The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Saturday, March 22, 2008

What? I Can Feel This?

Not being able to feel is a common malady for abuse survivors. When I first delved into my recovery, I was frustrated with my inability to feel. Denial was one of my survival tactics. I pushed my anger, and grief down so deep, I was numb to my own pain. One of the first things I remember feeling was sadness that I couldn’t feel.

As I started healing, I began feeling. Slowly, I created safe environments to honor my pain and little by little, I stopped dissociating. My feelings didn’t turn on like a light switch one day. It was more like a dimmer switch over a period of many years.

I had conflicting emotions about learning to stay present with my pain. Pain isn’t fun. I was definitely out of my comfort zone while dealing with the agonizing emotions that I had always kept at bay. At first I wondered, “Can this be good?” Yet, it became apparent to me that it was good. Authentically honoring my pain eventually put much of the past to rest.

Pain has a purpose. It’s a warning that something isn’t right and we need to pay attention. For the last few years, I have felt empowered by letting my emotions guide me. Contrary to the past where I “powered” through each hurtful situation - which only served to allow more harm - I began using my pain as a useful tool to protect myself from injury.

For me, the up side to being able to cut off my emotions was that I always prided myself at being great in a crisis. Whether it was my five-year old daughter who fell off of her bike and broke her nose, my ex-husband who cut through his thumb with a skill-saw, a fire, or a car accident - while other’s around me panicked and became frozen with fear - I dissociated from my feelings and went into logical action mode. I didn’t feel the event at the time or afterwards. I just “powered” through.

All good things must come to an end. Okay, I realize that dissociation isn’t a good thing - but sometimes things that aren’t good - seem good.

In spite of all my work at staying present with the pain of past or current mistreatment, I still kept my emotional reaction to crisis turned off until the crisis was over. Rather than not feeling the crisis at all - I began feeling the crisis - after the fact.

Yesterday, for the first time, I felt the crisis while it was happening. Okay, I know this is more progress, but – Yuck!

One of my employees had an accident yesterday (I’ll call him Jessie). He unintentionally stuck his hand into a food processing machine while it was operating. Everyone was in a panic, and as usual, I went into crisis mode. Jessie was in agony. He was light-headed, chalk white, and sweat poured from his face. He needed immediate care. Rather than waiting for an ambulance and then waiting in a hospital emergency room, I drove him to the Occupational Emergency Service's about a mile from the plant.

We wrapped his hand in a towel and loaded him into my car. In route, I called ahead to warn them of our impeding arrival. Blood oozed everywhere as Jessie peeked at his hand underneath the towel and whimpered, “Will I lose it? Please help me, Nancy.”

I have him a reassuring glance and said, "We'll get you some help. Don't look at it, and breath deep."

Then it happened. My emotions started creeping in right in the middle of a crisis! What? I can feel this? I fought to control my emotions.

As soon as we arrived at Occupational Services, they whisked Jessie past everyone in the waiting room straight back to a room full of doctors and nurses who worked efficiently and compassionately. At one point while the doctors worked on his mangled hand, they told Jessie to look away and breathe deep. I fought to ignore my stress and my feelings of empathy for Jessie. I breathed with him while he squeezed my hand to cope with the pain. For the first time in my life, I became light-headed. I was completely taken by surprise! With my free hand, I reached for a chair, feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable that my emotions had gotten the better of me. Then I realized – this is okay. It’s just new to be fully present in the midst of a crisis.

All those years of not feeling gave me the facade of being tough. Yet, in reality, it was being tough enough to deal with the demons of my past that allowed me to feel this crisis.

I know I can still keep my head in an emergency. But I feel it now too. I did see Jessie through X-Ray, pre-op and surgery and fortunately, his prognosis is very good. I left exhausted, but feeling more whole than ever before.


KarenP said...

Ok. I've got to pick up a copy of your book now. This was a post I could have written as well, although probably not as eloquently. ;-) I haven't commented on all of your posts but I am absolutely connecting with them. They've all been so timely for me. Thank you for sharing this and I'll be praying for a quick and complete recovery for your friend.

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Dear Karen,

Thank you for your comments and for your prayers! I’m very glad my posts have been helpful!


April_optimist said...

Good for you! What a great post. The good thing about learning to feel is that it frees up all that energy we were using NOT to feel. And if we can't feel pain odds are we also can't feel joy. So learning to feel the painful stuff means we can also feel more happiness as our lives begin to change.

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Dear April - So true!

Thank you!

Erin said...

Hi, I was wondering, in the years between when you wrote this and now... have you continued to be emotionally present in a crisis, or have you found that it is okay to process it later... as long as you process it? I have similar traits... great in a crisis... but I have usually processed my feelings afterwards. I see that it doesn't have the immediacy of staying present, and that some feelings get altered between when the crisis occurs and when you process... but I'm wondering, with some years of this under your belt, are you still as firmly on the side of being present in a crisis? Right now, I'm tending to view it as... this is the rare silver lining to the nightmare I lived, and as long as I fully allow myself to feel whatever there is in me to feel... that I don't mind consciously flipping a switch in a crisis, and then flipping it again to feel when the crisis has passed. Do you think people can just be different in this way, or do you think that what you are saying must be? Thanks for any thoughts! - Erin

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Hi Erin,

Thank you for your questions and comments. I understand your concern about keeping your feelings at bay until the crisis is over.

Initially, I felt like dissociating was a silver lining too. When I began feeling during a crisis if felt like I was losing something I really liked about myself as well; however, in time I've learned that it is okay to let things happen organically.

So now all these years later, the answer to your question is, sometimes I "feel" during the crisis, but it no longer feels "new" or unusual and it doesn't seem to get in the way of being very good in a crisis. Other times, I don't feel in a crisis and process my emotions after the fact. Different factors seem to determine whether I "feel" at the time or not. Again, I don't "try" to do one or the other. I let it happen organically.

The more important someone is to me during a crisis the more apt I am to process later.

If I'm already emotionally overwhelmed, I process later.

But, If I'm feeling emotional centered, or I'm not as connected to those involved, I do feel and process at the time, while I handle the crisis very efficiently.

I think everyone has there own process and I don't see any reason why you shouldn't hang on to your ability to keep your feelings at bay until later if that is what your desire.

All my best on your journey,

Erin said...

I love your answer, thank you! I am in that stage of trying to make sure that what I establish for myself is what will serve me best, and I wanted to make sure that my feelings weren't leading me astray. I agree with what you said: "Different factors seem to determine whether I "feel" at the time or not. Again, I don't "try" to do one or the other. I let it happen organically.
The more important someone is to me during a crisis the more apt I am to process later."

That is what I was leaning toward as well... the more emotional it is for me, the more I want to process my stuff later, so as to still be a level head in a crisis. When it does not involve my own emotions too much... I can stay present and still be balanced. Thank you for the confirmation! It's always better to ask, I think, then to settle on an idea that might lead me astray. I really appreciate your voice, and that you use it to help others... thank you so much! - Erin ps: you rock!

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Erin ~ You're sweet. I'm happy to help! Nancy