To Numb, or Not to Numb: Are You Subconsciously Robbing Yourself?

To Numb, or Not to Numb: Are You Subconsciously Robbing Yourself?

Apr 11, 2016

At times, it was impossible to take a breath, struggling to let the air inflate my lungs. The pain was completely encompassing and all-consuming. What was it going to take for it to disappear into the ether? How could I soothe myself and make it all better, ASAP? I thought surely there was a quick and easy fix to the restless, messy madness.

My stomach was sick, and I was emotionally drained. My gut reaction kicked in, and while I wasn’t consciously asking myself how to make the hurting stop, my body was tired of aching, and demanded comfort. My whole soul demanded comfort.

I know I’ve dabbled here and there in previous posts about how I’ve numbed my pain in the past, but I haven’t jumped right into it. (Frankly, it’s a tender topic for me.) Processing emotions feels so heavy to me. Who wants to do that? Who wants to sit in the muck, making their way through the long, drawn-out process of healing? After all, I always want to be (and be seen as) happy, chirpy, and positive.

But that’s cheating myself, plain and simple. 

When I learned to give myself the gifts of space and time to settle into my aloneness and respect my emotions without judgement, my life shifted. It’s no easy feat, mind you. (Is anything worth doing easy? That’s a big, resounding, Heck no!) I’m even going to be so bold as to say that this process trips me up every single time, and it’s probably the toughest part of my experiences—the part where I need to sit in my emotions, whatever they may be, and let them flow through me.

Numbing and suppressing is not the secret to success. (You’ve probably figured that out by now.) But we’ve all done it, from time to time. We’ve had that extra glass or three of red, said yes to the first guy who asked us out, frantically filled our schedules with social commitments, and shopped for the hot red dress we don’t reeeeeally need. (But if you ask me, I’ll say the dress really is the lesser of the evils. Wink.)

I found myself questioning every move I made, whether it was going out to meet my girls, watching a comforting movie, drawing a bath, or rushing out for a quick caffeine fix. Each and every one of them was helping me tune out, numb the pain, and keep skipping along. My alltime favorite numbing behavior? Staying busy with my kids, and actually feeling good about it. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that since it’s my job to be a mom, I should be commended for my hard work—even when my hard work means hurting myself in the process.

Honestly, I don’t hesitate for a second when I use my kids as an excuse to avoid that loneliness, staying looped into their interests and activities. I let their lives fill mine. Hiding behind the busyness of being a mom lets me get lost, meaning I don’t have to spend too much time looking inside myself.

Look, I’m sure you don’t want to go there just as much as I don’t. I’m not trying to rain on your parade or bring bad news to your doorstep, but numbing your pain comes with a high pricetag—even when we slather it with idealism and slap a shiny pink bow on top.

Brene Brown—my idol on all things vulnerability-related—says staying busy and engaging in perfectionism is a way to numb your hurting. Who would’ve thought? For a typical anal-retentive, ego-driven Virgo like me (all you Virgos out there know exactly what I’m talking about), that means I have to go through a whole lot of pain to make it through to the other side, that side of enlightenment and hope I’m constantly trying to achieve.

On a scale from 1 to 10, working through the pain rates a -17, but since I’m never one to back away from a challenge, I’ve decided to strive for that next best version of me. I’ve decided to evolve. 

That said, as of late, I’ve been letting myself rest in the excruciating pain of swirling, negative feelings: sadness, loneliness, and anger, all laced with hefty doses of uncertainty, insignificance, expendability, and unworthiness. It’s heavy stuff, you guys. I was professionally advised to practice being in a state where I’m okay with feeling how I feel, and avoiding judging those feelings. In hindsight, it’s obviously the best advice in the history of the world, but you may as well have asked me to jump off a cliff.

I went back to meditation and journaling, which have always been the two things that keep me sane and real with myself. They don’t let me sugarcoat my life, and I’m (lovingly) forced to say hello to those darker parts of me and start a conversation with them.

Real talk? I was getting angrier and angrier, and irritation would bubble up right after my meditation. (The irony isn’t lost on me.) But in order to get to the beauty of the soul, we’ve got to get up close and personal with the feelings we’ve ignored along the way. Allowing them to surface (hence all that anger and irritation), is what allows us to acknowledge, respect, and release them. Otherwise, they’ll hover over us like a grey, gloomy clouds forever.

So, when it comes to journaling, I can now say I’ve done it all; I’ve journaled like a mad woman at home, in the café, on the plane, in the waiting room, when I wake up, when I go to bed, and during my breaks. (If you can name it, I’ve done it.) I don’t leave home without my journal and favourite pen in tow. I’m enjoying the soothing, rhythmic process of meditating, and then journaling right after. (It’s what Brene calls the Shitty First Draft.) The journal entries are so uncensored and real that it’s scary, but ultimately, we owe ourselves those hard, core truths.

I know I refer to Brene’s work pretty regularly, but she’s so relevant and pure. Her words get me through the darkness on a regular basis, and serve as such a strong reminder of why I CHOOSE this for myself. It’s a choice, after all—to numb, or not to numb. And I choose the more productive of the two.

When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.

Amidst all this messy beauty, the one thing I’m more sure of than anything else is that robbing myself of those negative emotions means ignoring the truths of my life, and keeping me from experiencing those feelings of deep joy, love, and happiness that I really crave. In learning to be alone, learning to shed the ego, and learning to accept the parts of me I never even wanted to admit I had, I’m priming myself for the ultimate life experience.

Trust me when I say our pain isn’t for nothing, you stunning creature. I know there’s something incredible right around the corner for us, just waiting for us to switch on those big, shining lights.

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