…on Human Emotions

inside-out-1Inside Out (Disney/Pixar)

 

A friend wrote to me last week saying “I hate human emotions”. I knew exactly what he meant! Do you? This feeling that we sometimes get, that it is all a bit too much, that emotions are uncomfortable, inconvenient, and just plain awful. Why do we have to feel? And why do we have to feel so much, sometimes? Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t feel at all? If we could just go through life bypassing all these burdensome emotions?

However, when we say this sort of thing and ponder on these type of questions, we are really only thinking of a particular set of emotions, right? I mean, no one wants to give up joy, do they? We just want to let go of sadness, anger, disappointment. I mean, not even to just let go, we don’t want to feel them in the first place! Unfortunately, we are not actually able to repress or suppress negative emotions without affecting the expression and flow of the positive ones. When we repress and suppress the bad, we always end up affecting the good. And because repressing and suppressing requires so much energy, this is what we end up focusing on: the bad. We focus so much on it, that it becomes familiar, often too familiar. Familiar to the point that it becomes the standard by which we experience the world around us.

A great example is people in the LGBTQ+ community. I will speak from experience here: I became aware of my attraction to the same sex when I was 5 years old, and I started living life as a fully out gay man at 19 years old. That’s 14 years of conscious effort and behaviour to hide who I was from the world around me. I actually saw a meme the other day which made me laugh. It said “What is your acting experience?” to which the response was “Well, I was in the closet for many years”. People who know me now find it hard to believe that I ever passed as straight, but when I was in the closet I literally thought about every single thing in my day to day: the tone of my voice, my body language and posture, hand gestures, the way I sat and crossed my legs, the verbal language I used, my hair, my clothes. There were periods of rebellion, when I didn’t care about any of this, but because I used to be immediately punished by my environment when I dared to leave my box, I learned to do it less and less.

What do you think the impact of all this pretending, this repression and suppression, was? Well, I was so conscious about masking every part of my being, that ultimately I forgot who I actually was. Inadvertently, I also bypassed joy, wonder, and fun in my life. It is truly ironic that I became a Dramatherapist, and that I now work in children’s mental health, because I really, really, really struggle with play, spontaneity, and the joyful bliss of wonder and innocence. For as far back as I can remember, people used to say to me that I was too serious, that I didn’t know how to take a joke, I didn’t know how to play. They were absolutely right. To this day, I still struggle with all of the above. Why? I literally spent half of my life controlling every single aspect of it, in relation to how it appeared to the outside world. A child can’t be a child if they are constantly worried about what the world thinks of them. By default, there is no innocence, wonder, or spontaneity in worry. By repressing and suppressing the more uncomfortable emotions, I ended up repressing and suppressing the comfortable and exciting ones as well. And this happens to everyone in various contexts and environments.

So, this got me thinking about a few things. Mainly that our problem isn’t really with our emotions, but perhaps with our expectations. To be honest, I never really liked to categorise emotions into positive or negative. I find them quite neutral in their origin, power, and manifestation. Now, our reaction to them is a whole different thing! The reaction, yes. It is definitely categorisable! But even here, I still don’t like the positive/negative label. I prefer to use the terms creative or destructive. Quite literally, are you creating or destroying? And so, going back to my point, our problem isn’t really that we feel, but that we feel things we didn’t want or expect.

When we start something new – a new job, move into a new house, meet a new person – we tend to lead with hope. We want it to be good, to mean something, to bring us joy and happiness. Hope is very important! However, when we face obstacles on our journeys, the feeling of hope and excitement, often turns into disappointment, sadness, even anger. We have just moved from one end of the continuum to the other. Emotions are fluid, they move back and forth on this continuum of felt experience. But what gives it meaning? What gives it the category of “good or bad”? The mind. The rational and logical part of our brains. In order to simplify the brain, many theorists and practitioners have divided it into three main areas: reptilian, emotional, and rational. These areas follow the evolution of humankind, and so, if you think about it this way, emotions are actually quite primitive. And really not that definable. They just are. With evolution, we started to assign labels to them and quantify them in terms of their outcomes and manifestation in the world around us.

