Why it’s Ok to Want to Numb Out
When you’re sensitive, life is harder to bear. It feel like the volume is turned up all the way. All the time. You are walking around with an extra level of sensing that makes everything heavier and harder. It amplifies the noise, and the pain. On top of that, you have the world around you giving you messages that you are “too much,” that you are weak, and that your feelings aren’t valid. It’s no wonder it’s so easy to get traumatized as a sensitive woman. We carry SO much, and yet to try to fit in, to belong, to be loved- we so often push down our true feelings. But the thing about feelings is that they don’t go away… they build up inside of us. It can get to the point where it feels like a tidal wave of emotion is welling up within us and is just begging to come out- but we run from it. We run because we’re scared of what would happen if that tidal wave unleashed. We’re afraid of the pain, of the consequences it might have. Would we fall apart? Would we lose respect? Would we be seen as “crazy”? Would we lose our friendships we worked so hard for?
In order to cope with this fear and stress, so many sensitive women seek ways to numb out. Over my life, I used so many different numbing mechanisms. As a child, I was so afraid of being unloveable that I developed crippling perfectionism and people pleasing tendencies. I’ll never forget the feeling of trying to get my room just clean enough, that maybe, for a moment, my family would see me as “good enough.” In my 20s, I developed a debilitating eating disorder. This too, was a form of numbing. It was a way of focusing so hard on control that I was able to push aside my feelings and needs. And I was literally eating and then purging my feelings. I smoked cigarettes, I drank way too much alcohol… anything to drown out the roar of the ocean of feelings in my ears. I would hole up in my apartment, down a whole bottle of wine to myself while chain smoking on my front porch, wishing I was someone else, wishing I could be free from the anxiety that chased me every second of my life. I remember hating myself more and more every minute I sat there, feeling stuck in a deep cave of loneliness. And then reaching for the cookies, the ice cream, anything that would stuff down the agony of feeling like I didn’t have a place in this world. And then the wave of release that came when I got rid of it all. Like, literally, flushing my feelings down the toilet. I was shutting myself down from being fully alive.
And yet the entire time there was deep piercing shame that enveloped me like a hangover anytime I fell down the rabbit hole of these numbing behaviors. The shame was so vivid… I can remember sitting in my little apartment, my fists balled up with fury. “Why was I like this”, I would think. “What the hell is wrong with me that I’m so weak…?” I beat myself up for beating myself up. Over and over again. And it created a vicious cycle of self abuse.
The truth is that when we reach for numbing out mechanisms- be it shopping, overeating, substances, or control, we are only trying to help ourselves. We are trying, in the best way we know how in that moment, to calm down our fried nervous system and get our body back to normal regulation. We are not doing anything shameful!!! Something inside is hurting you- that’s why you’re reaching for the cigarettes or whiskey. You are fighting a battle that most people don’t understand. There is legitimate and valid trauma that has been pushed down has us all out of whack. We are unconsciously looking for solutions to just help us SURVIVE and get through the day. And so what if we could replace that same with COMPASSION? Compassion for our overworked system, for our unheard feelings, for our desire to be loved and to be out in the world? What if we had compassion for how hard it can be to be sensitive in this world. For how our hearts long to be “home,” yet we can never seem to find where that is for us. What if, instead of beating ourselves up, we gave ourselves the love we so desperately look outside of ourselves for? Because the issue isn’t that we’re reaching for something to numb out- of course we are!!! The issue is what we are TELLING ourselves about the numbing out. The answer isn’t in beating ourselves up. It’s in self compassion, and seeking the resources and tools to teach us how to love ourselves and our feelings more, so that we don’t NEED to numb out and run from our truth in the first place.
So the next time you find yourself reaching for the vodka bottle, and that twinge of self disgust that comes with it, remind yourself that you are just trying to survive. That in truth, you are a warrior who is carrying so many old battle wounds that desperately need tending to. You are a survivor who has been doing the best she can with what she was equipped with. And you, my dear, profoundly deserve the kind of love you love you so freely give to others.