With the BIG feelings that rise up in me, it has always felt impossible to not get caught up in their wave. Anger, fear, anxiety all prompted a full body experience of being in that feeling. Which was difficult for me to navigate, and really confusing for anyone trying to help me.
The spiral would start and I would watch myself get caught up in the whirlpool. I'd lose sight of the shore, lose my footing, and be spinning inside of the feeling. I could identify the spiral was happening. I could see that my reaction was WAY bigger than the situation called for, but in my mind, it felt perfectly justified. The feeling needed to be seen and experienced and it was a full body turn out for that job.
But this way of interacting with my feelings was a rough path to take. It was exhausting - for me and for anyone navigating it with me. Because often these big feelings would come out in other ways. Like anxiety about finances (when everything was fine), panic cleaning the house with a tooth brush (which it was also fine), or having a big reaction to what someone said. Not helpful for a relationship and certainly it didn't get me any closer to feeling like I had acknowledged the feelings screaming to be seen.
On the advice of a sage friend, I tried the crazy idea that I didn't actually have to join my feelings in the whirlpool spiral they created. I could instead take a step back and see them for the information system they were and not accept the invitation to get deeply inside. It was hard at first. No, scratch that - not getting in the spiral felt impossible at first. Why don't I just turn off my sense of smell?? That might be easier! But slowly I found I could entertain the idea. Maybe for just 2 minutes I could be outside of the spiral. And now for maybe 10 minutes I could be outside of it. Slowly, slowly, I could see a change in response.
The key, it turned out, was recognizing when the spiral had started. I had 38 years of practice of just falling directly into the spiral of feelings without a second thought. Invitation sent by my emotions and quickly accepted by my brain. Things started to changed when I had a moment of realizing this felt familiar. In the beginning I couldn't have even told you *what* felt familiar. It was more just an overall feeling of familiarity. And I had learned enough to know that familiar? Familiar was old shit. Every single time. So I could trust this. Familiar was old shit and something about this situation felt familiar.
Once I was aware that something familiar was brewing, I could consider a lot of different options. I could take a deep breath, I could choose to get in the spiral, I could go for a walk, I could numb out on social media, I could tell my husband how I was feeling. I tried to not have judgement for myself because I was already a step beyond where I'd usually gotten. And with this moment of pause, the spiral looked less appealing, the other options easier on my heart. This isn't to say I never get swept into an emotional whirlpool, but when I do, there is the potential that I can see it as outside of myself. I can save myself from drowning far from shore and start paddling back in.