A few weeks ago, I caught up with my writer friend Ellen Kratz at the Short Story Machine Launch. We chatted about our respective works-in-progress and then the conversation moved to Truth. It was really brave to share that post, she said.
I thought about it. Yes, and no, I said.
It was a little scary, but I’m scared of almost everything. I’m scared of people and parties and parking. Sometimes it seems like there’s just a steady undercurrent of anxiety in my life, like I never know what to do with my hands. Like this right now – driving to the airport and walking into a group of strangers and pretending like I belong – this is every bit as scary as sharing that post. It’s probably why I leaned so heavy on alcohol – drinking let me skip all of life’s scary parts and dive into a chemically-induced confidence, or at least put my worries away for an evening. It was something to do with my hands if I was with people and something that drowned out the buzz and hum in my head if I was alone. Now I don’t have anything to hide behind. This year has been one long exercise in being okay with being uncomfortable. It’s kind of torture, but I can also feel myself getting better at just… being. I think that’s called ‘peace,’ right?
But that’s everyone, Ellen said. Everyone uses something to numb out.
Yes, your right, I agreed. I recited a list of external distraction agents: sex or pills or power and control, eating disorders and plastic surgery…
Or just… food or gossip, Ellen said, thinking off the top of her head. Or phones! How many people are glued to their phones? You don’t think that’s numbing out? That’s not fear?
And then she said,
Everyone’s scared of everything.
What makes someone brave is how they face the fear.
And I felt a lot less alone,
I totally use food and phones to numb.
It was something to consider.
I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown lately. She’s a researcher on fear, shame, joy, and vulnerability. Right now, I’m reading Rising Strong, which is about her research on recovering from missteps. Why do some people come back stronger than ever and others stay stuck and bitter in their mistakes? What makes some people try, try again, when others let heartache end the story, or stick their heads in the sand after a fall and refuse to see the pit they’ve landed in?
Included in her research is a section about emotional armour and “numbing,” (which proves Ellen’s brilliance.) Brene Brown is very concerned about how we are numbing negative emotions with social media, internet, food, gossip, alcohol, drugs, sex, news, work, control, etc., and how all this numbing costs us the fullness of joy. Most people are struggling with emotional – if not physical – addictions to at least one numbing agent, she argues. If not you, then certainly someone you love. In a culture that pretends eating our feelings and zoning into screens and drinking to take the edge off is self-care, we have resigned ourselves to a mid-level existence: never feeling too much heaviness, but no real lightness either. We’re losing our ability to sit still with the hurt or fear or sadness or doubt or boredom or plain ol’ social awkwardness that comes with simply being alive.
We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive ones
most of us aren’t experiencing the richness of love, joy, closeness, peace, gratitude, and excitement designed to sustain the human body/mind/soul.
Because when we’re numbing, only hints of such happiness drift into our lives. We see but can’t reach the pinnacles. Chainmail is for battle, not mountain climbing, and certainly not for loving.
We’re wrapped up so thick neither blades nor hands can reach the skin.
We are wearing plate armour to bed and calling it intimacy.
Because everyone’s scared of everything
and stripping naked is really hard.
is something to consider.