It’s been awhile since I wrote a really vulnerable post, one that opens me up for criticism and judgement. But hey, here goes nothing!
A lot of what I do within the messages of my online confidence course for women is open up about my successes AND my struggles….more importantly, my struggles, and what I’ve learned from them. I do this because I want other women to see that they are not alone and that it’s OKAY, empowering even, to admit to not being perfect.
Through my vulnerability, I want to give them courage. Every now and then, one of the women taking my course will write back and open up in response to a message that particularly resonated with her. One such message that I received recently inspired me to write this post.
It came after a woman in my course watched a video blog (I think the kids these days are calling them “vlogs”) where I suggested that women “lower the bar” when it comes to the expectations we place on ourselves. I talked about the pressure to be perfect, to do it all and to have it all together and how it leads us towards unhealthy coping behaviors. I went on to say that the inability to truly relax is a huge obstacle in the way of becoming our healthiest, happiest, most confident selves.
This was the message I got:
“When thinking about how to respond to the question “how do I relax?” it became very apparent to me that I am a habitual “number”. I have been numbing myself for too long and in very unhealthy forms. I know I am doing it and have even said it out loud to a friend (who is also a “number”). This issue right here is my main reason for wanting to take this course and dig deep within my soul to get honest with myself. This “numbing” has had a negative effect on my physical health which has caused my self-confidence to nose dive. I’m looking forward to the process of finding ME and becoming real with myself to become better version of me. This course is truly helping me in this journey, and for that I thank you.”
Those words could just as well have been written by me. I, Stephanie, am also a habitual “number”. Tracing it back, I can pinpoint the time in my mid twenties when I developed this habit. My stress levels were so high that at the end of the day I just needed to “take the edge off”, just for a little while. I was so tired – mentally, emotionally and physically.
Was my life so terrible? Well, certainly not in the grand scheme of things but we all have crosses to bear. Yes, even middle class white women. At the time I was commuting an hour each way to work, on icy winter roads, to a job I hated and coming home to a relationship I didn’t belong in and desperately wanted out of. I was also building a business on the side which meant I was working 16 hour days.
So a glass of wine became my escape. For others it’s food, or television, or exercise, or even “busyness”. The list goes on, anything that we do in order to avoid being vulnerable and having to deal with uncomfortable feelings.
Eventually I got out of that relationship, I quit the job I hated, and I started my own business where my commute was less than a couple miles each way. So problem solved right? No more need to cope?
Hmmm, not quite.
As a self employed single person I had a whole new set of challenges. I refer to the years that I owned my business as “the best of times and the worst of times”. I loved my group fitness studio, it was my pride and joy, and I poured my heart and soul into it. But the financial pressures of it were killing me. Without a second income to provide me with some sense of stability I was living on the edge. It was a roller coaster ride where I was doing well one month and the next I was buying groceries on a credit card.
But I kept up appearances. I portrayed success. I didn’t let on that I was feeling so much pressure. One time I broke down to my boyfriend (now husband) on the phone while I was crumpled on my bedroom floor feeling completely hopeless. I don’t think he had any idea. I was sure he’d go running the other direction once he realized that I didn’t really “have it all together.”
I’m not even sure if I let on to my parents how extremely stressed out I was. The truth is, most of the time I wasn’t totally aware of it myself because I ignored it, I numbed it away. Living on the surface is how I learned to deal.
One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, explains where this desire to numb comes from in her book “Daring Greatly” ;
“Shame enters for those of us who experience anxiety because not only are we feeling fearful, out of control, and incapable of managing our increasingly demanding lives, but eventually our anxiety is compounded and made unbearable by our belief that if we were just smarter, stronger, or better, we’d be able to handle everything. Numbing here becomes a way to take the edge off of both instability and inadequacy.”
So why am I talking about this now? That time in my life was a few years ago. I’m married now with a good, stable income. My commute is less than a mile. I have health insurance through my work. I have a flexible schedule. I enjoy my work. Compared to the tumultuous years of my late twenties, my current life is a walk in the park.
The thing is, this “numbing” habit, once developed, is hard to lose even when circumstance change. Life is never perfect. We are never perfect. No matter how good things get, we will always have worries, hurt and stress. Therefore we will always have reasons to want to numb, if that’s how we’ve learned to deal.
Well for the first time in my life, or I should say, for the first time since I began escaping in this way at the age of 27, I no longer have the option to escape into a glass of wine. The moment I saw that positive pregnancy test it was like something switched in my brain because I knew that was no longer an option. It’s been surprisingly easy. In fact, I love it!
Now that I’m forced to be more mindful I can easily identify those old triggers for numbing; An upsetting day at work, sitting down to look at the budget and pay bills (especially with maternity leave and child care costs in my near future), a disagreement with someone close to me, or just an awkward social situation. It’s so easy to want to lessen the discomfort in those situations but once you stop numbing, you realize that it was never really necessary or effective even. It’s okay to let yourself feel, even when the feelings aren’t fun.
I can also see how the same activity can be either healthy or destructive depending on the reason you’re doing it. Binge watching a show on Netflix can at one time be engaging while at another time or for another person it can be “numbing”. In the same way a drink can be celebratory and relaxing or it can be a coping mechanism. The only way to know the difference is to know yourself.
For the last couple years, I’ve found yoga and journaling to be excellent ways to practice mindfulness. I’ve been on a journey (long before becoming pregnant) of living less on the surface and more wholeheartedly. Yes, it means you have to feel more, the good and the bad, but that’s better than not feeling at all.
So what do you think? Are you judging me? Or do you struggle with the same thing? Are you a “number”? I don’t know if certain personality types are more susceptible to it or if it’s life experiences and influences or what other factors play into it. But I do know that I’m not the only one who has struggled with it. That is why I’m sharing.