Dismantling Dark Emotions

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I am one of those people that journal religiously.

I have since I can remember.

And I keep them (which is miraculous considering how much crap I throw away).

I used to think that buying a new journal was like New Year’s Eve: A new chance at life. But now I’m learning that it doesn’t really work that way.

I went and did what you should never do—I pulled out all my old journals from a dark room to read them. Before actually getting the gumption to sit down and review them, I had a pretty honest conversation with myself, “Jen, this is either a very brilliant idea or just plain stupid.”

There are no in-between feelings when you are reading about your 15 or 25 year-old self. Plus, it’s really awkward. Why did I do that? Oh, I remember that and the list goes on and on.

I knew that I would either love myself for this moment or hate myself for being so stupid.

What the hell was I thinking?

March 01, 2003: “Sin haunts me, it comes around and laughs wickedly in my face. I feel it always has the upper hand in my life. Please help me. I’m so desperate for You.”

April 04, 2004: “Jesus—you honestly need to help me. You need to fix me. My heart is hardened. I’m just not sure of it all right now. I’m tired of writing the same things, maybe not making it to the next level, maybe tired of making the same mistakes over and over again.”

September 24, 2014: “I am frustrated. I am feeling lost. I want to do the right thing all the time, but doing so requires hard work, persistence, dedication and resolve—none of the qualities I possess. Will you please help me? I feel as if I’m waiting on something. For You? For what?”

February 2, 2015: “I don’t know what my problem is the last couple weeks. Well, besides the wine, insecurity, and feeling of hopelessness. I suck at discipline. I’m bad at self-control. I’m lazy and fat. I just need to take the time and tell you all of that.”

It’s official. I’m stupid and I hate myself now.

So in the span of 13 years, it seems that I have the same dread and distress rummaging through my life like a hamster in a wheel. And I’m not sure if there is anything more depressing than that.

How can I be writing the same old adages over and over again? How is it that despair, insecurity and the feeling of hopelessness still plague my life, just as much now (if not more) than in 2003?  

Am I alone in this?

I think anxiety is disquietude, and as an insecure woman, I run amuck with it.

What is it about (distress) and (grief) and (despair) that I have not figured out yet?

And why is it so unacceptable or shameful to be dealing with these strong emotions?

In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, she writes, “When we cannot tolerate the dark, we try all kinds of artificial lights, including but not limited to drugs, alcohol, shopping, shallow sex, and hours in front of the television set or computer . . . The emotions themselves are conduits of pure energy that want something from us: to wake us up, to tell us something we need to know, to break the ice around our hearts, to move us to act.”

So, I’ve decided to lean into my dark emotions this time around.

At 32, I’m listening to what I have to say (instead of just writing and numbing) and sharing my experiences with God and others. I’m being intentional, quiet, and prayerful.

I’m choosing to believe God’s Word, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

I know it sounds weird, but I’m actually excited to learn what all these “dark” emotions are about (just not so ecstatic about the vulnerability part). Instead of asking God to take my emotions away, I’m learning to ask God why I feel the way I do. Where is the distress and anxiety coming from? Is your grace really sufficient for me? How will your power be made perfect in my insistent anxiety and insecurity?

Hi, my name is Jennifer. I struggle with shame, anxiety, anger, control, despair, dread and a whole host of other issues. It feels unrelenting most days, but I believe we become free from our dysfunctional behaviors and dark emotions when we are willing to accept God’s grace and share our life experiences with others. I believe that some of our most shameful moments (or scariest emotions) can be the greatest gifts God allows to take place, if we learn how to embrace them and work through them.

“ . . . transformation, exists not to comfort the self but to dismantle it” –Barbara Brown Taylor

Maybe I’m not so stupid after all? Either way, I have a feeling my journal entries will look much different in the next ten years to come.

And thank the good Lord for that.

Jennifer Kelly

Jennifer Kelly

Writer at Jen J. Kelly
Jennifer Kelly is a very messy wife and mom. She loves reading, writing, philosophy, music, art, theatre, and really anything that is created by an artist. Jennifer is learning quickly and slowly, joyously and painfully, that it’s really not about her, but the One that calls her by name.
Jennifer Kelly

Latest posts by Jennifer Kelly (see all)

  • You snuck into my garage and rummaged through my box of journals, admit it! “Am I alone in this?” No honey, I could have written this. I have journaled since a child (thankfully I was smart enough to trash the earlier ones. No, I do not want to read about every crush I ever had and there were so many!) I have never been brave enough to read the earliest ones but I have gone back to the ones over the past couple years and I have the exact same experience. I wrote nearly the same words years apart from each other. Why. do. I keep. struggling. with. the SAME. things?? Hi, my name is Nicole. I struggle with anxiety, worry, shame, control, self-sufficiency, fear, lack of self discipline, and the inability to surrender. Nice to have company here where we’re learning when we are weak, then HE is strong:)

    • Jennifer Kelly

      I wish I could reach through the crazy internet world and HUG you. I’m am so thankful that I am not the only one that feels this way. I think to myself, “How is the same feeling, thought and response the SAME from 10 (plus) years ago…” You totally made me laugh out loud about not wanting to read through every crush we ever had (completely embarrassing and YES – too many). Thanks for allowing me to keep company with you and share my struggles with so many dark emotions. It’s so amazing what God does/can do when we are brave enough to reach out and share.