Many somatic therapies – body-centered – focus on this exact point: feel the emotion, don’t think it. The body knows what to do with it, but when we interrupt that process with our minds and begin to rationalise their meaning, we actually end up losing their meaning completely. The rational brain will dissect it to the point where there is no emotion left. Obviously, this process is also helpful, otherwise the brain wouldn’t have evolved the way it did. However, how much is rationality actually getting in the way of living in a more wholesome, holistic way? When we say we hate emotions, what we are really saying is that our emotions and feelings did not lead us to the destination created by our minds, via expectations. We attached our emotions to an outcome, a result. We wanted them to lead us to a specific point, and we then blame them for that, rather than the expectation we created in our minds.

When we meet someone new, for example, it is obvious that we are probably going to create expectations. We are human, after all. We are social beings, who want to be loved, and belong, and know that we matter. We are relational, we literally need someone else. However, our disappointment about obstacles to our expectations, is literally about the expectations. Not the emotion! What a great thing it is to feel! To have a spark, a connection with someone, a fellow human, a fellow being who is also looking to connect and spark. But then the rational mind comes in and starts asking all these questions: what does this mean? Where will this go? How will I know if this is it? How will I know if this means something? I do this ALL THE TIME! I usually joke that by the time the other person sits down to watch the movie, I’ve already finished the trilogy. It’s not my heart that is doing that. It’s my mind.

Let the heart feel. Check your mind. Let your emotions be what they are.

 

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

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…on Addiction: Part 1 – The Personal

img_2540.jpg                                   Fig 1: Addict in Archetype Cards by Caroline Myss

In a very similar way to what I mentioned in my “…on Mental Health and Therapy” post about people in my family not discussing mental health, addiction and substance misuse, particularly with alcohol, was also something I grew up with. There was never a real discussion about it, but I remember thinking, feeling, and even stating to my mother that I would never be drunk in my life. Watching some people in my family abusing alcohol and not knowing what to say or do about it, played a big part in my teenage introspection, angst, and internalised anger.

Yes, I experimented here and there as a child and teenager – what else do you think kids in small town suburbs get up to? – and even got quite tipsy with some friends during a school day once. All things that pass as “cool” when you’re growing up, because who doesn’t like to push and test the boundaries of what’s acceptable?

This all changed when I moved to Glasgow in 2006 for my first degree. I love this city dearly and deeply to this day, and always will. But as Dickens famously wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” As I was planning to write this, I began to think about the first time I got really drunk in Glasgow. I even texted a friend to ask her if she remembered her first time, because we might have been together. And then I remembered: sometime either on or just after New Year’s Day 2007. It involved vodka, a pool table, and kissing someone I didn’t like. The story of that night eventually took on a life of its own, and I met someone a couple of years ago who lived in those some student halls the year after I left, and the infamous pool table story still existed, albeit completely different. But anyway… the really important thing about that night was this: being drunk gave me a feeling of freedom that I had never experienced before. I felt that I could be truly myself, say whatever I felt, and do whatever I wanted.

As I was finally living out of my closet and experiencing all these feelings for the first time, alcohol provided the perfect tool for me to be this new person I was becoming, but still didn’t know. It gave me the freedom to experiment and not give a damn about anything. I, who had been in active control of every single minute of my life, was now actively not in control. It was the best feeling ever! And so, I tried to capture that feeling every chance I could. This didn’t happen suddenly, however. I was very much still attached to goody-two-shoes me, and it was hard to let go of that. Progressively, I also began to notice that, lo and behold, I had a really HIGH resistance to alcohol. Tiny-waisted, 5’5, me! Since I had never really had my “wild teenage years”, I began to push this further and further, to find my limits, but also to crush them. I wanted to go beyond everything I ever knew. I continued to have my fun and discovering new things, but it wasn’t until my 2nd year in Glasgow, that things took a turn. I moved in together with some great friends, and as it so often happens, we stopped speaking to each other in the first few months of that living arrangement. Some of my other friends often told me that my flat felt like a really dark, cold, place. It was. Unbeknownst to all of us, that year was the trigger to a lot of future dysfunction and chaos in each of our lives.

I took my drinking to high gear. This was the year of the flat parties! Everyone had moved out of halls of residence and living in their own flats. Sometimes, there would be parties every day of the week, and club nights catering to different things every night of the week. That September of 2007 was the first time that I got so drunk that I couldn’t go home, because I couldn’t walk, and could only move by crawling. This would become a regular pattern for me at parties. That feeling of absolute loss of control was also amazing. It sounds crazy, perhaps, but in comparison to my life experiences, having no control was awesome! Even more than that, to be destructive! Slowly, I began to notice that what my body did was this: I didn’t have many stages of drunkenness. I went from sober to tipsy to crawling. And I could stay in the tipsy stage for many, many hours, and suddenly I would be crawling. There would be one drink that would send me over the edge, but I never knew which one would do the trick, and I found that extremely exciting!

