I think of myself as a numbaholic, prone to disengaging in not-so-healthy ways. Alcohol was by far my favorite way to numb but I still have others. Food, immersing myself in books, playing Angry Birds, keeping busy, cleaning (maybe this one isn’t so bad), reading blogs, over-spending, picking at my cuticles…these are all ways that I numb myself.
We all have the tendency to tune out the noise and chaos of our lives. We all have holes that we try to fill with external things. But those of us with addiction issues need to be especially wary of replacing one addiction with another. That’s why recovery is so much more than just staying sober.
The first year after I stopped drinking, I decided that I could have as much sugar as I wanted. I reminded myself of all the years I didn’t order dessert because I wanted to save the calories for alcohol. Now, I could eat dark chocolate after the kids went to bed instead of having wine. A better choice, certainly, but it could’ve led to other problems. Fortunately, I have an ingrained off switch when it comes to sweets. I can have a small, reasonable portion and stop. That’s not the case with other forms of numbing.
It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between numbing and relaxing. I distinguish between the two by recognizing that relaxing is an activity and numbing is a behavior. Chilling on the couch with my husband watching our favorite show is relaxing. Watching a Mad Men marathon and not wanting to move for 6 hours is numbing. Reading is one of my favorite activities but reading so that I don’t have to deal with something that needs my attention is numbing.
By far the most difficult numbing behavior (besides alcohol) that’s been toughest for me to stop is picking at my cuticles. I’ve done it since I was a little girl and watched my mom do it all my life. I’ve spent a lifetime curling my fingers in so that no one notices my bloody stumps. I call my thumbs my “worry thumbs” because they get picked the most, especially when something is troubling me. It may have served a purpose for me at one time but it became a habit that I just couldn’t break. A couple of months ago, I finally came to the conclusion that I couldn’t stop by willpower alone. I prayed to God to release me of the desire to hurt myself and to help me resist the urge to pick at my cuticles. The response planted in my heart and mind proves that God is equally feminine and masculine. “Girlfriend, just grow your nails and paint them pretty. I’ve got your back.”
Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, writes, “We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.” I spent many years numbing both and it’s becoming easier and easier to break the pattern.
What do you do to numb? How do you know you’ve crossed the line between unwinding and numbing?