Let's flashback to 2006.
I’m driving to the beach with my best friend. I’m wearing a F*ck Tom shirt (a MySpace reference I don’t understand) and a hat that says Beer is the Reason.
We are laughing as we sing at the top of our lungs ‘I got this icebox where my heart used to be.’ I feel happy (and proud) that I haven’t let the heartache in my life so far bring me down.
Now fast forward to early 2018.
Recognizing how guarded I have become, I attempt a guided How to be More Loving meditation with an app I have on my phone.
It starts by instructing me to breathe deeply and focus on relaxing different parts of my body. No problem. Next, to focus on the center of my chest and feel as if I am breathing through my heart.
A little odd but okay, got it. I’m then told to bring up feelings of love. Hmmm...not sure how to do that but I’ll give it a shot.
I can’t make myself feel love, and I’m not even really sure what I’m trying to connect with in my heart.
The guide helps, chiming in that if it is difficult to conjure up those loving feelings, picture someone you love or admire. Okay, that’s easy. One by one I start to imagine the people I love (family, friends, on-again, off-again boyfriend) and each time…nothing.
Then I realize, I don't even know how love is supposed to feel.
Instead, I feel frustrated that now I'm stuck in this meditation.
And then I picture my first nephew and his smiling little face lunging forward to kiss me... and there it is, just for a second, the feeling of love.
I try to focus on it, hoping to amplify it, but it quickly dissipates. I immediately try to get it back, picturing that moment of love with my nephew again and again. It’s almost like a physical struggle inside my heart, as I try and try to get the love back. But the only thing I feel is an actual pressure…an uncomfortable pressure was bubbling up below my heart.
I check to make sure I remember to breathe, wondering if that’s causing the pressure. Yep, still breathing. Still, it’s like a lump in my throat but instead in my chest.
Suddenly tears well up in my eyes and start to roll down my cheeks. It’s a weird kind of crying though...like even the tears are struggling to come out. Frustrated and confused, I give up and open my eyes.I sit there for a minute, trying to understand what happened. I just cried during a meditation on love. That can’t be good.
While I always thought I was resilient, I now see how wrong I was. Suppose true resilience is first dealing with an unwanted situation or feeling, then overcoming it.
All I know is, I wasn’t doing the dealing part. I wasn’t overcoming anything; I was overlooking it.
It wasn’t until that failed meditation attempt that I fully understood the consequence of that coping mechanism…or lack thereof.
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. Her TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the most viewed TED Talks. Part of her research focuses on the concept of numbing — ways we dodge dealing with feelings that are uncomfortable.
There are countless ways that people try to distract themselves or delay having to face harsh realities. Drugs and alcohol are widely used, as well as food, shopping, Netflix binges, and so on. In this way, our attention transfers onto something else other than all the uncomfortable, yucky feelings.
For me, my favorite numbing agent over the years has been, without a doubt, alcohol. I’ve used alcohol to help me get over my self-consciousness in social settings or to cope with my unhappiness at work. Or, say, if I were bored on a Saturday, I’d go for day drinks, and if a date blew me off, or I saw an ex-boyfriend, I'd throw down shots.
The point is, I wasn't feeling my feelings.
Last year, when I realized this numbing tendency of mine, I decided to give up drinking, and I didn’t drink for nine months. I wanted to become more aware of my whys for drinking. Was I having a drink because I wanted one or because everyone else was drinking? Or was it because I felt uncomfortable with myself, or in pain, and wasn’t having fun?
Those months of sobriety started out extremely uncomfortable...for me and for those used to drinking with me. I felt awkward being the only one in a social setting not drinking; almost like I was off balance without a beer in hand. But I pushed through that awkwardness and slowly but inevitably it lessened, and eventually I found my footing.
During that time, a few people asked me if I quit because I had “a problem.”
I always answered “no,” but it didn’t feel like an honest answer. Was I an alcoholic by society standards? Not at all. But I would argue that drinking to avoid facing your feelings...is a problem.
In fact, a lot of things I did — drinking, binge-watching Netflix, was a means to avoid just being; something to do other than sit quietly alone with my thoughts and feelings... and think about my life — the choices I’ve made or didn’t make, the resulting consequences, and the impact they’ve had on me.
Instead, I tried to distract myself from those thoughts. Probably because deep down I knew I had to face my life. I had to acknowledge that my choices were MY choices, and the outcomes wouldn’t be all rainbows and butterflies.
But as Brené points out, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
And there it is.
All those years spent escaping the pain resulted in a loss of love, joy. The guard I put up was blocking me from experiencing the full range of human emotions, good ones and the bad. And that’s when I realized being comfortable sucks.
I don’t want a life that I want to escape. I don’t want to struggle to feel love. Or even fight to cry for that matter. I want actually to be resilient. That means, first, facing it all.
Kacie Main is a writer and party girl turned spiritual junkie. She is a Florida native currently contemplating quitting her job to drive across the country visiting as many national parks as possible. She loves the sunrise, elephants, dragonflies and finding pennies on heads. You can connect with her on her website.
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