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October 21, 2022

The Cost of Catharsis: When Sharing it All becomes Too Much.

*Warning: well-deserved strong language ahead!

“Not everyone can bleed ink.”

This was something that a writing mentee once said to me. 

Of course, I validated her desire to write about the mundanities of home decor. She was a student and it was not my job to encourage her to pour her heart out onto the page (as I was wont to do back then). It was my job to nurture her in whatever she wanted to write about, but at the same time, to offer tips to make it engaging, relatable, and interesting. 

We are told over and over that a “good” writer writes from experience. 

Well, my experiences have been anything but socially orthodox. Having been raised in a New Age spiritual cult, then cementing my social identity as a high school dropout (prior to the completion of my sophomore year), then going on to becoming a teenage mom, married (then divorced), meth addict, and rounding out my late 20s and 30s as some sort of “New Agey” type teacher—I am either a living legend or a walking cliche. And that’s just the CliffsNotes version.

In the last few years, I’ve written about everything from spiritual abuse, to relationships and sex, to deeply personal childhood trauma. And I have (as my former mentee stated) bled ink all over the page. 

The truth is: I am sick of my feelings, I am sick of “catharting”—I’m fucking over myself. And now with that grand epiphany left hanging in empty air…I don’t know what to do. 

This last year has been peppered with loss and stress. I know I am not the only one who has endured hardships. The pandemic “era” (Gawd, has it only been less than three years?) has wrecked a lot of people. 

Over the last few years people have lost people, pets, relationships, jobs, homes, their sense of safety, security, trust, faith in humanity, and more. 

Sometimes I feel like humanity is a giant herd of bison being run toward a cliff. Only most of us don’t know that the cliff is imminently approaching, and at least half of us are so distracted we aren’t even aware we are running. That feeling has just become habitual—ingrained. 

As someone who has lived with anxiety for most of my life, but only really discovered its impact in the last few years, I intimately get how a person could be running full-force and not actually know they are doing it. Our nervous systems, our limbic systems—our bodies—get so used to being overcharged all the time, we become numb to it. 

Numbness can feel like depression, lethargy, and chronic fatigue. Numbness can look like endless scrolling (so guilty lately). It may look like overeating, consuming too much alcohol, or other mood-altering substances. It might look like 9,000 hours of binging Netflix.

Though numbness can look like a lot of things, the one that it most abso-fucking-lutley is not: failure. 

When we are numbing, we are most likely trying to protect ourselves. From what? From our feelings? Yeh, from our fucking feelings. No, feelings can’t kill us but they can hurt, and the human mind and body can only handle so much loss, so much stress, so much hurt at once. 

There is a reason we shut down. Some mechanism in our psyche senses that we are about to break or that we already have. 

Apparently, I’m incapable of not catharting as I’m writing. I have labeled it “cryping” and it is exactly as it sounds: cry-typing. I’m doing it now. Currently, there is so much churning in my psyche—in my life. And in non-typical form for me, I’m not fucking sharing it!

Not here. Not on social media. Not even with the majority of people who I am close to. But why?

It hurts too much. And it’s too fucking vulnerable

Me—the person who wrote about being a meth-addicted mom, about the most intimate details of a chemical abortion process, about every gawd-blessed thing that matters to me under the sun for the last few years—can’t write about this. 

And it’s not just this. I now regret writing about some of that other stuff as well. 

They tell you how great catharsis feels; they don’t tell you about how you might come to regret it later down the road. We don’t talk about how you might wind up mourning your own lack of containment or how you might hurt others in the process of your own self-discovery. That is, or at least can, also be the cost of catharsis. 

And here is my question: “If it still hurts after you have leaked your blood all over the page and exposed your pain to other people’s (shared) wounds, did you really heal?”

Is creative catharsis a lie we are telling ourselves and each other to generate income and popularity around “trauma porn” and the ever-increasing voyeuristic tendencies of our society?

I’ll describe to you in excruciating detail how I feel right now: My eyes are tear-blurred, my belly is roiling, there is tightness throughout my chest and extending down to my diaphragm. I’m a little queasy. 

You, the reader, might possibly relate. Maybe, you too, have felt nauseous with intense emotions, pinned by past guilt, or paralyzed by fear of the future. 

Does it help us to talk about it together? If I imagine you reading these words—opening your heart, touching your chest, or swiping a tear from your own eye—does it make me feel less lonely? 

Why, yes. It does. 

And I now find myself doing exactly what I said I can’t do anymore—catharting.

Brené Brown talks about how “Social media is not an appropriate place for vulnerability.” I have challenged this idea many times in the past, letting nearly perfect strangers into some of the most intimate details of my life. I was supported, or so I thought. 

But for me, spilling my guts to strangers is easier than opening my heart to the people whom I genuinely fear rejection from: an intimate partner, my family, and my closest friends. It’s not just rejection I fear, though, from those closest to me. It’s judgment and even sympathy. It all feels like too much for my system right now. 

There is a deep wisdom in “shutting down,” a wisdom that is being overridden by our “share it all” society and what (right now) feels like an almost vampiric hunger for vulnerability that has been stoked in public forums. 

Though I will never (fully) decry the power of catharsis or the deep primal and tribal wisdom of story-sharing, I also now find myself on the side of the avoidants, the buttoned up, and the prudes.

I’m feeling an intense protectiveness over my inner world, my feelings, experiences, and my relationships. 

And—like a two-year old—that wisdom is saying:

“No! Mine. You can’t have this.” 


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