Confronting Avoidance

Written by Erica de Belen
Art by Daniil Onischenko

Unfortunately for me, I have mastered the art of avoidance. It can look like any of the following: 

  1. Scrolling endlessly through Instagram. Watching reel after reel on crochet projects. Saving 10 second videos of dessert recipes I want to try. Sending videos of cats to my brother. Or videos of babies. 
  2. Studying late into the evening. Reading a book for self-betterment but, truth be told, not understanding what’s going on. Saving studying techniques on Pinterest. 
  3. Discovering new artists or bands to listen to. Searching for new books to add to my TBR list. Rewatching childhood shows. 

I notice myself falling into one of these rabbit holes whenever I sense a huge difficulty in the road ahead of me. Rather than charging straight into the onslaught, I take several detours to avoid whatever it is I wish to avoid—school assignments, thoughts of insecurity, the feeling of distress. Anything that causes discomfort or a disruption in my peace, more often than not, I go about my day as if it were not there. At times when I do dive into distractions, I notice displeasing thoughts or emotions naturally going away—as if everything was just a silly, little idea that popped inside my head. Most of the time, however, I notice those dreaded thoughts and emotions rise back up to the surface again. I know that the only way to break free is to sit with what makes me uncomfortable, but continuing to avoid it seems much easier.

Recently, I have been lacking the energy to do anything productive. I don’t have the focus, either, to consume any sort of media that’s longer than 10 seconds. In the middle of the current storm in my life, I’ve been falling into the first category of avoidance—which I like to call the No thoughts, head empty, sort of coping mechanism. It’s the easiest way to cop-out–to avoid myself. If I’m continually distracted, I don’t have the chance to dwell on thoughts or emotions. 

Whenever I go through a season where avoidance takes over, it feels like a fog is settling upon me. I have visited Baguio City several times—a place in the Philippines where the fog sweeps the whole mountain in its glory. We’re careful to drive when it rains. The long, twisted, roads are dark and slick, and to make matters worse, the fog has a tendency to be impenetrable. Zero visibility. Although the city is surrounded by pine trees and steep hills, the place is incredibly well-lit with its neon 7-eleven signs, inns to spend the night all right next to each other, and the street vendors with their white lights. But once the haze seeps in, they become lost; almost like a distant memory. 

At the back of my mind, I know the lights never left. Yet, the reverie seems unbreakable. These days, here is where the trap lies: Once I start my avoidant patterns, it is much, much harder to get out of it. I am covered in a haze that seems impossible to get out of. The light leading back to life seems out of my reach.

Unlearning, I realized, is a part of life. It’s a difficult thing we have to face. Often, we think that it’s too late to unlearn our harmful habits. When we picture the end goal, we raise up the white flag of defeat. How can you reverse what has been ingrained in everyday life? How can you undo what’s always been? 

Undoubtedly, the first step is the realization of another important question: I cannot stay here forever, can I? 

It’s time to confront my Non-Confrontational self. But instead of procuring a big picture, I’m learning how to take things one step at a time. One day at a time. Slowly integrating myself back into what is real:

  1. There’s beauty in sitting there, with all your emotions, all your thoughts. Every piece of baggage, every piece of you. 
  2. There’s beauty in the ugly journal entries. There’s beauty in sharing emotion with another. You don’t have to always share the best version of yourself. 
  3. It is alright to think, to voice out your thoughts.

One last note to self: Look at trouble in the eye. Allow your gaze to pierce through the fog. Keep on going. Keep on going.