This is a concept I’ve heard many times in therapy, but I only partially understood it. The therapist I had in my 20s (the one who lost her license for unethical boundary violations), tried to help me understand this. But she didn’t explain it in a way that clicked for me. It was only recently that it made more sense.
I understood what she meant about not trying to numb or avoid my pain, because I often used strategies like self harm and drug use to escape the mental anguish. The problem with these coping skills are obvious. I hated myself even more after cutting or burning myself. All these ways of numbing were only temporary fixes. The pain would come back, and I’d be trying to escape it again. I drank, smoked weed, took pills, ate junk food, etc. The void in my heart was still there, and the pain still threatened to overwhelm me.
I used to hear another part say, why should we have to sit with the pain when we’ve been in pain forever? Why do we have to allow it to consume us? But it’s not that we needed to allow it to consume us, we didn’t need to sit with it all day, every day. We needed to let it wash over us and not fight it. I think a large part of the hopelessness we felt was because we fought the pain. The truth is, there is no way to avoid it. And if we spend our lives running from painful emotions, we also lose out on the good ones. This is the most important reason for me to sit with the pain instead of resisting or numbing it. You can’t have happiness and joy without sadness and pain. It was a huge step for me to realize and accept this concept. As Brene Brown says, you can’t selectively numb emotions. I heard her say this many times, but I never let it really sink in. As I live my life and try to heal myself with compassion, I now know that I want and deserve a peaceful and joyful future. But we know that we can’t be happy all the time; life is full of moments filled with joy, but it’s also filled with pain. It’s part of being alive. So if we try to numb or avoid shame, sadness, grief, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, etc., we are also numbing the good feelings too. The highs I felt from self harm or drug use were fleeting and artificial. They didn’t compare to the feeling I got when I looked into the eyes of someone I loved or the joy of watching my daughter learn and grow.
When I’m extremely dissociative, my body goes numb. I barely feel any pain, I move and think slowly, and sometimes I can’t move at all. My mind goes blank, and I can’t feel any emotions. This dissociated state is not my choice, and it’s better understood as a biological reaction to trauma. My mind has learned to protect me from extreme physical and emotional pain by disconnecting. I’m grateful for this, because it helped me survive being raped and tortured. However, it’s not needed now that I’m older and have control over my life. Now I need to acknowledge the pain, accept it, and let it run its course without resisting it. There is even more pain in trying to fight it.
This week I was triggered by a tv show, and it brought some very difficult memories to the surface. This is just the nature of my life. There are unfortunately many triggers that cause flashbacks for me. As my current therapist has said, the point is not to avoid the triggers, but to learn how to deal with them more effectively. The first step is noticing that something is a trigger. This sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s especially difficult when you have DID, because as soon as I’m triggered, I switch and often forget what happened. It takes a lot of cooperation among parts and reflection to realize what happened. The more we learn about our triggers, the better we are at managing them. That being said, the flashbacks I’ve had this week were emotionally taxing to say the least. I felt a lot of intense feelings, especially shame, humiliation, and powerlessness.
The day after these flashbacks were triggered, I felt intense rage coming from an angry part, and my blood pressure went up considerably. I told my therapist that I was struggling, and she called me so I could talk to her about the memories. At first I didn’t think I could tell her what I was experiencing. I sometimes have a hard time saying certain words, mostly because of shame, but also because parts block me. And I feel a lot of guilt that she has to hear the details of my story (I’m working on this). I was able to spell out the words to her, and she understood what I was seeing. I told her it was so painful and overwhelming that I felt close to having another seizure. I hate the seizures, they scare me a lot. I told T that I knew the angry parts were my armour, and they were covering up the parts of me that were feeling shamed, degraded, scared, and helpless. The anger helped us when we were feeling powerless, but it was making me suffer even more. As I talked to her about the bad memories and parts told pieces of the story, the anger inside subsided a lot, and I felt like I was on the verge of tears. After hanging up the phone, I felt a huge weight had been lifted off me, and there was much less chaos inside. Parts that were screaming were quieter. I was able to get through the day, but the intense sadness lingered. The next morning it was hard to get out of bed. I cried for a short time, and I was a little bit grateful to be able to cry. It’s not something I’m able to do often. We usually numb the sadness in some way. But crying for that little girl was necessary, and it was a release for us. The rest of the day was very difficult. We felt depressed and hopeless. But we didn’t fight it. We just existed and kept going. Of course this wasn’t easy, and it took all of my energy and courage.
Later in the week, I was able to enjoy my daughter and have fun with her. I know that this is because I allowed the bad feelings to run their course. If I had numbed them in some way, I would never have been able to face and then release them. I know there will be many more painful moments in my life. But now I’m more confident in my ability to face the pain and sit with it. The pain is part of who I am. It is part of my story. It teaches me about myself. There is strength in facing these feelings, and I’m reminded that I’m strong and determined. The excruciating pain I’ve felt has made me who I am, and I honestly like who I am. Sitting with the pain does not mean that it consumes me or takes over my life. It just allows me to observe and accept that it is part of my journey. The more I sit with it, the more I realize my power and strength. And the more joy I will be able to experience. It’s true that there will be many difficult days ahead of me, but I’ve learned two important things from facing my feelings: no bad feeling(s) lasts forever, and I am strong enough to get through anything.