Contrary to what our minds tell us, feelings are not facts. This a difficult thing to come to terms with because many times when we are stuck in our emotions we cannot see past them and they shade our perception of reality. If we are having positive emotions then this can be a good thing, but when our emotions are negative the implications on our daily lives can be undesirable. This is especially true someone recovering from alcohol abuse or drug abuse, as many of us tend to worship our emotions. In fact, our emotions are what drove many of us when we were out there in active addiction. When it was a good day, we wanted to amplify the effects, when it was a bad day, we wanted to be rid of the negative emotions that made it bad, and so many of us never acquired a healthy relationship to our feelings or emotions.
Once we get sober, this unhealthy relationship can continue as some of us begin to operate under the false assumption that sobriety means a mastery of emotion. Early on I had to come to the realization that recovery is a journey, not a destination, a process that takes time and effort, this was true regarding my emotions as well. Through no fault of the program, many begin to believe that being spiritual means that we no longer feel anger or jealous or sad and that if we are experiencing these emotions we must be doing something wrong. This idea stems from the fact that many of us are action driven individuals. That I would have to learn as in make mistakes and try again. It also meant that when we feel poorly, we want to take action to not feel that way anymore. This idea is reinforced if you speak to enough people who are also sober and working a program. Though they mean well, if you tell them about how you are having a bad day emotionally, they will give you actions that you can take in order to not feel that way anymore. Sometimes this is helpful, as we alcoholics can tend to get stuck in our negative emotions for far too long, but other times we just needed someone to talk to and were not looking for a solution to our problems.
“… after being sober for a while and going to therapy for substance abuse I learned that not only was it okay to feel my emotions but that just because I was feeling some way did not mean that those feelings had to shape my reality.”
The reality is that emotions are neither good nor bad and as human beings we are not exempt from feeling the gamut of emotions that come from being alive. I sometimes believed that because I was sober I was now above all of this, and that I no longer would have to struggle with my emotionality, because I was given a set of spiritual tools that excused me from this. This, however, was not the case and after being sober for a while and going to therapy for substance abuse I learned that not only was it okay to feel my emotions but that just because I was feeling some way did not mean that those feelings had to shape my reality.
This was a difficult concept to accept at first, as I had spent years subconsciously berating myself for my emotions. Any time that I felt bad I would repeatedly tell myself that there was something wrong with me, and even worse, if I was feeling good there was always a nagging feeling that I was undeserving of such emotions. With the introduction of the idea that it was not only okay but also healthy to experience my emotions, my relationship to my emotions began to change for the better.
Let’s say one day I was feeling angry because of something. Taking what I had been taught in AA to the extreme, I would analyze why I felt angry, analyze my part in my anger, and then immediately move towards attempting to thwart out my anger. In all of this I never allowed myself to actually feel angry and so the anger was never really dealt with, but rather was just suppressed and then superseded with feigned-spirituality. I would use a spiritual bypass to exempt myself from the emotions. By placing judgment on my emotions I actually made them worse and the more that I attempted to not deal with them because I felt they were wrong, the worse they would get.
“I actually give myself permission to throw a temper tantrum in my head usually but nonetheless I put a timer on for 10 minutes and move forward.”
What I came to realize through therapy for substance abuse was that I was not exempt from emotions just because I was sober, or because I had spirituality, I, like every other person on this planet, had to deal with my emotions. This gave me the permission to finally start to feel my emotions and deal with them. What this means for the same scenario above, is that when I get angry, I get angry. This does not mean that I completely blow up and freak out on people, but I allow myself to feel angry. I actually give myself permission to throw a temper tantrum in my head usually but nonetheless I put a timer on for 10 minutes and move forward. See, anger is not in and of itself a bad thing, as long as it is handled healthily. Allowing myself to feel angry when I was angry, gave me the ability to deal with my emotions and not judge myself so harshly for them.
This idea of feelings not being facts and that is okay to feel my emotions also unlocked another secret for me. Over the years, I noticed that at certain times I would not react to situations how I felt that I should react. In certain situations that I thought I was supposed to feel sad, I wouldn’t be and because of this, I would believe that there was something wrong with me. I would place judgment on my non-emotions, not realizing that I was feeling exactly the way I was supposed to feel.
“By learning that my emotions are neither good nor bad and that it is okay for me to feel them has removed a lot of guilt and shame that I carried with me unnecessarily in my life.”
Emotions are strange and they sometimes don’t come how or when we think they are going to. For instance, sometimes someone experiences a break-up of a relationship and it isn’t until a month later that they begin to feel sad about this. This does not mean that they are wrong or the relationship was wrong, it just means that is how and when their emotions decided to express themselves.
By learning that my emotions are neither good nor bad and that it is okay for me to feel them has removed a lot of guilt and shame that I carried with me unnecessarily in my life. When emotions bubble up I watch them, making sure that I don’t completely give in to them and allow them to pass like everything else that is transitory in life.
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