Did you ever watch the Vampire Diaries?
I ask that because a couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about that show, and specifically the way the Vampires in it could “switch off” their feelings when the emotions of humanity became too much.
I wrote it after the worst year and a bit of my life – a time when I’d had disappointment and challenge after disappointment and challenge and had wound up deciding that was enough; I just didn’t want to feel anymore.
Of course the choosing not to feel only lasted so long; I’m surrounded by far too many people that I love, I get way too angry at the news and I cry much too frequently at TV adverts for animal charities and not to feel. So when I recognised that was a bad way of being and decided to embrace everything humanity had to offer me I felt pretty proud of myself.
Except that I didn’t actually switch my feelings back on entirely...
The truth is that to have fun I would still go out with friends and drink a few too many glasses of wine; to reward myself after a tough day I would still regularly eat double helpings of dessert, and to relax I would still binge watch TV shows or lose myself in novels.
And all of those could be great in moderation, except that for me they had one thing in common: I was using them to switch off my feelings.
I would drink until I stopped feeling whatever was hurting me; eat until it felt like the hole inside of me was full and binge watch or read simply so that I could lose myself entirely in a story rather than thinking about the things that were worrying me.
Of course I was still working on healing and developing myself along the way– I’m a firm believer you can’t do my job well without doing that – but when it came to some of the toughest and deepest stuff I was still choosing to numb rather than feel.
You’ll often hear talk about hard drug addicts doing what they do as a way of escaping their pain, and that’s something I’ve heard backed up by recovering addicts plenty of times over. But it strikes me that numbing our own pain is something a lot more of us do in much more socially acceptable – and legal – ways every single day; not just in my favourite ways but through things like shopping, work, refusing to be alone, sex, exercise and all manner of other distractions. And in a way that’s understandable – pain is bloody difficult to deal with.
But as the great Carl Jung says, “there is no coming to consciousness without pain.” And by consciousness I mean full healing, happiness, and forward movement towards the lives that we want.
Because the only way to do that is to embrace your full self, and that means becoming as comfortable with the dark and sticky parts as you are with the light. It means facing your pain, your fear, your sadness, your anxiety and all those other things that aren’t fun to deal with, and stepping right into it rather than skirting around the edges and finding ways to numb the deep parts because it hurts too much to go any further.
And believe me, I know that it hurts. Because over the last year or so I’ve made a conscious effort to stop with the numbing and throw myself wholeheartedly into the feeling.
That’s meant dealing with how it really felt when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and I decided I should be strong rather than scared; it’s meant writing down all the fears that are holding me back from finishing my next book and choosing to face them head on even though they scare me senseless; it’s meant recognising and respecting the social anxieties that alcohol always did a good job of keeping quiet, and it’s even meant recognising where I’ve still been angry with the first guy who broke my heart even though I thought that wound was long since healed.
Then it’s taken me on a new journey; one that has involved figuring out the ways I can have fun, reward myself and chill without numbing out the things I was feeling along the way.
Here’s what I’ve learned… that fun is so much sweeter when I remember it fully, rewarding myself feels way more, well, rewarding, when I’m not bloated and feeling sick afterwards, and that chilling out is a damn sight easier when I’m doing it mindfully rather than trying to lose myself in someone else’s story.
Does that mean I can’t eat cake, watch TV or read novels anymore? Gods no. It does mean I’ve stopped drinking, who knows for how long, but that’s another post for another day.
I’m telling you all of this not because I think my story is particularly amazing or awe-inspiring, but because it’s something I know that a lot of the women I work with struggle with too and – like a lot of the work I do – is something I have firsthand experience of.
The world will tell us it’s not only a good idea but also cool for us to numb our feelings, but really all that does is keep us unhappy, incomplete and feeling as though we need that numbing – and more importantly the things we have to buy in order to numb ourselves – to get through the week. When really, actually taking the time to feel and work through what hurts might be a struggle right now, but it will always help us to get through future weeks much more easily as a result.
So my invitation to you right now is to stop and think: where are you numbing yourself? How are you doing it? And what is it that you’re avoiding feeling instead? Because maybe, just maybe it’s time for you to stop the numbing, start the feeling and with that bring on the healing and the sheer power over your life that will come.
If that’s something you’re struggling with get in touch; I’m all about helping you to get unstuck and start living the life you deserve instead.