It's painful, uncomfortable, distressing, and frankly a pain in the ass to have to deal with in the first place. It's a feeling you have an immediate reaction to. The kind that is so triggering you want to squash in its tracks before it even steps a toe in the door.
For some people that feeling is anxiety, for others it’s depression, or the physical sensation that you feel immediately after you eat. Maybe it's loneliness, sadness, or disappointment. Pick that feeling you find the least tolerable in your life, that's the one i'm talking about.
We all have our ways we have learned to cope with that feeling throughout our life. Distraction and avoidance were the two coping mechanisms I used to jump to and to be perfectly honest it usually worked, at least in the moment.
Social anxiety: I would drink alcohol to feel more relaxed or avoid social situations all together. Sadness: I just ran like hell from that bad boy. The discomfort and anxiety I felt after eating a large meal: well, that usually resulted in my head over the toilet in a desperate attempt to bring an end to that feeling. And, guess what? It worked. For a time. A short time. One that got shorter and shorter with every passing day and resulted in shame, guilt, and you guessed it, more anxiety.
I’m painting you a pretty picture, aren’t I?
What I didn't acknowledge several years ago was that almost every coping method I had devised over my lifetime was keeping me stuck in a vicious cycle of numbing out. I had developed very little tolerance for any type of negative feelings and actually had a difficult time with the good ones too. During a group therapy session one evening I, along with the rest of the group were asked to take a survey of how willing we were to sit with and tolerate a list of feelings. Sadly, I found I had a very low tolerance for almost everything.
Up until this point I sort of touted the motto, “I don't DO feelings.” A statement I would say with a level of pride. Like I was somehow above them and it was some almighty power to not feel my feelings. Spoiler alert, it's not!
Your feelings exist for a reason. They aren't meant to be ignored or tossed aside. They are trying to teach you something. The vicious cycle I had mastered was keeping me on a hamster wheel, going round and round and never actually accomplishing anything. I was learning very little about myself, my wants or needs and was becoming an expert in self-sabotage. So it’s no wonder I wasn't making much progress in life.
I had gotten to the point where I could no longer tolerate the feeling of being full. Sounds crazy, I know, but remember I was deep in an eating disorder and my rational mind had basically called it quits. Feeling full and purging became so intertwined in my mind that there was no thinking between the actions. It was a coping mechanism that provided instant relief and I didn't have to process any feelings whatsoever. To put it simply, it worked. It achieved what I wanted it to, which was no longer having to feel uncomfortable.
HOWEVER, it came with a whole slew of consequences. Along with a laundry list of health consequences and physical risks, the feeling I instantly felt of relief was quickly replaced by guilt, shame and disappointment in myself. As I “solved” one problem I brought on ten more.
My journey out of bulimia was messy and ultimately led to fighting anorexia. But during that process, I learned a tool that undoubtedly has changed my life and my approach to feelings.
I learned to sit with the feeling. Ride the wave. Whatever you want to call it.
It didn't happen over night by any means and took a lot of willpower, but it got easier.
The basic idea is along the lines of a mindfulness exercise. Acknowledge the discomfort, the pain or the physical sensation of what you are feeling. But rather than jumping to a coping mechanism, sit in the feeling and feel it. Feel it's heaviness, the shittiness, the pain, and thoughts that come with it, knowing that it will pass. You are capable of living through it and the more times you can do it the more evidence you have to prove to yourself that you are capable of living through it.
Now obviously it's hard to go from 0 to 100 overnight. I didn't just flip a switch and suddenly was just chilling in a mound of discomfort, unbothered. Little by little, I would try to make progress. After a meal I would see how long I could delay the urge to purge. I would build evidence against my own belief that I couldn't tolerate the discomfort. As I started to progress, I believed more and more that the physical sensation in my stomach I grew to hate would in fact pass. Why? Because food digests and logically I knew that.
Just like I logically knew being in an uncomfortable social environment was more than likely not going to kill me. I might feel embarrassed or awkward. Sweating and dodging eye contact might be part of the deal. But every time I tried, I was making progress. I was proving to myself that I was capable of engaging in conversation with others without having to be three drinks deep.
I realize that this can be a frightening concept to even entertain if you are not ready for it and by no means do I intend to invalidate anyone's feelings. Your feelings will always be valid and uniquely yours, but you are fully capable of sitting with your feelings. Avoiding them, or numbing out will only get you so far. The real work, AND the real reward comes when you learn to sit with them. To accept them without judgment, rather approach them with curiosity. Ask, what is this trying to teach me? Not, how can I get rid of this? We need the bad feelings in life to appreciate the good feelings and take comfort in knowing you are not alone in your heartbreak, anxiety, fear, or sadness.
I hope this encourages some of you to pause the next time you are met with discomfort and encourages you to fight to sit with the feeling, even if just for a moment.
Disclaimer: Please note, all information on The Cheeky Life is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for professional care. The intention of this blog is to connect with the community and share my personal experiences with mental health, eating disorders, and life in general. All opinions are my own.