A few years ago I worked on a project with a psychotherapist and I learned something that changed the way I think about fear, pain and discomfort forever. She said to me, “The research shows that when we numb pain, we numb joy.” It shows that our emotions are not discerning.
When we numb pain, we numb joy.
Now pain is one word for it, another might be discomfort or fear. When we numb this bad stuff, we numb the good stuff. We end up feeling something average and in the middle.
What!!? This was a light bulb moment for me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to feel ‘average.’ I don’t want to numb my joy by numbing my pain. I want to get to the joy. I wanted to get to the happiness.
I realized in that moment what my numbing might have been costing me. I mean when did it become normal to numb discomfort, fear and pain, and not be willing to sit in it? We have a numbing culture, we have epidemic proportions when it comes to prescription drugs. When did it become normal that we pop a pill, that we drink a glass of wine at the end of the day, that we inhale a pie?
All just to avoid sitting with our feelings.
As I began to do this inner work and choose to feel my feelings I started to feel like an emotional bad ass and let me tell you, this stuff, this deep emotional work, feeling our feelings, sitting in pain or discomfort is life changing.
I had to learn how to sit with pain. I also had to acknowledge the important role that pain, and fear, and discomfort have in my journey to feeling full joy. I had to stop labelling them as the bad emotions too. I had to value the important role that they play, and see them as my new best friends.
Around the same time as working on this project and gaining this new awareness, I went through some pain. Heartache, romance, love, it sucks, doesn’t it? When it doesn’t work out? I wasn’t in a good place, and I was ready to numb. I was at the Ralph’s supermarket, and I had my shopping cart ready. As I’m walking down the aisle I grab a box of tissues. Next stop, the ice cream freezer, Magnum ice creams of course. By the time I get to the check out, I have just 3 items, my Kleenex, my ice cream and a loaf of bread.
Now, I live in LA. I knew it was bad, because nobody eats bread. I looked at myself when I got home and I thought, “What are you doing? You’ve just learned this stuff. You can’t be numbing” You’re allowed one day, maybe 2, by day 3 that’s it.
You’re going to feel this and choose to do things differently this time and so I made myself feel it. For 22 days, I cried every single morning. I would go out running with dark sun glasses and tears streaming down my face, but damn it, I was running. I was feeling it for the first time ever.
Since then I wouldn’t say I always get it perfect but I am so much more aware when I engage in numbing behavior—binge watching TV series, swiping on a dating app, mindlessly eating or scrolling through Facebook—there are countless ways we all choose to numb and I am getting better at noticing when I am choosing to use something to check out, to distract myself, to not feel something that I need too.
It’s not about never doing those things but about choosing consciously when we do and noticing when it is about numbing our feelings. As you can’t heal the feelings if you won’t feel the feelings.