Just sit with it
I am not good with emotions…not feeling them, expressing them, recognizing them…you get the picture. As someone recovering from an eating disorder, I am having to learn that emotions are a fact of life and I had better learn to deal with them. For years and years I used my eating disorder to avoid the emotions – I would stuff them down, eat them away, purge them out – anything to avoid having to feel them or deal with them.
While I was in my treatment program the counselors used to get so excited when I expressed any emotion. I would get mad and lash out and they would celebrate! I would be sitting in a group session and start crying and they praised me. What the heck?! They explained that I had spent so many years stuffing my feelings away that when I actually let one of them out (never mind that it was unintentional) they saw it as progress and a reason to get excited. It meant there was hope! One day I would learn to express, accept and tolerate emotions instead of always trying to get rid of them.
There is never going to be a time in life when there won’t be some type of emotion, and that’s ok. Emotions are here to help us – help us heal, help us regulate what’s right and wrong, help us express things that need an outlet. For example, feeling angry can be a positive thing. Feeling anger doesn’t mean that something bad is going to happen or that I’m a bad person for being angry. It means that something has crossed one of my boundaries and that’s not ok. That anger emotion is telling me that something isn’t right and I need to figure out what that is and fix it. Anger, the emotion, is not the same as acting out in anger – feeling angry doesn’t mean that the feeling needs to be followed by an aggressive act.
Sadness is another one that I have an issue with – who wants to feel sad?? I can’t stand feeling like I want to cry or my heart is breaking or I want to just melt into a puddle of helplessness. But sadness has a place and needs to be expressed or released, otherwise we lose the ability to experience an essential emotion (wow, could I used anymore “e’s?). My eating disorder definitely took care of any sadness that my mind and body needed to feel – the minute I started to feel sad about anything my behaviors took over and they allowed me to put away the sadness and pretend it didn’t exist. Obviously this wasn’t healthy, for my emotional or my physical state. Have you ever had a good cry, I mean an all out sob session, and then felt better when you were done? Feeling sadness is natural, and crying is a natural release for that emotion. It might not feel good at the time, but those sob sessions are necessary and provide you with a relief and calm that is hard to achieve any other way.
So, as part of my recovery I am learning to sit with my emotions and wait for the calm to come. If I feel an emotion coming on, then I just sit with it and let it take me where it needs to. If I feel angry…well, I’ve discovered boxing to help with this one…but it is still learning to metaphorically “sit with it” and tell myself that it’s ok to feel this emotion. If I feel happy I laugh, sad I cry, excited I talk, and so on. I’m definitely still adjusting to this and having a hard time sometimes remembering that it’s ok to feel the various stirrings in my “emotion box”, but I’ll get there. Learning to sit with one emotion at a time has brought me a lot further than I was just a year ago!