Hard feelings. We all get them from time to time. Sometimes we’re mad at others. Sometimes we’re mad at ourselves. Hard thoughts can be tough but they usually come up for a reason. The Universe is always trying to teach you something new, so when icky thoughts or feelings come up they do so to force you to face them. Of course, hard feelings are not fun. They require work to sort through. If you find yourself eager to numb the uncomfortable feelings with alcohol, drugs, sex, junk food, shopping or bad T.V. you’re not alone. Most of us don’t know how to deal with our feelings. Instead of sitting with them we try to dull them down.
Where do we learn to numb?
It was something I learnt growing up. If ever my parents were mad sad or depressed they would reach for something to ease their ills.
On nights when my mother would curl up on the couch claiming to ‘feel fat’ or ‘down in the dumps’ she would order my dad to go down to the dairy and get her a Jelly Tip. At the time I didn’t think much of it. Usually it meant that my dad would race me down to the shops. Me on my pink sparkly BMX, my little legs pedalling as fast as they could. My dad, jogging alongside me, pretending to go as fast as he could. The end result would be three Jelly-Tips, wrapped diagonally in newspaper, ready for when we arrived home. I’d ride even faster on the return journey.
On days where my parents were stressed or angry they would open the liquor cabinet, revealing a slew of long fancy bottles filled with intriguing and alluring elixirs. I’d watch the way my dad filled his glass with ice, a scowl on his face, gingerly pouring the syrupy bronze liquid. The ice cubes would clink as he lowered himself down into his chair, releasing a sigh. Being an adult looked cool because you got to look stressed and sigh and drink things that looked very grown up.
As a teenager my mother would poke her head into my bedroom, her eyebrows raised. “Busy? Want to go to the mall?”
At the mall her eyes would light up. I would visibly see her shoulders relax. “I really needed to get out to cheer myself up. I could really use a new top don’t you think? But first how about some junk food?” These times with my mum were some of the best I remember in my teenage years. We bonded through shopping and eating French fries and my mother used it as a way to make herself feel good. Is that so wrong?
Though I didn’t notice it at the time, this behaviour was setting me up for a future of dependant numbing. As early as 16 I can recall feeling so anxious I could hardly breathe. But instead of going for a walk, having a bath or perhaps meditating, I made my way to the liquor cabinet. I did what I’d seen my parents do for years; a placed the ice in the glass, added what I now knew to be Jack Daniels and topped the brew off with coke.
Learning to Numb with Alcohol
I sat in the sun and let the sweet mixture slide down my throat. With each sip I felt lighter. My chest relaxed and my thoughts grew soft and fuzzy. So that’s what all the fuss is about!
Up until this point I’d only ever used alcohol as a way to get drunk. It was what my friends and I did on a Friday night: From the age of 15 we would catch the train into town and then a bus into Newtown. Back in the 90s Newtown was not the funky bohemian metropolis it is today but instead a dodgy place where teenagers went to score their weed. We’d usually flip a coin to determine who had to go up to the door. If was always a sketchy experience, though thrilling too, in that way illegal activities tend to be.
Once we’d procured our cannabis, it was on to the liquor store to con some well-meaning adult into buying us a cask of wine.
From there we’d move onto the small treeish space we had named It. It was behind an old church and an electrical supplies store to drink and smoke ourselves into a fugue state. We’d stumble to the train station in time to catch the last train home, waxing lyrical on our homeward journey.
So as you can see alcohol was already a part of my life but it wasn’t until that sunny day with Jack that I learned to numb my feelings with it.
From that day on I had a quick tipple before I had to do anything too scary. About to perform in a play: a nip of vodka. Going on a first date: A quick skull from the bottle of wine in the fridge. Getting my legs waxed: A bourbon and coke.
It wasn’t until my mother caught me priming myself before an electrolysis session that I learnt that this behaviour was not approved of by my parents. My mum stood there in the living room staring at me. “What the hell are you doing?” she asked, her face in a half-smile half-scowl.
“Um, getting ready for my electrolysis appointment. I’m nervous.”
“Why are you drinking my gin?”
“Because you’re out of Whisky.”
“You can’t just drink alcohol because you’re nervous!”
I was stumped. What did she mean I couldn’t drink because I was nervous? Wasn’t that what all grownups did? Wasn’t that the correct way to drink? It wasn’t like I was drinking to get drunk. I was drinking responsibly to numb my pain. Duh.
“But,” I managed, “that’s what you do.”
I watched her face fall. Her mind processing what I’d said behind her hurt eyes. Shame. She’d been seen. Her actions, my father’s too, had been witnessed and mirrored. She hadn’t managed to teach me how to keep my room clean, how to make a bed with hospital corners, how to cook a meal then clean up after myself, but she had taught me how to drink. For some unknown reason that was what had stuck.
Who will Teach us to Deal with our Feelings?
It’s little wonder though isn’t it? When we go to school we learn how to read, write, add and subtract. We learn how to throw a ball and paint pictures. But do we ever get taught how to manage our feelings? I didn’t. Nor did my parents. If anything they were taught to hold their feelings in and ‘not make a fuss’. But when we hold in all our emotions they don’t just go away. They brood and grow. They have to come out eventually or they’ll begin to eat away at our insides, making us bitter, resentful and ill.
