Emotionally Closed Off: Healing Pain and Learning to Love

by Joanna Warwick

There’s only one way to survive life. Shut down, or get hurt and die.

Well, that’s what I once believed.

At some point during my childhood I decided that the only way to survive in the world was to shut down and close off my heart. I’m sure given a choice I would have chosen only to avoid the pain of life (not the pleasure), but open or shut are the only options available.

“Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.” ~ Buddha

Growing up, everyone and everything around me was inconsistent, physically and emotionally. My family moved many times throughout my childhood, and my parents were busy, professionally and socially.

One minute, there—warm, light, and safe

The next, gone—cold, dark, and alone!

Every time I started to get settled, it would all disappear. I had no control, and I couldn’t trust anything. It became unbearable.

I couldn’t make people or the world go away, so instead I shut up shop and hid my true self away from them, behind a false exterior.

I put a smile on my face, and became a reflection to others’ wishes—like the princess in the tower, a prize to be admired, completely untouchable.

I had a perfect facade.

Today, years on, I am very much real.

I work as a therapist and a writer now, and I’m on a soul quest to enjoy and share with the world.

On my journey to get to this moment, I felt like an adrenaline junkie. I was always maxing out and pushing it to the edge to do anything to feel alive, through the darkest rivers of life and illuminating heights of spiritual enlightenment.

I became ensconced in the spiritual world seeking practices to elevate my soul through meditation, esoteric reading, tarot cards, alternative religions, and mediumship. I experienced moments of peace, but I was still shut down.

I know I was not made to live separately from the world. As I grew older it was sexual desire that motivated me to get closer to people.

Still, I was set on a path of destruction.

Out of fear I tried to control the relationships in my life, as I had learned to control my emotions. I also looked for others to control me instead, always believing that power equalled love.

The more I allowed myself to get involved with men, the more fear I felt, but I couldn’t give it up. I had become addicted to feeling alive.

I didn’t want to go back to being cold and alone in the dark again, and would do anything to avoid it. That feeling I tried to avoid was ultimately what set me free.

Like Orpheus going into the underworld, I took my own path downward and became fascinated with the dark recesses of the human soul.

I got closer and closer by observing extremes of pain, loneliness, fear, and rage, through my training and clinical work, always drawn to tortured souls.

I wallowed in that dark place with addicts, abusers, and victims, believing I was doing “good” by trying to save others.

The truth, though, was that I was still avoiding the depths of my own personal darkness, even in therapy.

It was falling in love though that would take me there.

With no warning a man came into my life, and I fell uncontrollably and unconditionally in love for the first time. I was completely unprepared and terrified.

But this wasn’t a fairy tale.

He didn’t rescue me, and I didn’t rescue him. Instead, I saw myself reflected in his confused and sometimes harsh approach to my deep longing, and his eventual rejection. I came face to face with the pain of my childhood, my choices, and my own cruel, utter rejection of self.

And just like that, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

He couldn’t love me, because I didn’t.

All the bottled pain, loneliness, and rage came crashing out of me like a wild thing let loose. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, I was about to be reborn.

It wasn’t neat, tidy, or controllable. It was messy, scary, and tremendously painful. It took time to heal the wounds that had been left unattended for so long.

I became my own client. I needed saving and had a lot of healing to do. I had to learn to reconnect with my body, through yoga and meditation, and had to believe that I would not die from the immense grief, shame, fear, and pain I felt.

Instead, I had to learn see it for what it was—just stuck energy that I needed to release to be happy.

Letting go came with what seemed like an ocean of tears and unchartered anger, which I shouted, screamed, swore, prayed, talked, and physically used to punch my bed; but gradually the light started to creep in.

I began taking baby steps everyday to openly reconnect with the world and the people in it.

I also reconnected with my instincts to know what was safe or right for me; to share my true feelings about the past and present with my family and friends; and to rebuild the foundation for a secure adult life, lived true to myself.

The boogie monster hidden under my bed could no longer frighten me. The illuminating truth had set me on my path to freedom.

Gradually and over many years, I worked through resistance and acceptance to forgiveness, to make peace with my past and forgive the mistakes and harm caused by others in my life. Above all, I forgave myself for abandoning me.

Every step led me closer to falling in love with me—strong, gentle, complicated, weathered, beautiful me, and like many others, more beautiful, I now believe, because of the scars, which are part of me.

Darkness is only where there is a lack of light. I am no longer of afraid of either, and I know I am both.

I now generally live my life playing freely in the wide expanse where the two meet, being aware of me, the best I can.

Knowing that if I wander too far to either extreme, something is out of balance inside of me, and I need to give it some attention.

Sometimes I might be separating myself from the physical world, by floating too far upward in spiritual euphoria. Or I might begin to feel darker, because I’ve given too much of myself to others, and fear has kicked in to close my heart again to the love, people, and the life that is all around me and within me.

It’s a balancing act—avoiding those extremes. It’s when we master this that we can love freely and live true to ourselves.

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