The other night I went out with my best friend for dinner. As we were walking through the parking lot back to our cars I was telling her an upsetting story and she stopped me. “How can you talk about this without bursting into tears,” she asked? “How can you not start yelling in the middle of the parking lot about your life?” “Simple,” I reply, “Because I can no longer feel anything.” She looked at me with complete sadness but she also understood. As a victim of so much, how could I possibly let myself feel anything anymore?
Long ago I learned to turn off my emotions and feelings. It’s a survivors’ trick that somehow came naturally to me, a defense-mechanism I’m sure. And it beat the alternative of having to experience what I was going through every day. What is the purpose of suffering all of that stress, pain, torment, only to know that you will wake up and feel it again the next day? Why even bother?
And so lately I found out. When you turn off the bad you also turn off the good. You stop feeling everything. It’s not like a sink with a hot and a cold handle, you turn one off you turn them both off and this is what I had done.
Really great things started happening in my life and I wasn’t experiencing the joy. People were still around me, loving and supporting me, and I could see it but I could not feel it. Something had gone wrong.
This was a tough concept to come to terms with. My life continues and I either need to watch it happen or feel it happen? But if I feel it happen then I will feel everything happen, everything that I go through every day and that is not pretty. What would occur if I allowed myself to make that change? I thought about it all day.
I was making dinner that night and I moved too quickly and slammed my finger in the drawer. I saw it take place and I watched my finger first turn bright red and then start to bruise but it didn't hurt. I sat there and marveled at how numb I have become to pain. I just looked at my finger as it began to swell.
Then something washed over me and I began to cry. I didn't even know it was happening until I saw my tears drip onto the countertop. My finger started to throb. It hurt and it stung and I felt it. Finally. I felt something.
But I didn’t feel fear. Instead I felt relief. I am still in here I thought. I can do this. If I can feel something and not snap and break into pieces then maybe it is OK to feel again? And if you are a victim you can do this too. I’m here to tell you that it is definitely worth the risk because what is our alternative? To go through life missing out on everything in exchange for feeling nothing?
So the answer to the question for me, “To Feel or Not to Feel?” is to feel. I marvel at the sunsets again. I experience happiness when I tell my family and friends how much I love them. And I feel pain every day - way too much pain for sure. But I am living again in a way that lets me know that I am alive and breathing because I don’t just see my breath as I exhale into the cold winter air, I can feel it.