Involve, participate, draw into, interlock, commit, show up, and/or connect. Those were the words I used when I announced my 2021 intention to engage. Specifically, I wanted to engage by working on three goals:
Avoid using humor for the purpose of escaping discomfort
Talk about difficult things, honestly
Feel the things I don’t want to feel
I have been intentional about engaging, and I have focused on those three goals as part of my daily commitment. I have chosen to allow myself to engage in and with whatever comes up.
Humor and maybe a few others…
I’ll start with humor. I love humor and use it often, but I use humor as a way to deflect how I am feeling or to hide pain, sadness, and anger quite often. Humor, the past six months, has primarily been a way to smile and laugh instead of hiding or running. My jokes haven’t been quite so frequent, although my enjoyment of jokes has been heightened. I was thinking just the other morning about how I have been thoroughly enjoying the comical things in life. Life is fun. It just is. But only because I let it be that way. Because I have chosen to engage more with the “negative” emotions, I have experienced the “positive” emotions more genuinely (more on that below). Brene Brown says, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” She’s right.
Humor isn’t the only way I have found to numb myself and miss out on participating. Anyone who knows me could guess some of the incredibly adaptive skills I have developed over the years. I call them adaptive because they have kept me alive, or something like that. The main skill/behavior I talked about in my December 2020 post, “Forget the Mistake, Remember the Lesson,” was self-harm. In 2019, I hid razor blades for 228 days out of 366 somewhere in my house. I also used those razor blades 47 times. Today, June 28th, I have not possessed a razor blade nor cut myself since December 12, 2020. It has been 197 days since the last time I self-harmed. How have I done that?
Well, first, I didn’t waste my time while in Utah. I worked FREAKING HARD. Stress, anxiety, and intense emotional pain from working through different aspects of trauma each and every day for up to six hours caused me to clench my jaw so tight that I had to drink Ensure for several days because I couldn’t chew enough to get the nutrition I knew I needed. My sleeping medication was increased. The nurse offered to prescribe a medication for anxiety when she saw me sobbing in a corner unable to breathe one night. Still, I continued to work. I spoke when I needed to. I cried when I needed to. I laughed when I needed to. I asked for help when I needed to. I was fully engaged in my own recovery, and my hard work allowed others to do the same. Funny how that works.
Asking for help is my nemesis, but it has been my best friend for the past six months. In some situations, I have been forced to ask for help. My foot has been broken since May 11th. On June 2nd, I was told I was not allowed to drive. Since then, I have had to ask for rides 39 times (yes, I counted). That’s not even the type of help I am talking about though.
At the end of March, I began EMDR with my therapist. That first Friday, I asked my trainer for a light workout that allowed me to move but not overdo it. He gladly did it, and he checked on me the following week.
Session 2 or 3 sucked so much that I didn’t come home until much later in the day. I was wandering aimlessly. When I finally came home, I laid in bed with no intention of moving for the rest of the night. I knew that wouldn’t help me, so instead, I sent a text to the people I work out with and asked if anyone would go to dinner with me.
Around session 6(ish), failure was a prominent feeling. It was a Tuesday or Wednesday, and I remember thinking, “Who can I talk to about this? Who will understand and encourage me to keep going?” I grabbed my phone and pulled up a group chat entitled “Addicts and Basket Cases” and sent a message. Almost immediately a call was set up for later that evening with the people from Utah who “just know.”
I still ask my therapist for help. I don’t think it happens nearly as often as it has in the past. Most of the time, I don’t need a lot of support from her outside of my appointments despite feeling incredibly overwhelmed emotionally. A check-in on Fridays to let her know how I am after my EMDR session, and sometimes she gives me some reminders about how to negotiate the next several hours or days. My favorite words of wisdom so far: “Sit with it, not in it.” I shared that in a video chat with the “Addicts and Basketcases” the other day when one of them asked for support. Turns out most of us in that chat needed to hear that, me included.
This one really has nothing to do with cutting myself, but it relates to another self-destructive behavior I have used. It seems everyone I know is currently on a diet. Everyone wants to lose weight. It sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be thin like I used to be (like my entire life until I weight restored after starving myself). The problem is, the second I think I should work on that, I will fall into the same patterns I have before: restrict food and work out more. On one occasion, curiosity almost roped me in. There is this one program that claims it isn’t a diet. If it isn’t a diet but people lose weight, what is it? I wanted to know what it was all about. Step one: open advertisement. Step 2: take the quiz. Step 3: Pay to see the plan (I have to pay to see my own plan to know how this works?!). Step 4: send a text to my friend who also struggles with an eating disorder. “I need some support.” I explained what was going on. Her response was this: What diet? You know what April (dietician) would say. All diets are diets…” I did later talk with my dietician about it. Her reply: “If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If it smells like dog poop, it is.” I have no clue what the program is all about because I didn’t pay…or click for the free 14-day trial. I mean, if it looks like dog poop, why would I even want to smell it?
