“When you refrain from habitual thoughts and behavior, the uncomfortable feelings will still be there. They don’t magically disappear. Over the years, I’ve come to call resting with the discomfort ‘the detox period,’ because when you don’t act on your habitual patterns, it’s like giving up an addiction. You’re left with the feelings you were trying to escape. The practice is to make a wholehearted relationship with that.” ~Pema Chödrön (from Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, page 36)
I get a weekly email with Pema’s Heart Advice of the week. The above quote was the one I received today. (It can also be found in blog form on Shambhala Publications website.)
I know this feeling of being in the detox period well. As I have been working on shifting patterns in my life that are no longer helpful, I frequently encounter these detox period where my emotions have been triggered but I’m choosing not to engage in my usual coping behaviors. Instead, I am left to sit with those feelings that I normal try to escape, minimize, or at least distract myself from feeling.
All of my usual coping mechanisms are really just addictions. They are the ways that I try to block the pain and discomfort—or at least hide from it. I am fortunate in that my addictions are not substance-related, so I don’t have the usual physiological component to deal with, but they are still addictive patterns in that they lure me into behaviors that are harmful to myself and to people around me. Co-dependency is an addictive pattern, and it’s one I am determined to get free from.
But when I am in those moments of resisting my own personal addiction responses to some trigger, it’s painful and scary and at times I even shake just like someone who is experiencing DTs as I struggle to hold the emotion inside without using my usual coping mechanisms. It’s NOT fun.
But I know it’s the only way to grow healthier. The only way to shift these patterns is to refuse to engage in them, even when I am shaking from the strain, even when I feel like I can’t breathe because of the amount of anxiety produced by not following my normal patterns.
It helps to label this struggle as a detox period. Detox is hard, and when I look at my experience through that lens, I can have so much more compassion with my struggle to sit still in that space of discomfort and choose not to react. The struggle is no longer a sign of failure to have it right; it’s a sign that I’m doing the hard work needed to grow and to become healthier. It’s an amazing change in perspective.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.