30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 9: #numbing #dissociation #addiction #pain #compartmentalization


Welcome to Day 9 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” Today’s quote is a good one and so simple that I feel it needs no commentary.

Here it is:

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

It reminds me a great deal of the phrase that a cancer-surviving friend once said to me in the midst of her battle, “If I blame God or ask ‘why me?’ for the so-called bad things in my life, like this cancer, then in all fairness, I have to also ask ‘why me?’ for the so-called good things in my life, like this moment.”

This Brown quote is akin to the myth of “spot reduction” in weight loss. Anyone who knows anything about weight loss will tell you, in all honesty and veracity, that there is no such thing as spot reduction. Everything in your body is interrelated. You simply can’t focus all your energy on making your hips smaller because it’s not possible. You can make your hips stronger by focusing the work on them, but that won’t make them smaller.

It’s like the common misconception between fat loss and muscle gain. They are coincidental; they are not the same material. Losing fat is losing fat. It doesn’t convert into muscle.

I’m bored. You?

Back to Brown.

Our emotions and sensitivities are not like a fuse box (er, “circuit breaker” for those of you born in the 20th century). You can’t “take out” an emotion by unplugging it, i.e., getting hammered, high, pissed, manically happy… it’s uh, totes improbs, dude.

It’s like trying to let only one part of the ocean get you wet.

It’s like trying to breathe only one part of the air.

It’s like trying to stand in only one part of the sunshine.

It’s like trying to taste only one part of the lasagne.

It’s like trying to bleed only a certain part of your blood.


You numb sad, you numb happy by default.

My dad, I love him.

Get this. He said to me a couple weeks ago about Mom’s death and witnessing my loss of composure during a Mass of Remembrance about a month ago, that “I’m done crying. I’ve cried all I’m going to.”

And I’m like this:


come again?
(© quickmeme.com)

Scratch what I attributed above to my dad.

Rewind the tape. Start over.

A man who is just like my dad but who apparently came down from another planet and replaced him entirely with this person said this,

“Yeah. I’ve cried all I’m going to. I can’t have what happens to me when I cry happen to me again. It feels so intense, like I get all warm and my throat tightens and it feels like I’m having a heart attack. It’s like a sympathetic storm.”

Uhhhh? It’s like a Whatawhetic What? I googled it.

Sympathetic Storms are a common complication following traumatic brain injury and is associated with a set of distressing and uncomfortable symptoms, including elevated body temperature, increased heart-rate and perspiration.

Oh. Traumatic brain injury. That explains it.

Catharsis. That’s what he felt. This alien from another planet.

“So you just felt, sadness, and intense emotions that weren’t rage and fear.”

“Well, ok. It was like a heart attack.”

Here’s me:

(this is my Murph)

(this is my Murphy)

“I’m listening.” I said, to this alien who is not my father. (Just so we’re setting the record straight.)

“I can’t do that anymore. I won’t. I will focus on the other stuff. The happy stuff. The times we had,” said this man alien who didn’t know my mother at all.

Mmmmmk. It explains vast oceans of behavior to me.

I’ll stop at that.

Some people like to numb with drugs or booze. Some like to numb with running or porn. Others like to numb with food or gambling or the internet or writing… (slightly raises hand — if I weren’t writing, I’d not be online. That’s the truth, but I know I need to find a way to divide it).

This whole theme goes back to “owning your story” quote of Brown’s that I wrote about back on Day 1. You have to own the whole thing — all of it.

You can’t be a little pregnant.

You can’t have just pulled part of the trigger.

You can’t have thrown just a little of the water in her face.

I could go on.

When I was younger, about 16, I was all manner of rage. I thought I was just being clever, a smart-ass, a hot shot.

My friends and I were all hanging out at our super cool suburban cul-de-sac one summer night. A boy I liked had brought me a long-sleeved t-shirt from a beach trip he took. My younger brother who was likely 11 or 12 stole it from my closet. It wasn’t two days old.

