And what it has to do with the concept of “buffering”
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a personal development strategist and coach working to help people with self-acceptance, self-trust, and self-compassion. You can learn more about working with me here.
Happy Sunday, friends. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll have gone about three weeks without alcohol (a dry February plus about a week head start) and I am HAVING SOME FEELINGS.
Me complaining to my Slack friends about THE URGE
Primarily, I notice so much more clearly what I’ve started to call THE URGE. The urge, that is, to disconnect. To suppress. To feel anything other than I’m feeling. The urge to distract. The urge to move to the future and away from the present.
You know. The Urge.
The urge I think for me has been most easily suppressed in the past by nail-biting, alcohol, caffeine, and turning to my phone, and without three of the four of those (my phone is still in the running), you can see that I’ve turned to such drastic methods as slicing off a pat of butter at the end of the work day instead of just pouring myself a glass of wine. (Don’t worry. It was the good kind of butter, at least.)
With all the thinking about shedding that I’ve been doing this month, this also has me thinking with: what is left behind, or what is left in front of us as we shed? This particularly came to light when I was listening to Brooke Castillo’s podcast (definitely recommend) on what she refers to as buffering:
“There was a significant time in my life where I was drinking more than I wanted, probably five years I’m going to say. I was never a super-heavy drinker. I wasn’t, like, falling down drunk kind of drinking, but just drinking every day. And drinking made my life, which was unacceptable to me, tolerable. And so, what happened when I was drinking is nothing changed. Nothing got better. Nothing improved. When I quit drinking, so many things in my life were intolerable to me. And so, I spent the time that I had spent drinking changing my life. Now, here’s what I want to tell all of you who just heard me say that and said, “Well I don’t spend a lot of time overeating. I don’t spend a lot of time drinking. I don’t spend a lot of time overworking,” whatever.
Here’s what I want to tell you about buffering and the time that it takes, the mental energy that it takes from your life; it’s not just the overeating that is the buffering. It’s not just the action of the overdrinking. It’s the effect of that and you dealing with the effect of that that’s also part of the distraction from your life. So, when I spent a lot of time overeating, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to eat or not going to eat. Then I spent a significant amount of time negotiating that with myself. Then I spent time actually doing the eating that I told myself I wouldn’t do, the over-eating. And then I dealt with the weight-gain and all of the thoughts about that. And then the cycle repeated again. It was almost like I had this second life that was consuming my time and my energy. But here’s what’s genius about it; as long as I was focused on overeating and my weight and suffering there, I didn’t have to deal with the other parts of my life that weren’t working, the other emotions that I wasn’t processing, the thoughts that I needed to get cleaned up. I didn’t really have to deal with that because I was using this escape button into buffering that allowed all of that to be tolerable.”
So it got me thinking. If I was drinking more than I was comfortable with (and I was, and have been since, oh, late 2016, I wonder why), then what was I trying to make tolerable?
And I think the overall answer is: emotions. And having to feel them.
I never have been great at tolerating my own emotions or, a better phrase would be, allowing myself to feel and process them. Even now, even though I know through my own training and experience, that feeling feelings is the fastest and best way to move through them, I’m still afraid of my own emotions. I still find them intolerable in some cases. The “negative” ones, that is — but let’s be honest, sometimes the happy ones, too, because they can be so intense and vulnerable. Because what if they never come back? If those beautiful feelings and emotions fleeting, and not repeatable, then I better not feel them too deeply because I don’t want to miss them too hard later on.
Processing and feeling my emotions is still a work in progress for me. Somatic (aka body-based release) techniques have been helpful; meditation; journaling; once I heard Jessica Lanyadoo recommend to somebody who was turning to overdrinking to process her emotions to just hold on to a pair of ice cubes in her hand when The Urge to numb out via alcohol came up, just to tolerate it and sit with it but also focus on something relatively harmless.
And yet it’s still a struggle and something I’ve been thinking about for a while now (because I’ve had hella time without the drinking and associated socializing): why are emotions so overwhelming and scary to me and how can I continue to learn to be with and feel them as I arise?
I have some thoughts, and I’ll save them for a future newsletter. But for now, I’d like to know: is it difficult for you to process your emotions as well? Do you feel The Urge? When The Urge comes up, how do you deal with it (in productive or not so productive ways). Tell me everything.