Submitted via email by Sarah in San Francisco, CA
Can you tell me how to get rid of negative emotions? Like, first off, my boyfriend and I broke up over 5 months ago, but I can’t stop thinking about him. He doesn’t want to get back together but I can’t stop calling him. I’ve been drinking and binge eating almost every night. I’ll get totally trashed by myself, then order a whole pizza or Chinese Food and binge on it, and then I call my ex and sometimes I don’t even remember doing it, I just know from the phone log each morning. It’s really embarrassing and he’s even asked me not to contact him anymore. He blocked his number and unfriended me from facebook. And I still can’t stop thinking about him.
I really don’t want to be drinking every night and I don’t want to be binge eating and I don’t want to be obsessed with my ex. But I can’t help it. Can you tell me I stop feeling so in love with my ex? Can you tell me how to stop wanting to drink every night? I don’t know how to make myself feel different than I feel. I just want to know how to feel differently so I don’t do these things anymore.
-Sarah T. – San Francisco
Wouldn’t it be so great if we didn’t have to deal with these pesky feeling thingies? You ask how you can not feel what you are currently feeling, but it seems to me that all three of these issues are intertwined. You say that you don’t want to feel so obsessed, and I think that when you use alcohol, you are attempting to mitigate those very challenging emotions and the feelings of rejection. You actually have found away to not feel your feelings. But we’ve got a Catch-22 here. You don’t want to think about the ex, so you begin to think about drinking to numb that pain. There’s a part of you that doesn’t actually want to drink but the pain of obsessing over your ex makes it feel too hard not to. Once you’ve been drinking, you begin to lose all control. Your emotions get too big and you can’t stop yourself from doing things like binge eating and contacting your ex.
So, back to your original question, how can you stop feeling those awful feelings that you don’t want to be feeling. The answer is that you don’t. The crux of the issue here is that you’re still hung up on your ex. But just because you have these uncomfortable feelings doesn’t mean you have to act on them. When we think about mindfulness, we think about watching the feelings without carrying out the behavior that we need to carry out to lessen them. We just watch them without judgment and with compassion. For example, you begin to miss your ex. The feeling becomes so overwhelming that you have to do something to make it go away. You believe somewhere (even though rationally you know the truth) that calling him would make you feel better, or that drinking would make you feel better. But of course these things all build on themselves and create a vicious circle.
Think of ex—–> Feel sad, anxious, desperate, want to call him—–> Drink to make feelings go away so you don’t call—–> Feelings get bigger and you lose control——>Call ex——> Feel Worse——> Binge Eat
And on and on. But what if you could stop it right at the beginning? Right at Feel sad, anxious, desperate, want to call him. What if you could sit with those very, very hard feelings without acting on them. This is like strengthening a muscle. When you begin to sit with uncomfortable feelings, you increase your capacity to feel them without acting on them. Feeling them enables you to work through them. When you quickly do things to make those feelings go away, they don’t really go away. They get stuffed down and build and build and build and of course come back even worse. But you don’t have to be with your feelings alone. That can be very frightening. You can ask for support. You don’t have to come home alone at night and face the takeout menus and the bottle and the cellphone and facebook by yourself. You can always get out of the house and spend time with a supportive friend or family member. You can talk to a priest or a rabbi or a minister or a counselor or therapist or someone that you might feel safe with. You can go out and do volunteer work . You can also sit with your journal or your blog and write about what you’re feeling. If you don’t know of anyone to talk to, there are lots of great groups such as LAA or AA. There are also online support groups and message boards to help you work through these feelings. Don’t let yourself be alone with your feelings. Feelings aren’t bad, but when you don’t acknowledge them through talking about them or writing about them, that’s when you will act out in harmful behaviors. When you stuff them down and let them sit inside of you, they fester and grow into monsters. Talk about them, write about them and let yourself be with them. I don’t know how to get rid of them, but I do know that you can choose to manage them in a healthy way. Eventually, as you begin to take care of yourself, you will return to tending to your own needs and you will pull yourself away from obsessing over your ex and begin to think about yourself and take care of you. Taking care of yourself is crucial in dealing with challenging feelings. When you are feeling bad or sad or angry or lonely or depressed, remember to be good to you. You need to be treated gently, especially by yourself.
Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.