Growing up in a home where feelings were not appropriate, I learned from an early age to hide my feelings, to keep them as a secret because feelings were somehow unacceptable.
It was expected that I put a smile on my face and jump into the day, and I became very good at keeping my feelings to myself. There was never discussion about feeling sad, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious or lonely – these were “bad” feelings, and therefore I was “bad” for feeling.
In my teen years, I became somewhat of a recluse. I played my guitar for hours at night and read books into the wee hours of the morning, getting caught up in the world any book provided. This escape allowed me to ignore the fact that I felt lonely, sad and overwhelmed. I kept these secrets tucked away and showed up for life with a smile.
As a young adult, I discovered alcohol and drugs. All of my secret feelings were gone when I drank or used. It was magical.
The momentary relief from feelings became more of a need as time went on. I knew how to stop feeling. The solution of alcohol and drugs worked for a while. I could hold down a good job, make good money and a name for myself, and drink away the worry of what ‘they’ thought of me when I went home.
At some point, my solution to not feeling my feelings quit working. I needed to use more to keep my feelings at bay. I became unemployable. My solution turned on me, and no matter how much I drank or used, every feeling I had tucked away was up and in my face. I could no longer hide. I could no longer keep the secrets. I was a miserable train wreck and had no solution.
Going to a drug rehab (ie: getting sober) was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. My life was ugly. My life was messy. I was raw and had no idea how to deal with any emotion or feeling. I felt like I was drowning in a big black pool of ick.
In my early recovery, there were people who took my hand and pulled me out of that pool. I was taught to journal, to put pen to paper and write about my past and the secret feelings I was hiding. This experience was an intense and painful, but necessary exercise for me. Once my feelings were out of my head and down on paper, a new kind of magic happened. I didn’t feel the need to hide from my feelings. When I could read about my feelings, I wasn’t overtaken by them.
Working with people who could help me, I learned some tools to help me deal with feelings in a healthy way. I learned that no matter what, I will feel differently about any situation in the next 24 hours. I learned that feelings or emotions will not kill me…my addictions will…I don’t have to drink or use because of a feeling.
Some of the tools I was given to learn to live with my feelings are:
- Pause and identify the feeling
- Work to understand where this feeling is coming from
- Decide what I can and cannot do about the situation
- Pray and meditate on the solution
- Take positive action toward the solution
- Journal about the situation
- Talk to someone who can and will listen
With a little bit of practice, I have become somewhat comfortable with feeling. I now understand that feeling is a gift. Feeling tells me that I am present, that I am connected to life.
I’ve learned that not all feelings are “bad.” Just as I can feel sad or uncomfortable, I can feel joy and peace. I have felt serenity while experiencing pain and sadness. These feelings are all new and wonderful.
Sobriety has given me the gift of feeling – and feeling has given me the gift of taking part in my life, in living life rather than hiding from it.