I watched my mom go through something last year, something that was heart wrenching and devastating. It made her bitter and angry and changed how she saw things. What happened is her story and not important to this.
What is important and what I want to share is how watching her cope with the whole situation made me a better person. I’m very proud of her, proud of how she went through it with courage, strength, and dignity. That she made it through just by feeling what she was feeling. It gave me hope, made me want to be a better person, made me want to be my best self in times of turmoil.
Since I stopped drinking, stop smashing my life with a drunken wrecking ball I don’t have many times where life comes along and instills “the fear” in me or “the hate.” Not very often anyway. However, every now and then something will happen that scares the shit outta me or sets my insides on fire.
Because that’s life.
A curveball from left field will drop in and then I’ll have all these emotions and I won’t know what to do.
Being who I am, my brain seems wired all wrong because I know of this escape hatch I can jump through to immediately change how I feel. I haven’t considered drinking an option since I was, well, drinking but people with addictive personalities have this built-in switch that can be flipped to instantly tweak how we feel.
Having a good time? Gobble some pills and it’ll be ten times more fun. Nothing going on? Have a drink and get that party started. Feeling down? Get high and the world will go away. Having some emotional pain? Just shut down.
So way back when in the 90s the first time I got sober Jimi told me the only thing that I had to do with my feelings was feel them.
WHAT??!? Experience my emotions? That’s crazy talk.
My life plan at the very least was to be comfortable and for much of my life whenever I had a feeling I didn’t like, I wanted it to go away. I mean like right now. I couldn’t handle them so I would shove them way down where nobody could see. Including me. Then I didn’t have to deal with the surge of adrenaline, the accelerated heartbeat, the flushed face, the spinning top thoughts taking me somewhere I most surely didn’t want to go.
But there’s a side effect of condemning my feelings to my own internal hell. It leads to ulcers and outbursts. Headaches and meltdowns. The almighty pressure cooker we all know and love. You probably know this but I didn’t until almost 30: stuffing the feelings doesn’t make them go away — they go deep.
Feeling my unpleasant feelings wasn’t a skill I’d ever mastered so whenever I had them they felt a hundred times worse than they should have. And they lasted forever. And so I kept them under a rug.
One time when I was maybe 22 my first ex-wife made a joke about me to another guy when I was leaving the room. I didn’t turn around or acknowledge it. I let it hurt my feelings for close to five months before I said something to her. My insides were torn up that whole time.
So again because repetition is the key: not feeling feelings didn’t work, doesn’t work. Not talking about them puts thorns in my relationships and more.
So back to Jimi’s revolutionary concept. What does work is for me just to feel however I feel and then let it go. When I do that the feelings don’t last nearly as long and then they truly do go away.
Sometimes I feel particularly “vibrant” ones for days, or weeks, or maybe even months but their intensity fades as time goes by and I get on with my life. In the here and now I don’t rage nearly as much and not for nearly as long. About what isn’t important because I used to rage about most everything.
The other pearl Jimi gave me was “don’t make it any worse.” And I’m real good at making things worse, dumping guzzolene on the fire.
“OMG there’s a pan on the stove, it’s starting to smoke. Imma grab this rag soaked in gas and beat the hell outta it.”
I’ve been known to get in there and “fix, manage, and control” like they say in Al-Anon. But there’s nothing for me to fix because I’m not broken. And the only thing I need to manage is my reaction. And there’s nothing for me to control because controlling doesn’t work. Pro-tip: don’t try any of the above and see how it works out.
Whatever’s happening will pass and then I get to move on. Whew…
I’ve had people ask me how to “let it go” as if there’s a secret behind it. It’s a valid question and one I struggled with more than I’d like to admit. Being alcoholics and addicts we tend to think there’s magic hidden somewhere because drugs and alcohol are like the dark arts we’ve grown accustom to practicing. But brace yourself: there’s no pixie dust, no secret scrolls, no potions, no +10 rings.
What I need to do with a crisis is the same thing I need to do any other time something happens: go to meetings, talk with my sponsor, work the steps, and pray. That’s it. That’s the big holy grail.
Often there’s nothing more for me to do than the above. Other times there are reasonably sane things I can do. Talking about what’s going on with my friends is important. It’s part of the process of letting it go. Helps me figure out what’s up and what’s down. Plus, emotions are like air in a balloon. Let it out. I was never good at communicating but if I want to make it outta life alive, I needed to learn. Once I found kindred spirits to bond with, talking came easier. Practice helps, too.
And I need to see the good in people, too. Most likely they’re not out to get me regardless of what the fear tells me. When I finally did talk to Kathy months later about the joke she made, she was upset with herself (and me, too) because she didn’t know what she said had even hurt my feelings. She was just trying to be funny.
Sometimes I’ll still shut down on people or situations because I’m not a ninja here. I’m human and have been wired wrong for as long as I can remember. But I make an effort in the here and now because I know there’s peace on the other side.
We deal with life as it comes up. It makes us who we are, makes us stronger, makes us bigger. Making it through prepares us for the next curveball. Yep, there’ll be more. Because that’s life. And then we share what we’ve been through with our friends and family. And then it helps them on their journeys.
Just like watching my mom helped me.
To wind this down… When I was growing up I felt like that I was missing the user guide for living, that elusive instruction manual for life. If you’re missing yours be forewarned: there’s a long chapter on this whole feeling your feelings business in that book.
Feel the feelings. Nobody ever died from having one. Be uncomfortable as needed.