Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings...
By Pat Risser
Sometimes, feelings suck! For years following my childhood abuse, I had no feelings and that was fine. The feelings were very large and it genuinely seemed possible that I could be consumed by them.
I learned this trick when I was a kid. I could dissociate. I could make all feelings go away. I used to be able to proudly boast that you could take a hammer to my hand as it lay on a table and you could cause physical damage but you could NOT hurt me. I could turn off the pain and it was great. I could go absolutely numb and nothing could cause me pain. I could disappear into the nothingness and feel safe from any possible hurt.
Oh, once in a while, I dabbled with feelings. I got married and had kids and actually acted like I had some feelings about all of that but I didn't really. For a while, I got into some serious drinking. Then, I got scared and quit. I got scared that if I drank too much, I'd lose control and actually feel something. I would never lose control like most people do but, I was at risk of losing my ability to shut down my feelings so, I stopped drinking.
My shutting down of feelings was second nature. I'd been doing it for so long that I didn't even notice most of the time. But, eventually, I noticed that something was different. I noticed that most folks remembered stuff that they had done. Most folks remembered their high school graduation. Most folks remembered their wedding. Most folks remembered the birth of their kids. I didn't remember this stuff and more. I realized that at the same time I was shutting down the potential for anything that might hurt me, I also shut out the good stuff. The more emotionally laden something was, the less I could recall it. That meant that I didn't recall the pain of the childhood abuse but it also meant that I couldn't recall some of the good and important things in my life.
Eventually, this stifling of emotions got to be too much. It was like it was all seething silently beneath my calm exterior. I started to react to smaller and smaller stressors. It was taking less and less to set me off and I felt more and more out of control. I was spiraling into a depression that I couldn't stop. It's said that depression is anger turned inward and I think that's exactly what it was. I started having flashbacks to my childhood. I started to wake up at night screaming and filled with terror. All my best efforts to stuff the feelings were failing.
I sought help. I went to professionals in mental health. I got labeled and "treated" (actually mislabeled and mistreated). I was told that I was Borderline. I was also told that I had manic-depression and major depression and schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder and schizotypal personality disorder and schizoid and all the rest. Of course, with each diagnosis, I also got a new drug. I also noticed that I got a new label with every new pshrink or therapist. I think they all had their own "pet" label that they favored. Of course, some of it was certainly driven by the insurance which would only provide coverage for whatever was popular at the time.
I was raised to trust the doctors. If something is wrong, go to the doctor and they will "fix" it. I went. They didn't fix anything. I struggled with the feelings that were emerging. I was soooo little. I was tiny and scared and hurting just as if it were actually happening all over again. I used to take care of myself by forcing the feelings to subside. I'd cut myself or bang my head or other things to distract my feelings into hiding again. But, none of these things worked for long. Always the overwhelming feelings would again rise.
I found the resources to heal in the most unusual of places. I found solace in a church where I learned that I didn't have to forgive and that I could even be angry. I learned from a therapist that it's okay to feel anger and to vent the anger in ways that didn't harm me or anyone else. I learned to be normal from my fellow patients who treated me like a person as we sat and played cards and laughed and joked. I learned that feelings are merely feelings and that they don't have to have a matching action. That was a tough one to learn. I always figured that if I felt suicidal, I had to ACT suicidal and if I was happy, I had to ACT happy and if I was depressed, I had to ACT depressed. However, I learned that we can choose how to act. We may not be able to choose our feelings but we can choose our actions.
So, instead of acting on suicidal thoughts and feelings, I could choose to do something different. I did. I found other outlets for my emotions that didn't harm me or anyone else.
For awhile, I was almost consumed with anger. I would head out to the freeway on ramp and stick out my thumb to hitchhike back to the state where mom and dad lived so I could gain some vengeance. However, it was good that I was so far away because I never made it. I craved justice. I wanted only to get even with them. I started with small steps. I first had to prove that the things I remembered weren't just some figment of my imagination. I dug out court records and old hospital records. I called people who knew my mother and father when I was very small and talked with them. I learned that my memories were real. For a while, I was no longer suicidal because I had a purpose and that kept me going. Eventually, I got to where I no longer needed vengeance. I discovered that I didn't need these abusive people. I was vindicated enough by my search for truth and the fact that my memories really were based in reality.
The time I spent vindicating my mind, my memories, my reality and my sense of self was healing in itself. By the time I was done with my searches, I found that the wounds that had consumed me as a child and then later as an adult were no longer quite so painful. My emotions were no longer suppressed nor were they out of control. I was feeling but tentatively in small bits. I liken this period of growth to that of a child developing a sense of color. My early emotions were in just a few primary colors but as I grew, I was starting to see shades of color that were new and different. I was maturing emotionally.
I have continued on this journey of healing for many years now. I still get struck with painful emotions at times. I still feel down and depressed. I still sometimes feel as if I'll be consumed but, it doesn't happen often. Sometimes, something will trigger me and then I'll feel very small but with very large emotions. However, I have learned that this passes and I survive. The good in all of this is that I no longer lose the good things that happen. I remember important events in my life and I appreciate those. I have grown into a more full person. I accept all aspects of myself, big and little and I'm happy mostly. Even when I'm not happy, I know that there will be more happiness in my life because I've done what I can to be rid of abusing people and filled my life with good, kind, caring and loving people.
Yeah, emotions suck sometimes. It's a drag being depressed. I sometimes still feel suicidal and like it's going to last forever but, now I know better so I don't ACT foolishly or on impulse. Now, I just ride it out and then enjoy the good times that do come. I am still not finished. I'm an unfinshed human being and I find that I have many lessons still to learn. I don't handle patience all that well yet and there are some other areas that are crying out for growth but, I know it will be alright. Not only can I now see the light at the end of the tunnel but I also know for sure that it's not an oncoming train.