I just don’t want to fall into the same trap over and over and over again. The past couple of days, the intensity has been strong. I felt angry but reached out and was honest; overwhelmed but used grounding skills and distress tolerance skills. I planned a vacation in my head that I will likely never take, read books, picked up my house, listened to music, chatted with friends from Utah about what was going on with them, and sat with the discomfort. And when that all seemed insufficient, I opened up an app on my phone that reminded me how many days it had been. I was hungry for the 200-days mark, and I was going to get there. I am going to get there. Also, I can’t drive. There are plenty of tools in my home that I can hurt myself with, but I didn’t have what I wanted to use. Having no access also created the space that I needed. The thoughts and desires are no longer intense. I can handle a fleeting thought here and there.
Okay, so talking about things…It’s just hard.
There have been plenty of conversations I have not shied away from. In Utah, it was “speak up” or lose the opportunity to grow and heal. The potential was there but only if I took it. It took a while, but I finally started speaking up. Every group and therapy session was an opportunity whether my peers liked it or not. There were things I talked about that I had never spoken into existence before, and I did it because I had to get it out.
When I returned from Utah, it felt a little more difficult. I have talked with people about some difficult stuff. I have shared different thoughts, concerns, and emotions with my husband, but I feel as though I still fall short. There are things that still need to be said for my own mental health and ability to feel safe. I have spoken with my therapist about things I hate thinking about, let alone talking about. Alas, I fall short there too. Not communicating some things is keeping me stuck, but I can’t speak. Not even a word or two during EMDR sessions. Certainly not a discussion during a regular session. I can’t even write those things down. I’ve tried. “Addicts and Basketcases” told me to say it to myself in the mirror. Nope, can’t do that either. The shame is so powerful that it just won’t come out. It’s like a stomachache. I hate feeling nauseous and sick. I hate vomiting even more – it’s actually a pathological fear (emetophobia). Wouldn’t you know that throwing up is what it takes to feel better?! This stuff has got to come out of me. What is the communication equivalent of sticking your finger down your throat? Anyone?
I am going to call it so-so on feeling what I need to be feeling right now. However, this is one of my favorite scenes from “The Grinch,” and it describes my current state of affairs.
I literally cry all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I feel sad, agitated, frustrated, afraid, angry, anxious, disappointed, ashamed, overwhelmed, disgusted, exhausted, embarrassed, bored, and hurt. And I cry. It seems as though it must have been building for a while because I can’t even hold it in now. The other day, I cried throughout my entire EMDR session, managed to pull myself together, walked outside, sat on the bench to wait for my ride, and as soon as the next client saw me and sat down next to me, I cried. Later that night when I sat down on my porch, I cried. I woke up in the middle of the night, and guess what? I cried. Because I am not numbing my emotions all of the time, I am experiencing other emotions too. “Positive” emotions are uncomfortable to feel too. I associate several positive emotions/feelings with trauma, but I need to feel those to experience safety as well. So, now I also feel calm, happy, excited, joyful, curious, confident, grateful, content, proud, hopeful, and more. There are also times that I resist feeling my emotions.
“Real self-love: Calling yourself out on your sh*t in order to grow” – Unknown
Real self-love: Stop resisting!
Resistance. That may be the arch-enemy of engagement. I am going to reference Brene Brown again. She says that empathy is the antidote to shame. My attempts to escape discomfort through humor, avoid talking about difficult things, and use numbing (whatever that looks like) to not feel are all examples of resistance (and sometimes flat-out refusal). It is resistance to engaging. Resistance to vulnerability. You can’t have empathy without vulnerability. The very thing that keeps me from being fully engaged and vulnerable is also the very thing that cannot survive in the face of vulnerability and engagement:
I have to continue to engage; allow myself to be vulnerable (with boundaries) as much as I can, in the moment, because I am:
Worthy of love and belonging
Doing my best
And others are:
Doing the best that they can
I will continue to participate.
I will continue to share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
I will continue to be involved and involve others.
I will do it. I will do it imperfectly. But I will do it better than I have before.