(Un)comfortably Numb

“I feel dead inside,” I told a friend of mine, a fellow survivor, when she came to visit me post-abuse. “Please tell me this feeling will end.”

“It will end,” she promised.

I’m going to make the same promise to you. It will end. You just have to ride it out for a while. For me, I noticed that nature, which is an integral part of my spirituality, and where I go to connect with myself and with universal energy, had absolutely no effect on me at all. It could not penetrate the inner sanctum my real self had hidden in, long ago, in order to not be destroyed by the abuse. It almost felt as if my authentic self were preserved in amber, waiting for some kind of excavation.

Numbing is a reality of trauma. After a while, our nervous systems just can’t take the high activation anymore, and so sometimes they just shut down. The upside is that very little bothers you anymore (an inures you somewhat to the abuse you’re enduring). The downside is that you feel nothing. When I meet a survivor who is still in the abusive relationship or in the early healing stages after leaving, the numbness is so apparent in their downcast eyes, in their lack of affect, in the deadpan reactions to things that, as a fellow human being, make me angry on their behalf. But I know all too well that even beginning to feel their anger still feels too threatening. First, they have to feel safe enough for long enough to finally thaw. While the numbing protects, it also allows the survivor to endure horrific levels of abuse, thus, why it’s important to have a support system of friends, family, therapists, advocates–to hold the survivor’s deeply buried feelings until they can pick them up again.

Even though I am now, thankfully, past the numbing, I’ll never forget what that purgatory felt like. For every moment now when I delight in the sun soaking into my scalp, warming my hair, for every sweet moment with the beings I love, to the feeling of embodied strength I get when lifting weights, I am immensely grateful. Human beings learn through contrast. To remember the numbness is also to honor what came after it. Some of it was truly painful, and facing that suffering and grief down without running from it taught me what I’m truly made of. It revealed the strength within, the strength that exists in every survivor who is still here. Without feeling our feelings–even the unpopular ones we all hate, like anger, fear, sadness, anguish–we cannot heal.

When we find the safety to find the strength to feel those difficult feelings, that is how we truly access joy, and our capacity for it increases more than you would ever believe possible. It’s hard to imagine this from the damp shore of numbness, but my hope is that those of us who have found our way to the other shore can be beacons of light through the fog.

Other survivors have truly been my lighthouses, and that’s why I encourage survivors to read and listen to the stories of fellow survivors. You need to see that what you want is possible, and that is all faith really is. It’s not blind at all; it’s those liminal glimpses of seeing what you want for yourself, in others. Survivors are a strong fellowship, full of heroes and she-roes and everything in between, and we’ll be there for you until you can be there for yourself.

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