What to do instead of numbing out: shadow comforts
Check out this brilliant question a reader asked recently:
“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.”
My darling, 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. I remember asking something similar of my therapist somewhere in my 30’s:
“But why wouldn’t I eat sugar? What could possibly be better?”
Before I get to “What could be better than shadow comforts,” let’s explore “What I’m trying to hide?” For most of us, what we are trying to hide is our humanity. All the things we can’t do, can’t keep up with, can’t be (yet or sometimes ever).
We also hide from the places we aren’t standing up for ourselves – were we seek approval rather than sovereignty. We hide from where our life doesn’t meet our pictures of perfection – my squishy stomach does not meet my inner picture of my ideal stomach. I can use that as proof I am bad and thus an excuse to numb out, or I can see it for what it is – a story of how things should be different. And, of course, we hide from the ordinary and painful mis-steps of our life. The places we hurt people, turned away from the good, didn’t ask for what we really wanted, gave up on ourselves or someone else too soon.
Lately, I’ve been writing about not being with my dad when he died. It is one of my most painful stories. I started writing about this when I sat down to explore “a good enough life” (a possible idea for a new book). As I wrote, I wondered, “What does this have to do with a good enough life?” Later it occurred to me that facing my past choices with clear hearted acceptance is crucial if I am to be freed from perfectionism and self-hatred, both of which prevent me from living a good enough life. The same is true for you.
Look back at your question. See that word *should*? That is the KEY WORD that sends you (and me) straight into the numbing maw of shadow comforts. Should supersedes your own desires and instincts. It puts your power to choose your life outside of you, out with the famous ever threatening “They” who know better than you. Only they don’t. Never did, never will.
So whatever your reasons, know this: you aren’t hiding something bad nor are you hiding because you are bad, weak or less than. You are hiding because you desire more compassion for being human. And when you think there is something to be rooted out and fixed, something you should be doing better, you will keep using shadow comforts to hide in, when there is only your humanity to be with.
Now here is where the better part comes in – thank god, right?! Here is what is so much better than shadow comforts: being here. Being here, not numb. When you entertain the idea there is nothing bad about you that you need to fix, you relax a little bit. Relaxing is so good for your nervous system. That makes it easier to be open and curious, to pause before you open Facebook or the box of cookies, 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 the 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 instead of shadow comforts. But I know you get that isn’t the question to ask. Ultimately what shadow comforts are inviting you to do is walk through the doorway of choice and desire into the ever present now of enoughness. Into wonder, aliveness and LIFE that is present everywhere, even in the midst of great loss and pain.
Shadow comforts say,”Come home to your life.”
In the end, we numb ourselves because we put doing on a pedestal and thrust being into the pink ghetto. We choose shadow comforts because we are unwilling to sit where we are, being uncomfortable, being restless, being uncertain our desires even matter. We choose shadow comforts 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, get open, and tell me what happens. Please.