(Un) comfortably numb
Being unable to feel the difficult stuff in our lives is so tempting. Why would you want to feel pain and despair if there‘s an alternative? We numb ourselves by denying our feelings through the use of props. The obvious props are alcohol and drugs (prescription sedatives and antidepressants as well as the illicit kind). Less obvious (and arguably far more prevalent) is the use of food, sex, TV, shopping, work, computer games and obsessive-compulsive behaviours. I‘m including not just the stereotypical counting-the-number-of times-I-turn-the-light-on-and-off behaviour but also activities like excessive cleaning or exercising. All of these can serve as pretty efficient strategies for distracting ourselves from what‘s really going on deep inside.
So, why not distract and numb yourself? Well, broadly because you can‘t choose which feelings to eliminate - dispose of one feeling and you dispose of the rest. You‘re less present in your own real life and experience and, as a result, you cannot fully develop relationships with other people. And as soon as the numbing effect wears off, the feelings you were trying to escape come roaring back. You crave another drink, sexual encounter, a trip to the shops, box-set; you simply must go for another run or polish those skirting boards. It doesn‘t stop. You‘re on the run, caught in a cycle of fending off the sadness, grief, rage, shame or whatever the feelings are that you‘d rather not admit.
But if you do stop? If you do face the reality of your own inner world? What then? I‘m not saying it‘s easy at first. It‘s not. But the feelings within you will never disappear unless you acknowledge them and dare to actually feel them. Instead, they will grow and distort and require more effort on your part to keep them under control. Only by facing the feelings can you begin to process them and give yourself the opportunity to grow through them and feel better in an authentic way. Only then will you offer yourself the chance to feel all of the responses to life including joy, peace and curiosity. Only then can you begin to create a genuine connection with other people because you are more alive and in contact with the real you. This is not to claim that you won‘t ever feel angry or unhappy again - you doubtless will. But you‘ll develop more confidence in your ability to manage and communicate your feelings in a healthier and more satisfying way.
Many people need support with this process which is where a therapist may be able to help. But if you want to try another way and this feels safe to you, have a go. Enlist the help of a close friend to talk to, perhaps, or devote some time to introspection, maybe by keeping a diary. Do remember, though, that you‘ve been keeping these feelings closed off because they are frightening or shameful. You might be overwhelmed by them so be gentle with yourself, stop when you need to and invest in a course of therapy if you sense that it will help you.
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