  • I asked myself at the beginning of 2015, “Do I really want to be dealing with the same stuff every year for the rest of my life?” My answer was “no,” of course, but I find myself slipping back into old familiar (unhealthy) patterns of thinking, letting my emotions run amuck. However, I think my overall trajectory has been upward, rather than flat this year. I believe that God honors our intentions and meets us there.
    You’re braver than I am — I haven’t gone dumpster diving into old journals for ages . . .

    • Jennifer Kelly

      I KNOW that question so well Michele! Fighting old familiar and unhealthy patterns is such a struggle. But I absolutely agree with you, I believe that God does honor our honesty and intentions and meets us with grace. Thank you so much for your comments. I’m still not 100% convinced that dumpster diving for my journals was the bravest thing to do, but it was absolutely eye-opening and a wonderful learning experience.

  • Nichole Sherick

    Your writings sound like mine. I too journal quite a bit, even on the notepad in my phone. Most of my short entries are that of despair and question. Questioning God and myself. In the end resolving to know that the problem surely is me and the answer surely God. I think is great that I’ve stumbled upon this blog since I’ve recently been wondering what all I write and feel inside means. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jennifer Kelly

      Nichole, I use my notepad on my phone as well! I’m always snapping pics, writing notes and entering questions or thoughts down. I’m glad you stumbled upon this blog and I hope you visit the Mudroom again (it’s such a fantastic spot for vulnerability and truth-telling)! I think, for me, reviewing my journals was key to see just how much redundancy was there, BUT it also created this awareness or desire to want to change. So I started reading and poking around at different books and Scripture and things to help me look at my situation from a different perspective. Barbara Brown Taylor has been instrumental for me. I will pray that God shows you what all your writings and feelings throughout time mean to you. Thanks again for your comments. Truly am thankful I am not alone here.

  • Jean

    Oh – those old journals. Everything changes and everything stays the same. I know what it’s like to turn around and look at your past self…and be embarrassed for you. But the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

    • Jennifer Kelly

      Jean, thank you for the encouragement and the reminder that light does indeed shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it! I appreciate your comment and what a wonderful reminder for us all.

  • I think there’s such good insight here, Jennifer. TO pay attention, to have a certain level of acceptance for those dark emotions (that they’re there, that they are, right now, a part of you)–it’s absolutely transformative.
    This post really resonates with me, because I felt like I was on a hamster wheel for a long time too. But you know what? I don’t feel that way anymore. I am an imperfect person, but I am happy where I am. And the big, gigantic step I took was the one you’re talking about here–asking WHY do I feel anxious, full of dread, like I’m a horrible person–instead of shaming myself or trying to pretend my negative emotions didn’t exist. I don’t know what it will look like with you, but it sounds like God is leading you right exactly into the still small point of being and depending on him.

    • Jennifer Kelly

      It’s so good to know that others have felt the same way I once did, but no longer feel that way anymore. Praise God there is victory. Thank you for the encouragement and telling me a small part of your own story. I appreciate your words more than you know!!

  • “I think anxiety is disquietude, and as an insecure woman, I run amuck with it.” THIS. So right. I love that you’re being brave and asking good, hard “why” questions. I usually like to just offload my emotional junk on someone and ask them to deal with everything I can’t contain. Thank you for being vulnerable here in The Mudroom.

    • Jennifer Kelly

      That was my favorite line too Ashley. Thank you AGAIN for the kind words. Asking the “why” has definitely been a game-changer for me.

  • Gayl Wright

    “Instead of asking God to take my emotions away, I’m learning to ask God why I feel the way I do. Where is the distress and anxiety coming from? Is your grace really sufficient for me? How will your power be made perfect in my insistent anxiety and insecurity?” This is so good. It’s so easy to want the dark emotions to just go away, but where does that really get us? I believe God will give us the grace to face them and find the reasons and move through them, God going with us all the way. I believe it, but I don’t always show it in practice. It helps to know others struggle the same way. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Blessings to you!

    • Jennifer Kelly

      Gayl, Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement. I agree wholeheartedly with you, I believe that God will give us the grace to face our feelings of dread or distress or disquietude and go with us all the way. It’s so incredible to serve and follow a God that will never leave us or forsake us.
      After today, I have witnessed just how much others are struggling with these dark emotions. Dismantling them is not an easy task. Thank you again for your words – they mean more than you know.

  • Jess Hatcher

    I’m so glad your Aunt sent this to me! I have dark journals too- ones that I do not dare to open up again and can’t imagine what someone would think if they found them. I think it is easy to for me to go straight to putting up a defense and say “Oh Jessica, you were being so dramatic, things weren’t THAT bad.” and not acknowledging that even my pain back then hurt and it was real. When I let those dark emotions sink in- that’s when it gets scary. Also, being a little younger, a lot of my emotions were thrown all over the internet on different blog sites, facebook, twitter, etc. Sometimes, Timehop is a nightmare of expressing things that whole world didn’t need to know. Even though at the time I was desperate for someone to acknowledge the pain and help. Thanks for being vulnerable, Jen! and, thanks again for speaking to my students!

    • Jennifer Kelly

      Jess, you are so sweet!!! Isn’t crazy how easy it is to not acknowledge our feelings or push them down and say they are no big deal at all? When really they are. We just need to learn how to deal with them in the right context, what questions to ask, and then figure out the right way to respond. Thanks for your kind words, I’m so thrilled and honored you would read this.
      I loved being in Indiana and miss you all! It was so fun speaking to everyone and getting to know you ladies. Lots and lots of love my friend.