During my many years of treatment, I’ve realized that a big part of the recovery process is getting in touch with yourself. During the worst times of my eating disorder, I wanted to disconnect from my body. I basically wanted nothing to do with my body, which created a lot of strain. My mind was causing me so much pain with so many unwanted emotions. I was in so much emotional pain that I wanted to escape. Back then, I hadn’t started treatment yet, I was in between therapists, and so I felt as though I had no one to turn to. I was too afraid to go to my family with how negative my thoughts were. I thought they’d just be scared and freak out. So I went to people who were close friends at the time. I would call them in tears at some of my weakest points and tell them everything I was feeling without holding anything back. They were incredible friends at the time for letting me do that and providing me with the comfort and safety that I so badly needed. They were extremely helpful to me during some of the times when I needed it the most. But then, they were no longer there for me. I was too much to handle. I had too much baggage.
Looking back, I fully acknowledge that I overdid it. I pushed the boundaries of my friendships at the time. Yes, I was hurting and I needed someone to talk to. But I could’ve journaled, I could’ve gone to my family, I could’ve sought out various helplines. I had several options, but I chose to go to my friends. I honestly can’t say that I blame them for eventually telling me that I was too much and that they could no longer handle me. They weren’t trying to hurt me, they were just trying to take care of themselves. There have been times where I’ve had to tell very close friends that I couldn’t handle what they were telling me right now. It didn’t mean that I didn’t care and didn’t want to be there for them. But I knew my boundaries, and I knew that I had enough going on personally that I didn’t have the mental capacity to take on anyone else’s struggles. I don’t hold grudges on those people for basically cutting ties, I really respect that they were taking care of themselves.
At the time, I felt like a burden. I thought I would always be too much, didn’t deserve love, couldn’t go to anyone to discuss my problems. That feeling has continuously stuck with me. Not only has it made it so that I constantly ask my loved ones and friends, “Is this okay? Is this too much? Are you sure you want to hear about this? I don’t want to be a burden to you. I don’t want to be too much.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run through that dialogue with family, friends, relationships, really anyone significant in my life. Majority of the time, I’m reassured that I’m fine and that I should come to them for a shoulder to cry on or whatever it is that I need. Every now and then I hear that right now isn’t a good time because of what’s going on for them. But then, later on, they always come to me when they feel they can take it on. The people who are currently in my life have reassured me that it’s healthy to talk about what’s going on, that I shouldn’t just keep it bottled up. They’ve told me how much they want to help me through the difficult times. To those of you who have been that role for me, I can’t thank you enough.
So you would think with all of that positive reassurance that I wouldn’t have worrisome thoughts about expressing my emotions, right? Wrong. Expressing my emotions to others has become one of the most difficult things for me. Something that sounds so simple yet has so many complex layers for myself. Due to the messages of needing to turn my emotions off with those friends in the past, I feel so cautious about letting my emotions out. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t even remember the last time I cried in front of my mom. My mom is one of my best friends, I’m with her constantly, I go to her for everything. But crying in front of anyone, even her, is so scary for me now.
When I start to get upset, my heart starts pounding, my hands start sweating, I get a knot in my stomach and my throat. Then, unfortunately, most of the time something inside of me changes. It’s like a switch is turned off that allows emotions. It gets bottled up, then I can take a deep breath. Then I’ll continue to talk about whatever it is that’s upsetting to me, only I keep my emotions on the surface level. I basically explain whatever it is that I’m feeling like I’m reading from a book. I’ll say, “So I felt this because this happened, and then that made me feel like this, and then this thing happened, etc.” I’ll discuss an extremely difficult or emotional event, with zero emotion. When my therapist notices that I’m doing it, he’ll stop me and say, “Emily, let yourself feel it. Stop bottling it up. This is a safe space, you can let the sadness out. It’s okay. Don’t talk to me like you’re stating facts. Tell me what really happened in a raw and emotional way.” Sometimes that’s enough to get me to notice it and tell myself to stop and be real. But of course I’m not always with my therapist, so I don’t always have someone to call me out on that.
I feel no relief when I hold my emotions back. Which then leads me to cry myself to sleep from everything that upset me throughout the day that I felt I couldn’t express. Everything comes pouring out and makes going to sleep awful. I love sleeping, I mean who doesn’t? But because of this pattern, I dread going down to my room at night. Simply because I know more often than not that I’m going to break down and cry, freak out about life, get all upset, possibly have a panic attack, and then cry myself to sleep. But then when I wake up in the morning, I’ll only feel a small portion of the lingering feeling. When it’s late and I’m tired, I’m vulnerable, which makes my emotions worse. I tell myself that every night, I tell myself to calm down because I don’t feel this sad based off of whatever happened. But that hardly ever works. I just cry, and cry, and cry until I’m asleep. It’s miserable and extremely frustrating. I wish I could just cry in front of people like I used to be able to, let my feelings out. Not in an over the top way, but just in a way that prevents the falling asleep crying issue. It’s one of my primary focusses in my therapy at Portland DBT right now, and gradually I’m making very slow progress. But it’s something that has been difficult for me for a very long time. I can hardly ever even cry in front of therapists now. Even though I feel extremely safe and comfortable around my therapists. They’re some of the most stable people in my life and I talk to them about some things I don’t tell anyone else, and yet, no tears.
I genuinely hope that I can get this figured out so that I can get comfortable being vulnerable with people again. What I want anyone who’s reading this to take from my post is this – it is okay to not be happy and perky all the time. It is okay to be sad. It is okay to cry in front of people. It is okay to be vulnerable with people and not be on your game all of the time. It is healthy to let yourself feel your emotions. It is important to respect people’s needs and if they’re in too fragile of a place personally, you should try to understand that they’re taking care of themselves, and not trying to tell you that you’re a burden. Emotions are there for a reason, they serve several purposes. Don’t bottle them up and shove them in a box, let yourself experience them.