I could consider myself an expert on numbing. I have spent many decades doing it. I am like that tin man, or was anyway. These days as that calloused tin of emotion gives way to the gentle rubbing of the oil of love, I find myself in this jumbled up quandry land, not knowing at times how to sort out what I’m feeling, and hence not knowing how to respond to them. However, I am feeling again. That is a good thing.
You will notice the emphasis of above on these Oxford definitions. It is mine. And I want to say this about it: being able to respond is natural. It is indeed what response-ability means. Able to respond.
How do I numb? Well, how about we start at the beginning? I got into drugs first. Used those for a few years, settling in on hallucinogens as my path to higher consciousness. One particular scary night got me to realize that what I was trying to achieve wasn’t bearing fruit. I wasn’t any more connected with folks, no more responsible than before. I was in fact, headed into the realm of emergency care if I wasn’t lucky. A hospital is not not the same as higher consciousness. So I gave that up, and frankly was disappointed. So I took to drinking. Easier to get, a bit more socially acceptable. The fruit was the same: still had the pain and shame of my life, now added to, and not any more connected or responsible, a bit less in fact, and definitely not achieving any higher states of consciousness. Not unless you consider the room spinning a higher state of consciousness.
Then I was presented with a religious answer. (My mom died about this time.) Jesus would take all this away. He would save me from the consequences of my sin. Joy, joy, joy was the promise. All I needed was faith. All the negative is the devil. And boy, I learned if one has an ability to memorize the Bible, and be able to teach it, the sky was the limit. And I can memorize, and teach. Inherent stuff, not anything of the Holy Spirit mind you. So I could leap frog over all the stuff in my life. I could BE something. I was a shepherd of sorts. Along my experiences, there were tribes of like minded people. But they are in the same condition you are in. So I still wasn’t touching my pain, getting through the armor. In fact, I was putting more on! So there appear to be connections, but those connections are all based on the activity of the tribe, be it grass and acid, alcohol, or prayer and the Bible. Outside of that, the ability to connect gets lost. The response-ability diminishes, if not disappears. And for 13 years, the religious trip worked.
Until I needed the connectivity the most. When my straits were the direst, those people, and particularly the shepherds of those people I had lived among, known, and served for a decade, were completely irresponse-able. And the bubble I had existed in burst. I discovered that what I had been taught and taught myself from the pulpit was dead wrong. I also discovered that ideological dogmatism was more important than people. So I said goodbye to that tribe.
Ah, but the pain was still there. The path to responsibility was to go through that pain rather than skirt it. I didn’t know that then. I know that shame is a lie. So I was still believing a lie, and the lie around pain is that vulnerability is excruciating, unbearable. Really, I mean, did I give it much thought? Would I really never stop crying? Had I read anything about people confined in institutions because they couldn’t stop crying? Or read about it as a medical condition? But the emotional mask that shame wears is frightening indeed.
So I went to school. Where lo and behold, I excelled! Had that steel trap mind back then, even though dogmatism had really screwed the trap up. So memorizing stuff? Piece of cake. Getting into intellectualism, or at least appearing like I had the answers, was a great way to stay away from my pain! Again, a different tribe arrayed around DOING something. Talking about ideas in this case.
Then my Dad died, and I was an orphan. I also decided I needed to “find myself.” So I left my wife, and broke her heart. What I actually was looking for was a younger blonde who was great in bed, but not much of a partner. I didn’t find myself very well. I hit a very low shelf headed towards the bottom of the barrel, and realized that I still wasn’t getting what I wanted or needed. I wasn’t fruitfully connected, nor response-able.
Then I met Pema Chodron. Life began a very slow and incremental change, which will make for another post. One thing I want to share with you about numbing: You do not get to choose what you numb. When you numb, you lose the ability to respond to good and bad, negative and positive. You lose the joy and the pain. And where do you think that will leave you?