Alongside all of this, I was also feeling a lot of feelings. Uncontained, unboundaried, needy, co-dependent feelings towards other men. You see, I had always repressed these, and when I let them out, I couldn’t control them anymore. And because I had repressed them in the shadows for many years, when they came out, they were not at all balanced. I was not at all balanced back then. If I kissed someone, or slept with someone, I would become emotionally attached to them. When they didn’t reciprocate I would feel awful. When they did reciprocate I would feel awful. I would feel awful no matter what. And so, slowly and progressively, being drunk was the only state in which I felt truly at peace. There were days where I was feeling so much that I would leave work or university, stop by the supermarket, grab a bottle of something – usually a 2L Strongbow – go home, and have that as my dinner. I would wake up the next day still wearing the clothes from the previous day, with the bottle next to me, completely numb: mission accomplished! I don’t think even my closest friends know I used to do this back then. This was the year I spent more money on alcohol than food. I used to say that as if it was a badge of honour. I no longer say it in the same way.

And then, my luck and my body ran out on me. I was out clubbing with some friends and I had some “boy drama”. Completely insignificant now, but then? Well, you’ll see what I did. I was at the Polo Lounge on a Wednesday, where all drinks were £1. I started having shots to get drunk quicker. But I kept feeling too many emotions and not enough drunkenness, so I kept having shots. To this day, I still don’t know the official count. I lost count around shot number 30. In the space of an hour. Oh yes! I still remember telling a friend, “I need to get some air”, and then I was throwing up outside the club for what felt like hours. Obviously, everyone I was with dispersed, or tried to help and I couldn’t take it. I don’t even remember. Someone I knew took me home, with several stops on the way for me to throw up, and I spent the next 3 days in bed. On day 1, I couldn’t even move my eyes. I didn’t eat, I didn’t drink. I was just in and out of consciousness. On day 2, I managed to call a friend and ask her to come over and help me to make some toast. Yes, I needed help making toast. My body promptly rejected that. I think I managed a shower around day 3, and was able to leave the house on day 4. After that day, every single time I had a certain amount of alcohol, I would throw up. Which for me meant that every single time I went to a party or a night out, I would end the night throwing up somewhere. Every. Single. Time. I still didn’t stop, though. I kept trying to go back to my “glory days”.

The “glory days” never returned. I slowly began to retreat from parties and nights out around my 4th year in Glasgow. I still drank too much every time, and threw up every single time, but at least I was doing it around 2 or 3 times a week, rather than 5 or 6. How I managed to do this alongside my full-time degree, 3 part-time jobs, dance company rehearsals and other activities, is still a mystery to me. Ah, youth!

I knew I would leave Glasgow a year in advance of my actual departure. When I left, it just felt natural and completely uneventful. I came to London to face a set of new and unknown challenges. The drinking pattern remained, but the expensive life in London was a great container for how often I used to do it. And then life gave me another wake up call. On Friday, 22nd July 2011 I went out with some work mates, and had two glasses of wine. I remember saying to a friend “I need to go outside”, and after that I have only faint memories of throwing up outside the club, being dragged into a taxi, being dragged into a bed, and waking up the next day not having any idea of what the heck had happened. My drink had been spiked, and luckily my friend had taken me to her house.

I made my way back home to Camden the next morning, where I lived, and went straight to bed. Several hours of going in and out of consciousness, and staring into space wondering how I had gotten there – figuratively and literally – I received a text from one of my great friends in Glasgow. It said: “Have you heard about Amy Winehouse?” I loved Amy. Her Back to Black album epitomised a lot of the darkness I felt about self, men, and drink. I still listen to it in moments of melancholy and depression. In that moment, as I laid in my bed, in my room in Camden, which was literally around the corner from her house, where she had literally just died from alcohol poisoning, is still to this day, one of the clearest moments of my life. As a personal symbol of recklessness and substance abuse died, I felt this choice for the first time in my life: stop or carry on. Live or die. Fight or flight.

I have been choosing to fight ever since.

If this resonates, feel free to share with friends, family, and networks.

Thank you. xx

Ryan Campinho Valadas
HCPC registered Dramatherapist

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com