Why numbing away the pain, doesn’t work !
Cheers, dear readers!
There were many moments on my infertility journey where the emotional pain was so great, I was looking for any strategies I could find to cope just to get through the day. I am normally a rather happy, motivated and enthusiastic person by nature. I was taken by surprise for many years as I was overwhelmed with negative emotions that formed a black cloud over my head that I had no idea how to escape from. It followed me everywhere, like an unwanted companion. I finally started to understand what it meant to be depressed, and I got to see firsthand how debilitating that can be. It was shocking sometimes watching myself go from a person that I recognized in the mirror – happy-go-lucky, positive, carefree – to someone I didn’t recognize at – scared, sad, nervous, unsure, depressed.
I was plagued with what Eric and I call “busy brain” as questions haunted me all the time. Questions like:
Will this next IVF procedure work? How will we afford it? How will I cope if it fails again?
Is this the month that we’ll get pregnant? Or will I feel the bitter disappointment of failure with another BFN?
What if we never become parents? What will life look like? How will I fit in with my mommy friends?
Now that this period of my life is behind me, I am not afraid to admit that there were days where I chose to “numb out” in an effort to dull the pain. As we were trying to get pregnant and conceive, I had read that limiting alcohol intake was a good strategy. I was ready to do anything to up my chances of conceiving. One of my friends told me that was silly – if I wanted a glass of wine (or two or three), I should have it. After all she had gotten pregnant so easily right after a weekend of binge drinking on a fun girls weekend. She thought she was hungover – here she was pregnant. So why should I bother limiting my alcohol intake? But clearly, I was not getting pregnant as easily as my fertile friend — heck, it seemed I wasn’t able to get pregnant AT ALL as time marched on and another BFN test came back in the solitude of my lonely bathroom again… and again. So limit my wine consumption I did, especially during the time period that we tried hormone-induced IVF. I didn’t want there to be ANY reason to cause me guilt that I didn’t do everything in my power to try to increase the chances of success of our procedure!
But after I got the call – the call I was dreading – I knew I needed a way to “numb out”. As I was driving to my acupuncture appointment on implantation day when our one remaining fertilized egg was supposed to be implanted into my ready womb, I got the call that our last egg had stopped growing. Essentially, the one shot that had even made it this far, our budding baby, had died. Dead. Poof. Gone just like that.
I mentioned in a post last year, as I was driving on a windy road clutching the phone to my ear as I got the news, my mind wandered to… what do they do with it? Throw it in the garbage? Our baby in the garbage. I got more and more depressed, sad, grief-stricken, confused. I wanted to run away from these feelings. My mind was racing and spiraling down as I drove north before I could turn around and drive back south back towards home. A part of me wanted to die. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and perish so that I didn’t have to feel these awful feelings anymore. No one prepares you for getting this kind of news, handling this kind of uneasy, strange grief that so few of us understand.
I wanted a drink. I wanted to shut the noise off.
“Numbing out” used as a shield to protect us from our own vulnerability, our own shame, is quite common. Sometimes the truth of our lives is just too much for us to handle. We need a way out… anything we can think of. If you’re wondering if “numbing” refers to doing drugs, or overeating as well as having a few glasses of wine – the answer is yes. It’s important that we examine the need to “take the edge off” by considering the number of glasses of wine we drink, the excessive sugar we eat, the prescription pills we consume, the three shots of espresso that we drink to try to clear the fog from the previous night’s wine and Advil PM we took to force ourselves to sleep. It’s the stuff that you and I do everyday to “take that edge off” or get the much-needed sleep.
In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly that I have been studying recently, she writes:
“Today [we] are more debt-ridden, obese, medicated, and addicted than we ever have been…. Statistics dictate that there are very few people who haven’t been affected by addiction. I believe we all numb our feelings. We may not do it compulsively and chronically, which is addiction, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t numb our sense of vulnerability. And numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experience of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.”
She goes on to say:
“The primary driver of numbing would be our struggles with worthiness and shame: We numb the pain that comes from feeling inadequate and ‘less than.’ The most powerful need for numbing seems to come from combinations of shame, anxiety, and disconnection. Because we are hardwired for connection, disconnection always creates pain… that we want to numb. Our anxiety is compounded and made unbearable by our belief that if we were just smarter, stronger, or better, we’d be able to handle everything. Numbing here becomes a way to take the edge off of both instability and inadequacy. People will do almost anything to escape the combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness.”
I drank to minimize my feelings of inadequacy, of failure, of “less than”, of uncertainty about my future. I numbed out to shut my busy brain off. I drank to give my hands something to do – just open another bottle of wine. For me, uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy led to feeling vulnerable, which led to anxiety, which led to shame, which led to disconnection, which led to depression, which led to copious amounts of chardonnay! Brené states “For many of us, the chemical anesthetizing of emotions is just a pleasant, albeit dangerous, side effect of behaviors that are more about fitting in, finding connection, and managing anxiety.”
I found all of this information and insight very sobering (pun intended). Understanding from a psychological perspective why I numbed out with wine helps me with my own self-compassion. I was suffering and looking for ways to cope and thus survive. I was grasping at straws. I forgive myself for my weakness at reaching for an unhealthy vice back then to get by. It was just a brick in the wall to get me to where I am today: Happy, healthy, excited about my future, in love, so empathetic for all of us surviving as flawed human beings together, compassionate about the struggles that we all deal with.
“Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self.” ~ Karen Salmansohn
If any of this resonates with you, always remember you are not alone. Reach out to us any time if you want to talk. Don’t stay isolated.
Please join me next time to hear more about my personal journey down the infertility path. I will share with you strategies to combat the desire to numb out. I look forward to speaking with you. And I wish you the best on your journey.