I spent many years trying to hide from my feelings. I used to drink because of, at, and around my feelings. I drank because of your feelings about my feelings. Trust I understand the desire to escape, and the compulsion to “fix” negative feelings of others.
We don’t want our friends to feel sad, and their sadness affects us…but feeling is part of life. Feeling is required.
When I was newly sober, I was grateful for the busyness of distraction. A redirect was definitely necessary upon my debut onto the non-alcoholic scene. Besides the fact that I was 22 years old, there were just so many things I couldn’t imagine doing or feeling without the guaranteed promise of relief.
When I started drinking, it was comforting just to know I had that tool in my pocket. Quite quickly, it became my favorite escape and then my only coping skill. The only reason I stopped drinking, was that it stopped working for me. Problems felt exaggerated and less manageable when I drank. I started to feel more; which defeated the purpose.
It was important that I find new ways of coping that didn’t land me in a dark corner of a local bar crying into a beer bottle. I had to reprogram my brain and learn to sit in discomfort. I had to figure out how to self-sooth and regulate my emotions. I had to practice not drinking to escape just as vigorously as I had practiced drinking to escape.
It has been my experience that even the most benign coping skills can become unhealthy. Putting my feelings on the shelf until “later,” even to help others, almost killed me. After a decade of programming, I was hurting in ways I could not make sense of. I had been through process and I was paying it forward and helping as many women as I could.
I found myself ten years sober, feeling unique in my humanness and very alone. Once again, I hid behind smiles and laughter, because it was so worried it would appear I wasn’t working my program hard enough.
To magnify this fear, on the off chance I did feel comfortable sharing my feelings, I was asked what I wasn’t doing. Had I prayed about these things? Meditated on them? Asked God to remove my defects? Was I slacking on inventory? Thinking more of myself than the pain of others?
These conversations began to feel like swift kicks my chest, and I stopped sharing. Thank Christ for amazing therapists who value and honor the human condition.
Every week, I sat with him and shared my secret feelings and concern they were proof of some moral delinquency. They didn’t track with an amazing relationship with God and over a decade of recovery.
The response was epic.
What would happen if I stopped “shoulding” on my life and experiences, and simply allowed myself to experience them?
I couldn’t answer. The question was not presented in a language I could understand. Just feel?? It sounded dreadful…and dangerous. If I felt too much, I might drink. If I drank, I would die…wouldn’t I?
He asked me WHY I thought and felt those the feelings that were keeping me hostage, and I answered honestly. It was my “disease” trying to lead me back to a drink. It was just my, “alcoholic brain” messing with me.
The good doctor assured me the feelings I was having were not alcoholic, but in fact human. They were not unique to people struggling with substances or any other malady. They were not resulting from disease. They were sprouting from trauma.
These feelings could not -would not – be cured or settled by whatever means I had been using to combat my drinking problem. The only way to work through the feelings was to work through the feelings; which meant I had to feel and deal with them. It was only through that process that I could heal.
When I see someone hurting now, sober or not, my first reaction is to meet them wherever they are and just be there. My job today is not to fix anyone’s feelings or distract them from feeling. It is my job as a friend to listen and support. I will not direct anyone to a passage in a book or suggest a distraction. I will simply offer my unconditional love and make sure they know they’re not alone.
It’s okay to feel today because it’s not the feelings that will kill us. It is hiding the feelings or feeling alone in them that is dangerous.
If you are hurting, feeling alone, or overwhelmed with a situation, please share it with someone. Even if you post it here anonymously…let us help. Let us assure you that you are not alone, and that your feelings are normal. Having feelings is normal.
Whatever the fuck normal is…