Everywhere we go alcohol and junk food are offered up to us on huge billboards, normalising substances that when taken in excess can cause death and disease. We’re taught to ‘enjoy treats in moderation’ and ‘knock back a cold one on a hot day’ as a way to let off some steam and relax. But we’re meant to know when enough is enough. And as soon as we cross the invisible line of ‘enough’ we’re an embarrassment. A weak fool who doesn’t know their limits and eats drinks too much for the wrong reasons. But what are the right reasons and who is meant to teach them to us?
While I now only drink in small amounts and I make a point of not using alcohol as a numbing agent, I still struggle with sugar. Now, if I have a bad day, I can feel my internal voice begging me to hit the confectionery isle so together we can self-harm and self-placate through candy. I must use all of my will power to resist and instead settle on an exotic tea blend as a reward for getting through a hard day without numbing.
Is numbing really that bad?
So you may be wondering is numbing really that bad? Well, that depends on why you’re numbing yourself and what you are using to do so. If you are using drugs and alcohol as a way to avoid dealing with your hard or dark feelings, then you are not teaching yourself to work through those feelings. While getting drunk may make you feel better, the same issues that were bothering you before you lifted the glass to your mouth will still be there tomorrow, when you’re hungover.
When it comes to eating junk food as a way to numb the same thing goes, though the ill effects may be more slow going. Not only will unhealthy food pick you up then drop you down, it will also have detrimental effects on your health in the long term.
Spending money to cheer yourself up might be fun but what happens when you run out of money? Then how will you cheer yourself up? If you numb yourself by keeping so busy you have no time to think, you could run the risk of he major burnout.
Perhaps you like to numb yourself by scrolling mindlessly through your Instagram feed. How do you feel afterwards? Personally I always feel worse after perving at Instagram too long because everyone always looks so much happier than me – I almost forget that it’s not their real life I’m ogling!
Temporary, conscious numbing
There are times where we may have to pick our battles. Sometimes using food and the like to numb ourselves may well be the best we have available at the time. When I had two children under four and was sleeping very little, eating five chocolate biscuits a night was the only way for me to get through those hard times. I didn’t have any spare time to meditate, exercise or journal. If I was lucky I had one undisturbed hour a night to watch an episode of Dexter and O.D on chocolate. Did it make me feel good afterwards? Not really. But knowing that at the end of each long day I’d get to smash a pack of Squiggles was honestly what got me through. And as my kids got older and the pressure came off, the need to numb with cookies passed.
But ultimately, using methods to escape from your pain is detrimental because it stops you from uncovering why you are feeling these feelings. When we try to dodge the lessons the Universe has sent our way they don’t disappear. They wait. Soon enough they’ll come back again. And again until we’ve chosen to face them.
What to do Instead of Numbing
Of course there are those of us who feel more than others. I myself am one of them. Us feely types are far more likely to seek out methods by which to numb. But we are far better off seeking out ways to manage our thoughts and feelings.
I find meditation especially good for releasing anxiety around any issue. There are plenty of free guided meditations on You Tube that will help you release anxiety and anger without reaching for a glass of wine.
If your issue more about processing thoughts and feelings then free flow journaling can be extremely helpful. It allows you to get your thoughts, fears and anger out onto the page as way of releasing what you’ve kept inside.
You can also write a letter to whom you have pend up anger towards, telling them how you feel. You could even send it if you want.
Just like Felicity did back in the 90s, keeping an audio diary is similar to having a therapist (though a lot cheaper). You can chat away about your feelings as if you are talking to a friend.
My personal favourite is going for a long walk in the hills WITHOUT an ipod. This way I am forced to listen to my head. While I may start the walk full of rage and resentment, there is a point where I literally feel whatever it was that was plaguing me woosh off into the clouds. After it’s gone I continue walking a little longer as this is when my hard feelings are usually replaced by inspiration and or euphoria.
This is like a bath but not. Ritual bathing is a serious affair. First you must find a collection of beautiful plants to fill your bath with (I love lavender, rosemary, kawakawa and rose petals) this means you are forced to go outside and place your hands upon the glory of mother-nature. Then throw your plants in, fill the tub, light plenty of candles and grab yourself a nice refreshing glass of sparkling ice water with fresh mint and lemon.
Before you get in bless the water with this prayer:
I bless this bath in the name of the goddess of water and the goddess of fire. I give thanks to the spirits of these plants and I ask them to help me process my hard feelings.
Slide into the bath and sit with your thoughts. Do not read or watch Netflix. Just sit there for at least an hour.
Get thee to the beach! That is pretty much my mantra for when I wake up with darkness in my heart. There is just something about a long walk along the beach that resets my heart and my soul. It totally lifts my vibration and places me back on a path of alignment.
We all spend a lot of time trying not to feel. But it is our emotions that make us human. It is okay to cry, yell and laugh with joy, though it’s usually only the latter that’s acceptable.
Back when I was at drama school I had a practice of ripping out a death scene when I was in a bad mood. I’m not even kidding. I would drop to the floor and enact a horrific death. It felt great. I totally recommend this for when you are in state of contained rage.
If you need to cry, cry. Get that sadness out of you. If you are mad at someone tell them. You don’t have to scream in their face but allow your anger to come out as it arises otherwise it will grow into a giant monster who will really do some damage. Punch pillows. Howl at the moon. You are allowed.