Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Feelings: Gifts From the Heart

I am afraid of my feelings. I am afraid that if I allow myself to feel my loneliness it will last forever, that if I fully experience my anger I will do hurtful, destructive things. I have learned to mistrust my body and discount my body's most intimate way of communicating - the language of emotions. To keep a safe distance from my body and feelings, I distract myself with activities of all kinds and with constant thoughts of food. Anything but letting myself feel.

It is only when I allow myself to fully experience my feelings that I will be able to receive the precious gifts they have to offer.

Anger can bring clarity and strength. When I recognize what ticks me off and why I can experience the relief that such clarity can bring. A good relationship with my angry feelings can give me the determination to forge ahead, the strength of "stand my own ground", the energy and focus to let the world around me know what is and is not okay.

By embracing my fears, I can discover what I really need to feel safe.

Sadness offers the gift of healing and cleansing when I allow myself to cry. It teaches me compassion for myself. Sometimes, situations that bring up a lot of sadness can provide me with the opportunity to heal past hurts and cry those "little girl" tears that weren't safe to cry "back then".

Jealousy can make me aware of what I want for myself, what I truly desire.

So, when a feeling comes knocking on my door, I need to stop pretending that nobody's home. I need to invite her in. Ask her, "What brings you here?" Get to know her. Thank her. Treat her with honor and respect. Because she is truly my friend and is there to help.

Children seem to be more adept to letting their feelings flow through them. They've not yet learned to be afraid of themselves, to be untrusting of their bodies and to be obsessed with trying to make a good impression. Their emotional lives are unblocked.

To help me cope with my feelings I learned to block them out. Rather than pay attention to my feelings, rather than letting myself feel, I think about food and eating. After years of doing this, my awareness of my feelings got pushed so far back behind my obsession that I've lost touch. I don't recognize them, can't identify them or give them names. I can't communicate with them, can't make contact, can't cope. I'm not even aware of them until they get so intense that they consume me. It's not the feelings themselves that cause ED. It's my attempt not to feel the feelings.

An essential part of recovering from ED requires dropping my judgements about feelings, developing an understanding that feels are neither "good" nor "bad". There are no right or wrong feelings. Feelings just are. They only "negative" feelings are the one that I can't accept in myself.

My feelings were dismissed when I was younger. I was scolded for crying for "no reason at all", or told to stop crying because I'd cried long enough. I never got a chance to reach the level of understanding that these feelings were trying to tell and teach me.

When I stop seeing my feelings as the enemy, something that just gets in the way of doing what I think I should be doing, I can establish a different kind of relationship with them. As I make friends with my feelings, I can discover that they can be allies and guides in this journey I call life. They can lead me to a place of deep understanding about who I really am and what I truly want, a place I might not otherwise be able to reach.

In order to recover from ED, I first need to increase my awareness of my feelings so that I can sense their presence inside of me. I need to learn about the different sensations I might experience and pay attention to where in my body I feel them. This will help me distinguish one feeling from another.

Next, I need to learn to accept my feelings, understanding there is no right way or wrong to feel. Although some feelings may be more pleasant or seem more socially acceptable than others, no feeling is superior to any other. Different feelings bring different experiences into our lives and offer different lessons.

Finally, I need to express my feelings in a clear, direct manner. This means if I'm sad, cry. If I'm angry, talk about my anger with the person I'm angry at. If I'm lonely, call a friend. Sometimes, I may not need to do anything at all but just be with the feeling until it passes. The point is that how I respond needs to fit with how I am feeling, so that I am not responding to each emotion with the same behavior: sad? eat. angry? eat. lonely? eat.

My feelings don't have to make sense, don't have to be liked, but, simply, I have to accept them.