What to do Instead of Numbing Out Shadow Comfort

May 8, 2013

Check out this brilliant question a reader asked me:

I Don’t Want to Numb Out, What do I Do?

“I stumbled upon your “shadow comforts” blog posts and could almost scream because this is ME! This is such a stupid question, but what do I do with all the free time?  I know I use shadow comforts (eating, TV, mindless internet surfing, sugar, caffeine) but how do I figure out what I *should* be doing with that time instead or what I’m trying to hide? I KNOW it’s under there but I’m having a tough time figuring out what I’m trying to cover, if that makes sense.”

This is SO not a stupid question. NOT AT ALL! It is a genius question. It is the kind of question that unlocks everything that matters.

Numbing out emotions is what gets in the way of so many things we want in life I remember asking something similar of my therapist somewhere in my 30s:

“But why wouldn’t I binge crunchy cookies? What could possibly make me feel better?”

Before I get to “What could be better than to numb out and use shadow comforts,” let’s explore What does it mean to be emotionally numb? There are lots of definitions of emotional numbness. Brene Brown has a great one of course.

My definition of numbing out emotions is whatever you do because you can’t be yourself.

When you think about it, numbing out is often something we choose because we are rejecting who we are. As in…

  • We wish we didn’t make that stupid comment that hurt our friend’s feelings.
  • We wish we looked different in our favorite dress.
  • We wish we could open our hearts more to our step-child.
  • We wish we were a more successful writer or artist or business owner.

The list is kind of endless, right? There’s always another way to judge ourselves for not being someone more or better. Next time you numb out, notice if the desire or craving for numbing started with a form of self-aggression or self-judgment. With a rejection of yourself or your experience. Even a little bitty-one.

Back to the question: I Don’t Want to Numb Out, What do I Do? See that word *should* in the question? That is the KEY WORD that sends us straight into the numbing maw of shadow comforts.

Because should supersedes your own desires and instincts.

It puts your power to choose your life outside of you, out there with the famous ever-threatening “They” who know better than you. Only they don’t. They never did, they never will. Now here is where the good part comes in, here is what is so much better than numbing out emotions: being here, not numb.

When you keep dropping the idea you need to be anyone different or better than you are, when you remember that is nothing that needs to be rooted out and fixed about you, nothing you should be doing better, you relax a little bit. And it gets easier to be here, just as you are.

Then you can practice pausing before you open Instagram or the carton of Little Debbies Nutty-Buddies, and ask, “What do I really want?” or “What would feel really good right now?” or “What am I hungry for?

You don’t expect an instant answer nor do you expect it to fit a “perfect picture” of being creative, industrious, or productive (that would be a crappy should operating again).

You listen and follow what you hear. You trust yourself. Now I know none of this tells you what you should do with your time rather than numb out and fall  into shadow comforts. And that’s because ultimately what numbing out emotions and shadow comforts are inviting you to do is walk through the doorway of desire into the ever-present now of enoughness.

Into wonder, aliveness, and LIFE that is present everywhere, even in the midst of loss and pain and everyday annoyances like spilling your fresh coffee all over your new mauve blouse.

In the end,  we numb out because being imperfectly who we are, using our life’s time and energy the way we want, is the ultimate act of an uppity woman. So go explore, get curious, be here, and tell me what happens.

And if you want to know more about numbing out and shadow comforts, you can read The Life Organizer or Why Bother? Discover the Desire for What’s Next. Thanks!

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