Over the past 30 years, I have been working to improve myself. For 10 years, I have shared this growth, ideas, and hopefully support through these posts. My self-growth focus started out around making work better. How do I make work less stressful? How do I find work-life balance? How do I learn what I really want and release what I think is expected of me? As I learned to manage my work better, I began to uncover and explore more deeply the seat and cause of my pain. How did my thinking and expectations cause me pain? Where else should I focus to find relief and happiness? How is the desire to be perfect hurting not helping me?
As I lost layers of perfectionism and workaholism, I realized they were not the problem. My expectation I should be perfect and my using work to create my self-worth were tools. I used these tools to avoid my feelings. I used them to avoid being hurt. As I released these tools, it made me vulnerable. Without the safety net of perfectionism and focusing on work, I felt fear, insecurity, and sadness at levels I had never before. And I couldn’t handle it. I unconsciously reached for new tools – Candy Crush, tacos, and cucumber jalapeño margaritas – to once again numb the intensity of these feelings.
I’m not alone in having a desire to numb vulnerability. Brené Brown shares how as a society, “we are the most addicted, the most medicated, obese and in debt adult cohort in human history.” Life can be difficult, and it is understandable to reach for something to take the pain away. What Brené Brown has found though, is that we can not choose what we numb. We can’t just numb the bad things, the pain, the worry, the sadness, the fear. When we numb those things, we also numb our experience of joy, love, and all the beauty life has to offer.
I decided if I was going to truly practice what I believe, I had to live fully with the good and the bad. If I was going to truly live, I needed to embrace vulnerability. The first step was to release my numbing tools. I cut down on social media and mindless electronic games. I learned how to eat when I was hungry, not when I was sad. I stopped drinking alcohol and this July it will be one year without an adult beverage. Giving up drinking was an interesting experience. I had not realized how much I had depended on alcohol as a crutch. A long day at work? A glass of wine will help me relax. Feeling alone because my husband is working late? I can always make a friend at the local bar. Anxious about the next storm? Mix up a batch of margaritas for a hurricane party! In becoming sober, I learned that alcohol was not giving me what I wanted. All it was doing was numbing my emotions and keeping me from living fully.
Without these numbing tools, I had to find a new way to live. I reached back to inspirational books and daily reflections. I brought meditation back as a daily practice. I focused on gratitude throughout the day. I found others to serve and be supported by. And I stopped hiding from emotions. Instead of ignoring or numbing them, I explored them. Why were they there? Where they true or a construct of my mind? Were they serving me? This phase of my journey has not always been easy. Masking the pain was the easy way out. Facing my beliefs and emotions has not always been pretty or joyful, but it has been very rewarding.
I feel a freedom I have not in years, if ever. In honesty and vulnerability, I have deepened relationships with others and myself. I have found courage to address conflicts instead of hiding from them. And I am embracing life to the fullest. By stopping numbing the bad, I can fully feel the good.
What tools do you use to numb? What are you hiding from? What would your life be like if you embraced the totality of life?