feeling it all
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Unbent by wind, unchilled by snows, Cecily Brown, 2016-17
If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be this: feel it all without numbing it out. I grew up experiencing my emotions as overwhelming and dangerous, and it’s taken a long time for me to learn how to hold them. I realize now that by default I’ve been avoidantly attached not just to people but to the world.
When I was a kid, I was always so afraid of being trapped—that I would be stuck living in Surrey, that I’d always be bored, that nothing would ever be thrilling or glamorous. I was scared that I would fail my classes and wouldn’t get into a good college and would never get a job. I was scared that no one would ever like me back or kiss me. I was always clenched, anxious. My emotions were so intense, they felt like they would destroy me. So I learned how to hold them at a distance until they felt safe. I didn’t know that in doing so, I was blunting my own ability to feel joy.
When I think back now, it’s clear that my perspective was colored by shame. I believed that my needs were unreasonable. I knew that I was smart, but I was worried that I was failing to live up to my potential, that everyone else had it figured out and I didn’t. I was so afraid of being bad. And I was afraid to feel all of that: the disappointment, the heartbreak, the vulnerability, the shame. I compartmentalized my emotions so that I could keep them under control.
But what I’ve learned since then is that the only way we truly get over things is through processing them—through talking about it, writing about it, raging about it, crying about it. Avoidance of pain is what creates lasting problems—when you run away from confronting what you’ve really done and what you really feel, you remove your ability to fully be present in your life.