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The Choice to Feel

“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. . . . Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

It’s taken me a long time to accept and value each emotion equally. We grow up hearing that all you need in life is to be happy. Money, success, fame — none of that matters as long as you’re happy. That’s the final goal, right? To live a happy life? Well, hate to break it to you... but I actually don’t think that’s possible. Trust me, I’ve tried. Happiness, like any emotion, is fleeting. It’s not a constant state of being. Keep aiming to be happy forever, and you’ll keep failing. At least that’s how it went for me.

Content, however — that’s a different story. The past year I’ve worked on nothing else than trying to be content with every emotion that ‘comes through my door’. I've spent so long of my life labelling certain feelings as bad and completely blocking out other ones.

Like, I can't remember the last time I felt angry. Sad? Sure, absolutely. Shame, guilt, disgust? You betcha. But uncontrollable, fiery, rage? I haven’t felt that in years. Maybe it’s my conflict issues. Maybe I’m too much of a pacifist to let ‘anger control me’. But let’s be real. I have a lot to be angry about.

I’ve spent years doing everything in my power to turn my feelings off. From one addiction to the next, I’ve buried my mind in pain I was giving myself — pain I understood and could control.

“Rage that has nowhere to go is redirected against the self, in the form of depression, self-hatred, and self destructive actions.”

These quotes are from The Body Keeps the Score, a book that, in short, seeks to explain the relationship between our body and mind. From someone who wakes up everyday either fighting my body (thanks Crohn’s) or my mind (shoutout depression), or both, I can’t help but notice the vague and intricate ways one health effects the other. Why, at some unidentifiable point, do I go from staying in bed because my stomach hurts, to not being able to get out of bed because life feels too heavy? And why can’t I notice when the reason changes?

Focusing on trauma, this book articulated explanations to questions I didn’t even know I had. So, rage that has nowhere to go, go towards the self. That pretty much checks out. It took me five years to cry about my IBD — like to really cry about it. To mourn my health. In the past few years it is easy to see how the absolute absence of anger I felt towards the world, was really being directed towards myself.

In too many ways, for too long, I put my energy towards hurting my mind and body; and yet, as backwards as it sounds, this was how I survived. If I could numb myself, I could prevent myself from feeling my reality.

“Traumatized people are terrified to feel deeply. They are afraid to experience their emotions, because emotions lead to loss of control.”

Control and addiction may be my therapists favorite words to describe my survival skills.

Being diagnosed with a life-long illness at 13, spending 6 weeks in the hospital, having 2 surgeries and countless procedures, losing 20 lbs not once, but twice while in high school and having to gain it back, were all things completely out of the bounds of my control. My life began happening to me and to realize the reality of it all, to feel the loss of a healthy future, and the guarantee that I could wake up everyday and get out of bed, was one I wasn’t ready to grieve yet. So, I did what I could to survive, to get through the day, and I turned it all off. You may be surprised by the amount of ways you can hurt yourself into numbness. If you have IBD, you probably wouldn’t be. I spent years hating myself, despising the body I lived in and disgusted with myself. When I got over that hurdle, I found an even better way to go numb. Enter in marijuana dependency.

The past year and a half have been about my reconciliation with the decision to feel.

“Being traumatized is not just an issue of being stuck in the past; it is just as much a problem of not being fully alive in the present.”

If you open yourself up to feeling fully, you give yourself permission to feel all of the past hurt you never fully let in. It took me too long of not feeling anything to realize that when you don’t feel the bad, you don’t feel the good.

Every day I still make the decision to feel. That’s what it is: a conscious decision. At some point, I trained my brain to turn it all off for the sake of survival. But things are different now. I’m stronger. Now, I’m trying to do everything I can to rewire the ol’ thing and live a better type of life.

Everyone’s always saying fight or flight but why does no one talk about freeze? I don’t get angry, I don’t run, I stop moving. It's my instinct. And yet, I am able to recognize the fact that dissociation is no longer my friend. I actually want to feel it all. I want to welcome every great, horrible, uncontrollable feeling that passes through me because that's what it means to be human.

I’m not afraid of pain anymore. I welcome it and accept the reality of it in my life — both physically and mentally. I do my best to let it in — to feel what my heart and soul need to feel and to not judge it, reject it, or try to stop it.

And guess what? Even after giving myself permission to feel my pain, I’m more content now than I’ve ever been. And there are moments of happiness — not always, but enough. Those I hold on to, I remind myself of when my heart is in my stomach and all I want to do is turn it all off.

I've realized that being content is all you can ask for. I wake up every day now and remind myself to be grateful. I’ve been handed a beautiful life. If I wake up and can’t get out of bed, well, I’m doing my best to be content with that. Because that’s just how it is — that’s my reality. And for all the good, bad, and in between, I want to feel it all. I want to be there. I deserve to be.

We all do.

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