He wore it right in front of me and my friends. I let it go, because I wanted to be that cool.

Then he sat down with me and my friends. Major boundary cross, dude, I thought to myself.

Then he started to talk to my friends. I’m gonna stay cool, be cool, be cool.

Then he started to make fun of me in front of my friends. He said, “Molly is so fat, that when she sits around the house, she SITS AROUND THE HOUSE…”  and he made this Jabba-the-hut face to pantomime me.

I’ve had a lifetime of problems, but being a healthy weight was never one of them. I’ve been blessed. I get it. Move along.

He said it again. My friends laughed. The male friend laughed.

In my mind, when I visualized it, I didn’t make contact with my brother’s face.

In my mind, my bare foot just glanced his jaw. Never touched it.

In reality, my bare foot kicked the crap out of his face and blood went everywhere.

All over my new shirt too.

“Youuuuuu! Waaaaaah!!! MaaaaaaaaaaammmmmM! Maaaaaaaaaammmmmmm! Daaaaaaaayyyyaaaaaaad!! Maaaaaaaaagggghhhhhhaaaaahhahaahahaaaaaaagggggggghhhhh Myyyyyyyy faaaaaaaaaace!!!!”

My friends scattered like rats on a sinking ship. They looked at me in horror.

In my mind I didn’t make contact…

“My shirt! You asshole! My shirt!” I screeched. (It wasn’t about the shirt.)

He took off.

I took off after him.

He ran up the street.

I ran up the street.

He’s screaming.

I’m screaming.

He ran into the house.

I ran away from the house.

OMAIGAAAD! I got in SO MUCH TROUBLE for that entire thing. It’s like I tell my boys — presence. We must be present and reeeeeeeeally work hard to not take physical action. If my dad had said to me what I say to my kids all the time, “You’re picking on an 11 year old? Are you insane?! Have you lost your mind?”

But … my shirt.

No one wanted to hear my side.

He took my shirt.

My brother’s face was bleeding. He needed five?

He made fun of me.

Stitches? Maybe seven?

In front of my friends. I didn’t do anything.

I dunno. I’m sure I did something to egg him on too. I’m sure I said something snarky about him being there.


But the point I’m trying to make with this is this: I didn’t kick him a little. I didn’t injure him only a little. To this day, and we’ve talked about it and he’s one of my biggest cheerleaders, I have atoned for that incident. He knows now I never ever meant to hurt him.

Which means this: we might never ever mean to numb the good stuff, but we will when we numb the bad stuff.

We can’t numb. We must go through it. All of it. All of the ugly crying and the entire story. If we don’t, then we leak. 

It’s like how it goes in We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. How did the family solve the challenges? They couldn’t go over! They couldn’t go under! They had to go through them. (I just noticed there’s no Mom in this story — she must be napping.)

Thank you.

4 responses »

  1. Devil’s Advocate here.

    Are you sure you didn’t intend to kick the crap out of your Brother? Really? You were 15/16, at the prime of your budding womanhood,with ego driven zest for life, you were surrounded by your best buds and your little shit of a brother had the audacity to cross all those invisible lines/rules of sibling survival to humiliate, embarrass, annoy and tease you after stealing your prized gift of a present from a guy you liked! Whoa!

    That is some intense baby brother irritation. I, if I’d had a brother, probably would have wanted to kick him with intent to harm. Isn’t it sort of a primal urge to protect what is yours and is special to you? The rage that comes to the surface isn’t based on logic and thinking, it’s an instinctual blast of evolution. Being a “good girl” meant repressing those instincts and producing a fake smile and giggle while mentioning how “adorable and precocious your darling imp of a brother was and you acted human instead of being a good girl. How many times were you supposed to ask him, plead, yell stop! before losing it?

