haa. If there is ever a case study of ” the hopeless man”, I have the perfect opportunity for them. I think sometimes were just so overwhelmed we just can not even find a starting point. And even if I sat down with someone and spilled my guts, what could they tell me. Okay here’s what I want you to do! Oh and tell the receptionist I want to see you in two weeks. The man looking back at me in the mirror, is not the same guy everyone else see’s. People think I have it all together, but I don’t! Hope you have a great day. Stay warm, it cold out there.
    One last thing, did you ever wonder how many people sit down typed out a lengthy message, and then didn’t send it. Because they felt somehow embarrassed, or not worthy? This one almost made it to the trash can. Just saying!

    • I’m so glad it made it to the comments board. I will tell you this. The value in sharing is not from the advice that that comes back, it’s in the act of sharing. I had been keeping something bottled up for awhile. Because someone was willing to listen to me yesterday, I finally got it all out. There was no answer or any fix because there is nothing that can be done. It is what it is. But I felt like a heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders, and this morning I feel free. Thank you for your comments. You are opening up already. 🙂

  3. Love the new look of the blog 🙂 It’s peaceful and hopeful, two things you bring to so many people! xo, McB.

  4. All I can say is “wow”! It is so true about the things we fill our “containers” with that weigh us down. Thanks for helping me become more aware of this.

  5. Reblogged this on The Spirit of Social Work and commented:
    This is wonderful! Part of my job as a social worker is to “hold space” for others, to just listen and let the process of their storytelling begin the powerful work of healing and change.

  6. Just read this post Sharon, and love it so much. I am in recovery too, although I do not go to meetings. I have a spiritual path that feeds me, and have friends and other supportive guides who help me on this journey.

    Holding space for another is a superpower!

    So far this year I have had some big awakenings — letting others have their journey without me trying to help them or fix their problems. I do not know what another person’s path should look like.

    It is freeing to both me and the other person when I let go of wanting to help and just listen. My presence is enough. These are things I’ve known intellectually but now they are in my felt experience. Powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing. Your post is an excellent reminder.

    Love the new look of your blog.

    • Thanks, Leah! You have held space for me on many occasions. It really is so important…. The first time anyone ever did it for me was when my friend Lorna just held me and let me cry after my first divorce. I will never forget it because I was never allowed to share my tears freely without interruption and walk away unembarrassed by my emotional expression. It changes people forever when it happens. Lorna ended up committing suicide in 2012. I can only hope that she was able to share her tears with others. If not, I know she is doing it on the other side. I love you….

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