May, Myself, & I: A Self-Love Experiment
DAY SIX: Embracing sensitivities as a gift and why getting triggered is a good thing
When I was in early recovery my therapist gave me a PDF print-out of a feeling wheel. It was this circle divided into sections which listed out a variety of feelings. At the base of the wheel, there were some basic emotions (mad, sad, happy, disgust, etc.) and each of those extended into more specific variations of the basic emotions. “Mad” might extend out to hurt, hostile, angry, hateful, critical, irritated, jealous. “Happy” might extend out to energetic, excited, creative, and hopeful. (There are lots of versions of this available on the interwebs.)
My job with the feeling wheel was to pick out one emotion I was feeling each day, and to claim it as something I felt.
This was incredibly challenging for me, because I had NO idea what or how I was feeling. Early sobriety was a shit show hurricane of discomfort and confusion combined with intuitive abilities and sensitivities opening up. People would ask, “How are you?” and my immediate response would be, “how are YOU?” with enough fervor that they’d answer, taking the heat off me.
If someone asked me to discuss feelings, I’d freeze.
I didn’t know how I was. I mean, aside from depressed and generally miserable. I couldn’t tell what was real or fake. I couldn’t tell if I was excited or scared. I was just this gooey blob of a human.
Since that time in my life (4-5 years ago), I’ve written a book and have nearly completed a second and third, I’ve had articles published, and I’ve written and shared lots on Facebook and my blog. About what? FEELINGS. About learning to feel and learning to cope with experiencing life so intensely.
(I realized this recently. We are such adaptable creatures that it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. But WOW, have I made some huge progress!)
I mean, a big part of my confusions came from being an empath. I’m an intuitively and energetically and emotionally sensitive being, able to pick up on subtle shifts from others’ feelings. This is a beautiful gift when harnessed correctly, and yet an exhausting curse when misunderstood or not healthily maintained.
I couldn’t tell what was mine or what belonged to someone else. Due to poor or nonexistent energetic and emotional (and even spiritual) boundaries, I essentially had my front door wide open… Inviting anything and everything in. Often, I’d be bombarded by draining, desperate, and sick energies or entities.
Mind you… I couldn’t physically see any of this happening. I could only feel it. And that scared me. I felt like a fucking crazy person.
Over the years, I began fine-tuning my intuitive gifts and utilizing meditation and grounding practices and yoga and journaling and even more therapy to get in tune with what MY energy and emotions feel like. This helps me to differentiate between my own thoughts and feelings and those I’ve accidentally adopted from another.
Social media is challenging for me for this very reason, and is likely challenging for other empaths. As my close friend said to me: “Scrolling through Facebook or Instagram is like getting an entire week’s worth of social interaction within a few minutes.” How true! In the span of five minutes, I will have interacted with the energy (and often heightened emotion) of 30-50 (or more) people. No wonder I feel drained after any sort of social media use.
And so, I’ve learned when to and when not to hop online. It can be challenging, y’know. Using these social websites can become a numbing and addicting thing we use to busy our minds off what’s really bothering us. We can use it to focus on other folks and our judgments of them rather than looking inward. We can use it to avoid feeling lonely, gleaning whatever sense of connection we can. I’ve been guilty of it. I feel irritable or discontent and so I scroll through Instagram, letting the world know what I like and don’t like through the double-click of my thumb.
Ha! There! I have interacted today. I’ve made my mark. Check.
But is that self-care? Is that loving? Is that compassionate toward myself?
If I had a friend say to me, “Jen. I’m feeling sad and lonely.” How would she feel if I held my finger up to her and then buried my nose in my phone, ignoring her?
That’s what we do to ourselves. If I have a feeling-an uncomfortable one-and I shove my attention into something else, I’m reinforcing the old belief that my feelings aren’t valid and I’m only lovable when I’m in a good mood.
Woof. That’s a tough thing to admit.
That’s not to say that the opposite end of the extreme is better, where I’m stewing in my feelings and my stories about my feelings and I’m slowly drowning into a useless puddle of self-pity. That’s no fun either. Sometimes it’s good to busy myself, to take action so as to not get sucked into a downward spiral.
Other times, though, it’s good to sit still. To breathe. I’m learning to sit with myself and to focus on the sensations of my body. Emotion a very physical experience. I’m learning to feel the physical feelings (when I’m angry, my face feels hot. When I’m sad, my breathing becomes shallow.), breathing through them, without getting caught up in any attached stories arising.
I’ve learned that it’s good when life triggers us in some way. If an old insecurity or fear or a past pain bubbles up because of some present-day interaction, I’ve learned to take it as a good sign. This means we are healthy enough NOW to process and release this emotion / trauma we held on to from the past. What a blessing.
I worked with my sponsor for two hours today on some deep-rooted gunk. As a result, I had a lot of old pain and stories and thoughts and feelings arise. I watched them, doing my best not to get hijacked or interact with them or take them as truth. (This can be exhausting work at first.) Ultimately, I opened my chest, put my shoulders back, relaxed my face, and breathed in… Allowing the thoughts and emotions to move through and out of me rather than frantically holding onto them and keeping them locked in my body.
I was able to continue interacting with life and friends and my boyfriend EVEN THOUGH I was feeling panicky and frightened and triggered. “I hear you. I see you. These feelings are understandable and allowed,” I’d say to myself. “I’ve got you, and you’re safe.”
And wouldn’t you know? Just as the giant waves of pain came, they passed. And again, the waters were calm.
This is the beauty of acceptance, of compassion with self, and of allowing space for my sensitivities and my old pain and my present-day actions. I’m learning to love and allow all of it, and the result is a much faster and more expansive healing process.
Today’s extra loving tasks:
- A candlelit Epsom salt bath
- I shared vulnerably and honestly with my sponsor about some old stuff.
- I shared with my friends and my boyfriend about what I was experiencing.
- I relaxed and read a book (The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer – I highly recommend it)
Is there a go-to way you numb or avoid your emotions? If you instead chose to listen, what would your feelings say to you?