One of the hardest lessons I had to learn when it comes to loving myself and my life was that I had to actually experience all my emotions. That can be tough when life is sucky and the only pleasure you seem to find is in food (or other ways we numb. Though it may not look Instagram perfect in the moment, allowing yourself to feel all the emotions is actually a key to not only loving your life, but a sense of freedom and pleasure.
Once upon a time, I was a very unhappy girl. My marriage was incredibly fragile, work was stressful and I dealt with it by shopping and eating. Neither were a good habit to get into, but chips and chocolate and new linens and stuff 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, schedule a meeting or buy stuff. It was a way of life.
After a discovery of potential infidelity on the part of my husband, I decided that I needed to “get skinny” in order “fix” things. I turned to a life of control – I counted every single calorie and obsessively worked out. At the height of this period, I was limiting myself to fewer than 1000 calories a day and working out at least 2 hours each day.
All of these behaviors – the food, the shopping, the working out, the busyness, the control of food intake – were forms of numbing.
I was so afraid of feeling the ickiness – the sadness, the anger, the frustration, the disappointment, the loneliness – that I was doing anything I could to not feel.
Now, watching what you eat and exercise seem like good habits, but everything can be taken to extreme when you use it to numb your feelings and escape from your reality. The real reality wasn’t that my husband was having an affair because I was overweight; he was having an affair because our marriage was dying.
That knowledge didn’t end my need to numb myself, however. Food, shopping, crazy busy schedules, alcohol, sex, travel…all of those have come into play over the years as ways to handle different stressful periods of my life.
Finally, I realized that all the running away 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.
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.”
What an ah-ha: there is no such thing as selective numbing. You see, the act of recognizing, honoring, and fully experiencing our emotions is a huge part of living.
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.
I hate to break it to you, kitten, but if you want to create a life that you love, then start allowing all those feelings to wash over you.
I’m not talking about just those yummy emotions like love and freedom and passion and grace. I’m talking about the shadow emotions, too.
I know it’s scary. You may be afraid of getting lost down the rabbit hole of crappy feelings. You may be afraid of allowing yourself to feel the good stuff, too, because the “other shoe” may drop. I’d be lying if I told you I was never afraid of feeling! Over time, you’ll learn that to experience them is truly the best way to live.
I know that reading this and getting it intellectually is not the same as actually allowing yourself to feel all your emotions. But no matter how you slice it, it’s critical to loving your life.
Well, darling, each emotion is offering you clues and signals about the direction of your life. If you’re too busy numbing them, you can’t access your inner wisdom. And I learned that when I just go with it – and allow myself to feel (especially those darker emotions like sadness and anger and loneliness) it passes a heck of a lot faster than the process of avoiding them!
The consequence of continually avoiding your feelings – your natural GPS – is huge. It keeps you from living the life you desire – and deserve.