    You got in big trouble did he? After getting his stitches did he still mess with you? It was unfortunate that he needed the stitches, but he did need the lesson and you got the message about learning to repress what you felt, which you didn’t need.Kids do horrible things to each other and shit happens, but blaming and shaming the older sibling for reacting to the miserable actions of the younger sibling isn’t always right. You didn’t intend to make him need stitches, but at the time you did intend to make him stop what he was doing and some pain to reinforce your message seemed like a good idea, didn’t it?

    Learning about consequences and repercussions isn’t without pain… 🙂

  2. y’know, you’re on to something. and i have to say that i appreciate it. i was in the midst of writing thursday’s post, which i just couldn’t get my head around because it’s so repetitive of what i’ve been covering now for almost 10 days. and so there was a marked change in the tone of the writing after i read your comment above. it bolstered me up. having a mother who competed with me was hard, as you know and then not having any sisters is tougher.

    and i must say that your challenge / devil’s advocacy did bring up some rights that i had/ve and that i really can do a better job of showing myself some respect. i am very gutsy in person, but the online stuff makes me more conservative for some reason (it’s like it has the opposite effect on me that it does on some others who act like boneheads). i’ve also been conditioned, as you have noted, to be more allowing of the bullshit around me.

    my brother did not get in trouble. you’re right: i probably wanted to go bruce lee on his ass, and i did want to make contact; i will own that now. thanks. truly. it’s like i’ve punched through a big drum at a football game or something. anyway, i didn’t want to hurt him, but i wanted to hurt him. that experience was one example of the shit he got away with, mostly because Mom just abdicated any raising of him to me or my older brother. dad abdicated her to us, she abdicated us to each other. and then she and dad did whatever the hell they wanted. that’s the reality. and it feels pretty good saying it “publicly” even though i’m writing about it in my memoir.

    did he learn from that? not really. he was never discouraged from his shit disturbing. he still went into my closets and stole my stuff — rugby shirts were all the rage then and he took mine — all of them — for his own and would deny it even though i’d see him at school wearing them. i had a job at a preppy local clothier, “Britches Great Outdoors,” it was sort of like the gap and because his clothes were all garbage from Sears he just took mine whenever he felt like it. she never stopped him or scolded him. i suspect i was raised by two at-times misogynists as well. i can’t really believe i’m saying all this… but it’s true. no one worked harder than i did to maintain some semblance of normalcy. i was in no way into denial and façade building. i was into work and getting shit done. it boggles the mind that i’m not some heroin-addicted mess.

    thanks, Leslhugs. :/

    • You’re welcome, Molly. The things that hurt us the most deeply are the ones we carry in our souls; we try not to feel or think of them, but they are always there. Injustice – being blamed for things you didn’t cause, being tolerated rather than being loved and adored another, at least for me, the list is long and tough to build because we have to revisit the pain to build it.

      Working to buy your own cool clothes and have him steal them from you, lie about it and not be called out, punished and forced to return/reimburse you for them is infuriating and hurtful. Having your rights smashed and not being able to be heard by your parents would make anyone angry and sad.

      Don’t you wonder why some of us manage to survive and go on to thrive after facing so many hurdles while others do succumb to alcohol and drug addiction? Is it an inborn tenacity? Brain chemicals? There has to be a core difference when we come from Mothers without maternal instincts, how do we get such strong maternal instincts? We start to mother and care for our negligent parents as small children. We take care of them and perform their duties for them. Then we see their flaws and set our minds to never emulate them. Fascinating and infuriating.

      I like you, Molly Field!

      • i dedicated the drawing i did last night for tomorrow’s post to you. you’ve helped me a lot. coming to honest real terms with this stuff is the hardest. before therapy i was so so angry and i knew why, but i was horrid about it. i wanted to be not angry but still process. i feel like that part of the truth got buried in some form of compassion training. and that’s where i’m feeling some of it unearth. “friends” like you help, Leslhugs. i can do this for other people, just not for me, so i really appreciate it. (please feel free to contact me mollytfield@gmail.com if you’d like.)

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