Archive | November, 2014

When numbness isn’t an option

10 Nov

This might not be the most coherent post I’ve written, but it’s going to be one of the most heartfelt.

My Oma passed away a week ago today and it hurts so much. It feels like there is a physical void somewhere in my chest where something important used to be. Her passing wasn’t unexpected and my whole family is thankful that she is finally free from the debilitating pain she’s been experiencing for several months, but it hasn’t made the whole process any easier.

And throughout all of this, the crutch that I’ve leaned on to tamp down unpleasant emotions and dull my pain was noticeably gone: Food.

For longer than I’d care to admit, I used food as a way to deal with upsetting situations. Depression, homesickness in a foreign country, a painful breakup, fear for my future—anything that I didn’t want to or didn’t feel that I could fully experience, I numbed with a (not so) healthy dose of carbs and sugar.

I’ve axed processed food, particularly white flour and refined sugar, from my diet in the last month, and didn’t realize how difficult that change was until last week. I was thrown amidst all of the breads, cakes, and cookies that well-wishers brought, and through some miracle of God didn’t succumb to eating any of it.

But I realized how viscerally I wanted to. My brain was screaming at me to eat the bagel, eat the piece of pie, so that I would stop feeling so sad. “Surely,” I said to myself, “If you just eat that little piece of cake, you’ll be happier. You won’t be so sad. You won’t feel so heavy. It won’t hurt so much.”

I knew that like a drug addict taking a hit, it would only be a temporary fix, a fleeting high. Sure, I’d feel better for about 15 minutes. But would that change the fact that Oma wasn’t there anymore? Would my grief really go anywhere, or only be kept at bay for a few moments before coming back, stronger, angrier, and demanding a bigger hit to subdue it?

Besides, it seemed like the most authentic way to pay my last respects to Oma would be to feel everything. It would cheapen her memory if I didn’t let myself feel the full force of what I needed to feel by numbing my emotions.

And I found that I also felt the truly uplifting and fulfilling moments with greater strength. The beauty of the church, packed with only a fraction of the people who wanted to be there. Amazement at my Oma’s sitters, women who only knew her for a few years, but loved her like their own mothers. A sense of pride from my parents’ friends who hadn’t seen my parents in decades, but drove from Atlanta and other cities, just to let us know how much Oma’s generosity and hospitality had meant to them growing up. Calm at Oma’s place after the service, knowing that a house full of people visiting and enjoying good food would have made her happier than any material gain.

This is not an easy process and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one. But I truly believe that since numbing my emotions with food ceased to be an option, I was gifted with feeling pain and joy in equal, forceful measure.

So I challenge you to identify what your “crutches” are, and see if you can experience “all the feels” without numbing yourself. Surround yourself with people, experiences, and rituals that don’t suppress your pain, but lift you out of it.