The healthiest thing we can learn to do for ourselves is to lean into our discomfort and sit with it, but it is also completely counterintuitive for most of us.
Today, I don’t feel great. I went out for a walk in the park earlier, to stir my painful inertia. A coating of frost twinkled on the ground, and the shadows cast by the sunlight stretched long and dark across the grass. It made me feel full of gratitude, and I came home and cried. The post-Christmas part of the year is never easy for me, as I’m sure is the same for many of us. I’m not entirely sure why. I’d put it down to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I still felt this way even when I lived in a much warmer, sunnier country. Perhaps it’s down to the winding down of the festivities (which, let’s face it, never really wound up this year anyway) and the waking up to the reality of going back to work. Though, this year it’s more than that. It’s still grieving the world that we left behind in 2019. It’s being in a long-distance relationship. It’s waking up to more news about Covid and Brexit, feelings of loneliness and loss of community. It’s the thought ‘what next?’
As I've written before, I am someone who has spent much of my life avoiding emotional pain. If I’d had a difficult week at work, I’d drown my feelings of resentment or discontent in the bar on weekends, numbing myself until I felt like it was some kind of resilience superpower. When I was bored or lonely, or found my procrastination taking over, I’d eat to mask the feelings of shame; chips, chocolate, cake, anything full of sugar or salt to give me a nice dopamine hit. I’d zone out, scrolling on my phone for hours at a time, or watch Netflix until my eyes were sore. Or sometimes I’d swing the opposite way, and exercise five nights a week so I had zero time to sit and think, implementing a rigid diet regime which I could obsess over. Sometimes it came out in internet dating, tinder binges and endless dates with different faces, none of whom I’d get to know truly and none whom I’d let get to know me. These are all ways that I reached outside of myself in an attempt to fix an internal issue.
None of those methods involved acknowledging how I felt, or even thinking briefly about why I felt that way. They were just a long ‘to do’ list, action after action which were only really motivated by fear; a continual act of turning away from myself and my internal reality. But it’s not all my fault. I can grant myself compassion because we are taught, encouraged even, to behave like this by society. It is part of our conditioning to worry more about externals than the internals. People who have products to sell and agendas to push, benefit from us behaving in these ways. In recovery from addiction and depression, I learned the hard way. ‘You have to feel it, to heal it.’
None of those feelings that I’d masked with ‘being busy’ ever went away. They were all just stuck in my body, waiting to be processed. So, in effect, I’d just been delaying the process of healing to the extent that eventually I had a whole lot of ‘stuff’ to process, which was making me sick. I was physically, mentally, emotionally and I would argue, spiritually sick. So, I learned that emotional discomfort, or pain is there for a reason, and when we turn away from it, we are denying a very real and true part of ourselves that is trying to impart important knowledge that could help us to thrive.
Today, even with this knowledge, part of me would still rather go for the easy fix and eat away my problems than truly feel them. This is because of the long-term neurological impact of repeated behaviours. If you behave like that often, it becomes the 'easy' way. Yet, I know that to move through tough feelings, I have to sit with them, and honour them, and that given the right tools, I can do it, and it doesn’t kill me. It hurts. Sure, it really hurts like hell sometimes. But the thing is, that it passes, like a wave crashing onto the shore. Today, I have the tools to deal with emotional discomfort. I have people I can call, and share with, who will listen without trying to ‘fix’ the problem for me. I write. I do yoga, meditate and walk. I read stories and play with my niece and nephew. I go to meetings with like-minded people who are also willing to be vulnerable and open up. I have learned that there is no such thing as being perfect or fully having your shit together, and that is just what being a human being is all about.
So to wrap up for today, emotional discomfort is as much a part of life as joy and happiness, and now I understand that we don’t get to pick and choose. Either we feel the full spectrum of emotion, or we don’t feel anything. I choose to feel and embrace the full spectrum of my beingness, even though it hurts a bit right now.