Push them down, bury them deep. Bottle them up and screw the lid on tight. Eat them, shop them, work them away. Get drunk, very drunk. Distraction tactics. Avoidance. Oh the things we do to just not feel.
Your old wounds will fester your present moments. Your bottled emotions leak out and spill into now. The tight grip you think you have, isn’t so tight, but your self-delusion is strong if you think you can run from your shit and have it never catch up to you.
I feel intensely. I feel deeply. Big things, little things, they all impact me. Eventually, it all just became too intense, too exhausting. Like many, I learned to live in numbness, to push it down. Still, people would say I feel a lot, but I know the truth. I know how much I avoid, how much I pushed down, how many tears I swallowed. I found myself either insanely happy, extremely angry, or blah. Not to say I haven’t felt anything beyond these three states, other emotions do creep in, but they were my predominant normalities.
I didn’t just disconnect from my own feelings, I recoiled from the emotions of others. I looked at girls who cried over heartbreak as if they were from another planet. I felt others were overly dramatic. I was uncomfortable with the raw emotion, the pain and hurt that others allowed themselves to not only feel, but express. What was wrong with them? The real question though, was how did they manage? How did they allow themselves to feel so much and survive?
I suffered from major depression in my teenage years. I had suicidal thoughts. I cut myself as a way to feel, I don’t even know what. My physical pain a welcome break from my emotional struggle. I wrote some great poetry. I’m sure some fancy psychological testing would probably indicate I struggle with depression now…but in the words of someone I love, “I don’t have time to be depressed”. Sometimes, I tell myself that feeling so much, experiencing the world so deeply, is just part of being a creative. Oh the stories we tell ourselves. Eventually, I just got tired of the hurt, the pain, the sadness. I grew tired of what I felt were my own dramatics. I was too curious about life to ever kill myself, so I eventually decided to just get over my own crap. I stuffed it all down and found a way to start numbing it all. At the time, it seemed a reasonable solution to feel less crazy, it seemed the only way to not feel so damn depressed all the time. Not feeling seemed the only solution to live more.
Life is about the highs and lows. It’s about pleasure and hurt, love and sorrow, joy and sadness and everything in between. I have always wanted to live the most extraordinary life I could. My single greatest fear has always been that I would go to my grave knowing I could have lived and loved more fully. I knew deep down, that in order to live and love to my fullest, I needed to be open to feeling everything. I needed to risk the negative for the positive - no, I needed to embrace the negative as much as I did the positive. I would have to learn to feel again. All of it.
Learning to sit with my feelings has been one of the single most powerful skills I have begun to learn. There can be so much resistance. Every ounce of me wants to run, wants to hide, wants to avoid the discomfort of feeling. Numbness may not provide the best life, but it sure as hell is easier than feeling. I’d be okay with joy, with love and contentment, I’d be okay with all the good. But with the good, comes pain, hurt and sadness. I’m pretty good at feeling the good emotions, it’s the unpleasant, uncomfortable ones, everyone wants to run from.
So I sit. Often, I journal. I get it all out on paper - I hash it out, I rationalize, I self-soothe, but most importantly, I let myself feel what I need to feel. I’ve embraced that we all have a darkness and a light inside of us, as does this world, this life. It has been, and will continue to be, a process, but there has been so much value in reconnecting with my feelings.
I’ve realized that life is far more brilliant when you allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions we are blessed to be able to feel. Our emotion is what makes us human. It’s as though I had only been colouring with shades of grey and I have now discovered colours again. Why I feel doesn’t always make sense, but it doesn’t have to in order to be accepted.
I want to share with you what my process has been and hopefully you may find it of use.
- Recognize your distraction tactics. These could be diving into your work, busyness, drinking, eating, or really anything that allows you to divert your attention from your emotions to something more tangible.
- Be Still. Not surprisingly, sitting with your emotions, can actually involve sitting. Developing a meditation practice has really helped me create a sense of inner ease. Simply sitting down, no distractions, and just breathing through whatever I need to feel.
- Journal. A regular journalling practice has been a life-changer for me. My journal is where I get it all out, figure it out. Writing helps me to express myself, clear my thoughts and process. I recommend it to everyone.
- Identify your emotion and call it by name. I learned this from a friend who works as a body image coach when I realized I was using food as a coping tool. Whenever I was tempted to eat my emotions, I stopped and would say, “hello anger/sadness/frustration/guilt”. Calling my emotion out by name helped me to recognize and acknowledge what I was feeling.
- Acknowledge your feelings and your right to feel them. Acknowledge the humanity in emotion. Allow yourself the space to feel.
- I would allow myself to be curious about my feelings, investigating the sensations they brought about, the thoughts that would arise.
- Scream, cry, punch a pillow, journal, vent to a loved one - whatever it is you need to do to release those emotions, do it.
- Know when you need a break. Sometimes the raw emotion you are experiencing can be overwhelming. In this case, sometimes you need some space to gather yourself. Do what you need to do to regain a sense of calm, then return to sitting with that emotion and ensure you have given it enough space and attention so that it won’t fester.
(image: Helga Weber, via Flickr, “I died so I could haunt you”)