Actively Seeking Numb

winter forest 8442
photo: s.alt

My grandfather achieved it with alcohol.

I found it through constant activity.

I sought numbness.

I found a way to numb the feelings. To dull the anguish of self-doubt. To dull the feelings of not-being-good-enough.

The spanish have a saying “huir hacia adelante”. To flee forward.  To jump to the next thing – to run from one set of problems to another.

I spent 34 years becoming world class in fleeing forward. I was proud of my running, getting through the doors, my constant movement. I did well in school. I got to go to a good university. I got a good job. I met a wonderful girl. I filled my life with activity. I used language like “I have to go, have to work, have to finish this”. Showing people how busy I was, how much was demanded of me by the system, bosses, family, girlfriend… was my proof to the world that I was valued. Busy-ness was my badge of honour and I wore it with pride. I despised those who were not busy, who wasted their lives, who had no discipline.

Running away from demons
I was in my own nightmare where I was trapped in a large house with many rooms. I was being chased by demons. I would run to one door, grip the handle, pull hard against the door. Get it open, get through and shut the door behind. Peace of mind for a moment, but a fleeting peace. As soon as the door was closed I knew the demons were on the other side and about to break through. I ran again. Through the next room. Through to the door on the other side. I ripped it open, got through and again as I closed it knew that the demons were there again. This was my life. Getting a little ahead of the demons. For a moment. For a day. And then finding them banging at the door again. Having to run again.

photo: Simon Plestenjak

My personal demon is a fear of being irrelevant, of insignificance. It is not rational. It does not respond to reasoned argument.

I woke this morning with no sensation in my right arm. I had fallen asleep in an awkward position, and the blood flow had been cut off to the arm. It was like having somebody else’s arm strapped to my body. No feeling. No sensation. No ability to move. It is an interesting experience to shake my own hand and have absolutely no feeling. I shifted position and blood flow returned. It took two minutes for the arm to regain movement and then feeling. I had slight pins and needles for a couple of minutes.

I was seeking this numbness in my whole life. It is not just me.

You cannot selectively numb emotion
You cannot selectively numb emotion.  I cannot choose to numb grief, pain, loss, loneliness but embrace joy, love, wonder.   If I choose to numb I numb it all.  I stop fulling living.  I lose the capacity to fully embrace joy.  I lose joy and take on an existence that is miserable.  It is so important to my self that I embrace positive emotion that my mind and body will find ways of replacing the full embracing of joy with negative addictions that give some short term positive affect – eating, drinking, boasting, pretending.

My choice today is not to numb.  It is in suffering for achievement that the achievement becomes meaningful.  Winning the lottery is empty.  Playing the piano after 1,000 hours of hard work, frustration, suffering…  this is meaningful.   Giving a speech without practice…  empty.  Working hard, giving of my best, delivering the best of me…  meaningful.  Writing this blog post…  and hitting publish…  even against my fear…  ?

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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