Once upon a time, I was a very unhappy and scared girl...
I had survived the violence and terror of sexual assault, but no one told me how to get my life back after it happened. I couldn't work. I lost friends who didn’t know how to deal with what happened to me. I was too afraid to leave my house. I shut out my husband and family.
I dealt with it by avoiding, isolating and numbing.
Specifically, I used books and television to escape and food to comfort myself. They weren't helping (I knew this), but mac-n-cheese and ice cream and someone else's story made me feel better, even if it was just for a moment. I didn’t feel very good about myself. But it was the only way I knew to cope: every time I started to feel, I’d eat, binge watch Netflix or pick up a book.
It was a way of life…just not a very healthy or productive one.
All of our avoidance behaviors – food, shopping, gambling, escapism, busyness, yo-yo dieting, substance abuse – are forms of numbing. We are so afraid of our feelings — the sadness, the anger, the frustration, the disappointment, the loneliness — that we will do anything we can to not feel.
Now, healthy eating and reading are generally good habits, but not when taken the extreme so as to numb your feelings and escape from your reality. In reality, it wasn’t that my life was falling apart because of the rape; my life was falling apart because I stopped being an actual participant in it.
Eventually (and with the help of some great professionals), I realized that all the avoidance and numbing had to stop. The lesson I learned was that in order to live a life that I loved, I needed to start feeling all the feels.
In Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes:
“In another very unexpected discovery, my research also taught me that there’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light. While I was “taking the edge off” of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of good feelings, like joy.”
Here’s the important part: there is no such thing as selective numbing. The act of recognizing, honoring, and fully experiencing our emotions is a huge part of living.
When we suppress and numb our emotions, it’s impossible to connect with who we truly are and what we want.
And, I craved connection most of all.
What I came to truly understand is that feelings are a double-edged sword. If you don’t feel the shadow emotions, then you aren’t going to be able to really feel the good ones. If you want to create a life that you love, you’re going to have to start allowing all your emotions in.
I’m not talking about just those feel-good emotions like love and freedom and passion and grace. I’m talking about the nasty fuckers, too.
I know it’s scary. Maybe you’re afraid of getting lost down the rabbit hole of crappy feelings. Maybe you’re afraid of allowing yourself to feel the good stuff because the “other shoe” may drop. Maybe you’re afraid that the depth of your emotions will just swallow you up.
I know those fears.
But, here’s the thing: every emotion offers you clues and signals about the direction of your life. If you’re numbing them, you can’t access your inner wisdom. When I just let it all go — and allow myself to feel (especially those darker emotions like sadness and anger and loneliness) — my emotions resolve so much faster than when I am avoiding them.
The consequence of continually avoiding your feelings is huge. It prevents you from living the life you desire – and deserve.
You deserve to live a life that is fully engaged. It’s how you fall in love with your day-to-day life. And to do that, to feel the love, you are going to have to feel everything else, as well.
Next week, I’ll be sharing more about all the feels — how to identify your feelings and tips on navigating those heavy emotions. Stay tuned.
P.S. Not sure how to stop numbing your emotions? I'd love to help you with that. Email me.