“We try so hard to hide everything we’re really feeling from those who probably need to know our true feelings the most. People try to bottle up their emotions, as if it’s somehow wrong to have natural reactions to life.”Colleen Hoover
I have been thinking about my “feelings” a lot lately. Emotional feelings that is, and how they tie to my physical body. I have recently come to the realization that I am out of touch with my feelings on a regular basis. As a result I walk around disconnected from my own body, my mind and the present moment. I do not believe I am alone in this detachment – my guess is many of us suffer similarly.
I am not sure exactly when this rift originally occurred but I do see now how it has had a negative impact on my life. Do not get me wrong, I am well aware that I needed to live outside of myself as a means of self preservation when I was a child. I remember around the age of five or six when my parents were dishing out whichever parental horror they were serving that particular day, I would close my eyes and picture a light switch on the wall. The switch was clearly marked on and off. It was a white switch on a white wall, utilitarian but it served it’s purpose. With just a thought I could switch the light from the on to the off position. That was it, I was gone. I had escaped from them or, for that matter, anyone or anything that felt threatening or bad in my life. It was the safest place I could get myself, this “nowhere” place. This was a place I would visit again and again whenever I anticipated there was a need. I anticipated the need often.
I do not ever recall switching the light back on, but it must have reset because I remember turning it off more than once. It took me until my late twenties to realize that this was not something that everyone did when bad things threatened them. I can look back now and see huge chunks of my life missing from my memory or, if I do remember something, it has this hazy, foggy sort of overlay to it. The thing is, not feeling my feelings has become a habit for me. That is simply my way of life. Long after the anticipation of danger has passed, I still find myself in this place where, if you ask me how I am feeling I am likely to say, “I feel fine” or “I am good. How are you?” I smile and move along not even thinking twice about how I actually felt or what was happening with me.
The danger in having this light switch so easily accessible is that it actually feels like it has become the default mode for most of my emotions. It evolved into a sort of numbness that, although it made difficult times seemingly easier to cope with when I was little and defenseless, it has, in my adult years, numbed me to happiness, joy, feelings of accomplishment and excitement. Another negative impact is that I still carry the wounds of things that happened, but I am unable to express my emotions so the wounds remain open and healing does not occur.
I remember when my mother passed away back in 2009. We did not have a good relationship but she was still someone that, when convenient for her, bathed, clothed and fed me. There was some emotional attachment to her as my parent. As I got older, we would go months without speaking and I believed that was fine with both of us. But every year on her birthday, whether we were speaking or not, I would send her a dozen yellow roses without fail. It was my way of honoring this person who gave birth to me, I guess a thank you of sorts. When she passed away in November of 2009, I took exactly one day off work to see if anything would happen with me. I spent the day with a friend feeling just kind of quiet. Nothing much happened, no tears shed. Just existing with this intellectual knowledge of her passing. I went back to work the next day and people who had heard of my loss came to give me a hug and express their condolences. I quite literally held up my hand at arms length and told them “not now, please.” At that point I escaped into my job, which is incredibly easy to do as a nurse. And that was it. I moved on…or did I really?
The funny thing about strong, unresolved feelings is they find their way up to the surface eventually. My mother’s birthday was in March. As the first birthday since her passing approached, about a week before, I was in the shower and had a thought, “crap, I have to send flowers to my mother!” The next thought was, “you can’t, she’s dead.” It all came crashing down right then, there was no one to send flowers to anymore. I fell in a heap on the bottom of the tub and sobbed. I ended up taking a week off to let it all out. Nobody was more surprised than me, but there I was. Feeling all of my feelings at once: sadness, anger, relief, a sense of loss and being anchor-less. A huge spectrum of feelings, unlike anything I had let myself feel before. It all came on, I was powerless to stop the onslaught. And now I am deeply grateful for that release. I was able to forgive my mother for quite a bit during that time of just allowing myself to feel this flood of emotions and heal some old wounds. Of course I proceeded to go back to my old habit of shoving everything else back down as soon as I reentered the world. I remember thinking, “honestly, who has time to deal with this emotional crap.”
So why, all of a sudden, has this become something I want to start looking at? Quite simply, I want to heal. Now I understand that being able to name my feelings brings me into the present moment, which is such an amazing and empowering place to be. It doesn’t matter if the feelings are what I perceive as positive or negative, it just feels good to actually FEEL.
I have been reading a book called Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth and it has helped me look at my relationship with my feelings, my body and understand that I have always seen myself as a problem that needs to be solved. My feelings were inconvenient to living my version of a successful and normal life. I believed that strong negative feelings were absolutely not welcome and because of that belief, sacrificed all my positive feelings too. I have tucked my feelings so far away from me it is like I have locked them away in this deep, cold, dark pit. And I am, only now, venturing down to carefully pull each one of them up, inspect them, claim them as sacred and as belonging to me.
I struggle so much with the simple question of how I am feeling that my husband and I do a little exercise. When I think of it I ask him how he is feeling. He tells me in much detail and then he asks me. I have a list of feelings that I printed out and I scan down it to see which words stick with me in that particular moment. It may sound strange but it is really working to help me widen my feeling vocabulary beyond the cursory “good,” “fine” and “tired.” I am also trying to link the words to sensations in my body. For instance when I am happy I feel a warmth in my chest and an overall body muscle relaxation. When I am amazed or in awe I feel this quick, all-over rush of tingles. You get the idea. It is like I am learning a new language. I am enjoying the exploration of all my feelings, even the ones that I may have believed were negative. I have found the fastest way through my “difficult” feelings is to acknowledge their presence in my mind, honor them and then let them be. Let myself feel them fully. It has helped me truly start to be grounded in my own life, and the reward of that is realizing how much joy is in so many day-to-day things. I had no idea that a person could be consistently happy for any period of time, but we can. I just have never before let myself feel long enough to know that. We have to be willing to feel the not so good stuff as well. I know that now – or at least I am learning.
My wish for all of you is if you struggle like I do, maybe you too can start asking yourself how you really feel and give yourself the time and space to really sit with whatever comes up. I promise, after some practice, it is worth it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I feel so much gratitude connecting with you.
If you enjoyed reading this post you can click this link to my personal blog 🙂 https://thenursesheart.wordpress.com