My name is Lauren and I am an addict. I am addicted to anything which enables me to avoid feeling my feelings.
In order not to feel, I distract myself purposefully, even wilfully by being exceptionally busy. By saying ‘I can do that’ to anything that means I don’t have to think or feel, it might be caring for others, cooking, shopping, offering my services, teaching another yoga class, cleaning the house, scrolling through facebook, eating too many biscuits, drinking too much alcohol, the list goes on. There are of course, lots of other drivers for these actions, but for me the ignition, before practicality or necessity and to the degree that I’m so busy I am physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, is distraction. It’s a deep internal pleading for my mental, emotional and sometimes physical pain to be taken away.
‘Taking the edge off’ or even fully submerging myself in avoidance through whatever it is I’m addicted to in the moment (including Yoga classes by the way), is like putting blinkers on to tunnel the vision towards only the things I’m comfortable with seeing (i.e. the things I can control in my life). Like a clean house, a 5K run, newly coloured hair, nails, new clothes, home furnishings and saying ‘I’m fine’ in the kind of tone we all know means, I’m really not fine, but if you push me now I’ll go psycho bitch from hell on you.
The things I can control are the things I use to build the illusion that I am in control, and sometimes it works, but you know deep down that you’re suspicious aren’t you? My blinkers tunnel my vision away from the things I don’t want to see, like my jealously of other peoples success, happiness or in any way looking more together than me; my failure that everyone else is parenting better than I do, my shame at my failure and my anxiety that I might have mental health issues; my exhaustion at thinking all of these things, and just one more glass of wine or shopping trip or yoga class to stop me thinking, feeling or trying to figure it out, because I just can’t.
Eighteen months ago life dished me the mother of all disease. Cancer; most feared, most despised & most destructive. Life dished me the mother of pain, through surgery, and whilst 4 hours of general anaesthetic knocked me out, I woke up screaming ‘The Pain The Pain The Pain’. The real physical pain followed, but from where I’m standing now I recognise that cancer surgery put me in touch with the pain I’d hidden, wrapped in shame and locked down, it forced me to feel it. Cancer had my back against the wall and gave me the choice, face it and face it all or maybe die. Whilst my diagnosis was a bolt out of the blue, the disease itself was chronic; years in the making, a curdled stew of resentment, anger, stress, the inability to process trauma and the shame and loneliness of hiding it, washed down with prosecco, curry and chocolate. Whilst on the outside things appeared to be functioning, albeit in the suspicious way we talked about earlier, but the acceptable way. The not crying in public, not speaking about shame, lying about my sex life / parenting skills / how much money we have, kind of way. Functioning had absolutely zero to do with feeling. The two were completely unrelated. Inside I was a curdled stew of a shit show.
Here’s the thing I’m coming to realise though. In the years leading up to my diagnosis, the deep yearning & pleading for escape I was feeling was handing me the answers all along. When I cried longing for something different, life dished up fear, pain, loneliness, jealously and exhaustion. It gave me anger and rage and grief and loss and said ‘feel me’. Every time it did I swallowed it down with resentment and denial because I wanted an easier escape, because it was too hard, too painful and not fair. I pleaded for it to stop, burying myself in distraction to the point of addiction. Life dished harder and every time it did I ran in the opposite direction, too afraid of what I felt to understand what I was being offered. I was too far in denial, too distracted and addicted to distraction that I couldn’t possibly sit down and watch the world I’d controlled collapse around me. That collapse would expose me. It would break down the walls between how awful it felt and what it looked like and the world would know. It would teach me just how sad and lonely I really was and just how angry I felt and it was threatening. I believed it was all or nothing and if I let the facade slip I’d be failing.
One day only recently my sadness showed up again though. It washed over me like a tsunami and because Cancer had already broken me down to a person I didn’t know or understand anymore, I thought ‘what the fuck, go ahead and wash me up sadness, do your worst, surely theres nothing else to be broken’? Being washed up by sadness felt refreshing. Terrifying as I watched it roll in, disorientating in the middle of it, but afterwards it was refreshing and I felt like new. The realisation dawned on me that the feelings I’d been pushing away and burying for so long were the signposts towards my own transformation, they were the doorways and rights of passage to freedom from the exhausting façade I had created.
Newly invigorated I went looking for doorways. I found my jealously and understood that it showed me what was important to me, and that I could go about working towards it. My fear showed up like a faulty smoke alarm, ringing at the slightest waft of hidden feeling and I’ve started to ignore it, I hear it, but I recognise when it’s just ‘burnt toast’! My anger is a moral compass and it shows me the boundaries of my soul. And depression, the doorway to the deepest darkest depths of my soul. The fathoms of my being move at a glacial pace shaping the landscape within me, and I am learning respect for that movement. Grief and loss shows me how to cry, and loneliness is just another wall to breakdown, to reach across and to share and find connection through writing and through talking. My loneliness asks ‘can anyone see me?’ ‘am I in here alone?’ She just wants to be heard. To be felt and to know she is seen. My loneliness wants the kind of friends that can cut through the bullshit façade. The kind of love that stands up and says ‘what’s up?’ and ‘you’re not yourself’ and I know that first I have to be able to call myself out to show up and communicate on my own behalf, to do that I have to know that I am worthy of love.
Learning to be with myself:
At the same time as life was showing me my own pain, it also gave me Yoga. It led me to teacher training, and training with the most wise and compassionate teachers. The kind who have been present for their own pain and can compassionately guide others through theirs. Being with myself now involves a dedication to stillness, to listening and to sitting. Coming to my mat involves checking in with how I feel. My practice is about balance. Some days I’m frayed and gentle grounded movement is required, some days I’m emotionally exhausted and restorative nurturing poses with blankets and bolsters is required. There are times when I feel sluggish and a more dynamic practice is called for. But however I move, the breath leads the way. The simple honouring of the wisdom of the body, underneath the chaos of family life and work. The switch that leads me back to myself, letting go of the stories I’ve told myself, free from obligation and responsibility, the breath is there to simply nourish me, to cleanse me and to lead me to union: Mind, which anchors awareness on the breath, body as it softens and unravels in order to allow the breath as spirit, the honoroing of this divine union.
The relationship with my self starts and ends here. There is nothing left to fear. I don’t have to be afraid of who I am or what I feel, I can feel it all and it all feels a lot healthier!