Embracing Emotions: Learning How to Handle Feelings in Recovery
BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
On Saturday April 15th, 2017 my father would have been 79 years old. As I prepare to take the trek to Hagerman, Idaho to place flowers and balloons on his grave, I am busy preparing myself mentally for the journey up ahead. I am busy caring for myself – allowing myself to feel.
Preparation for such a mental undertaking has been years in the making. It did not happen overnight. I did not come to a place of peace very easily. Let’s just say the road to Hagerman is paved with years of trials hard-fought and pain hard-spent. It came with a price tag of complete surrender and plenty of opportunities to cultivate it.
From the moment I put the drink down to this very moment as I write to you, I have been in training for such a moment. I have had to learn some valuable lessons along the way. I did not fall gracefully into this position.
In the course of time it has taken me, I have dealt with episodes in my life that tested me and fine-tuned me. In the beginning, I was a raw open wound oozing with the sickness that had been infecting me for years.
I was a bottled up concoction of unhealthy emotions, waiting for any sign of the pressure to be released. When anything happened that made me feel uncomfortable or not in control, I would spin off into a tirade of mixed emotions that even I could not explain. I would act out irrationally burning bridges that I crossed in a blink of an eye. I couldn’t contain myself. I had little if any control over the emotions bursting from the seams of my tattered heart.
I had obviously never learned to handle emotions effectively, hence why I drank and used. I didn’t know how to feel nor did I want to. I stuffed me feelings deep down into the recesses of my cold dark heart.
I lashed out at anyone who was standing in my way and not blink twice. When a problem presented itself, I recoiled from it like a moth from a flame, and quickly sought refuge in a bottle or glass pipe. It was my go-to. I dared never to face the demon face-to-face. I ignored the problem hoping it would just go away. Instead, that tactic only allowed the weed that was growing in the cracks of my heart, to spread at rapid speeds and eventually overtake my very being. I refused to face the facts, no matter what they were.
So, when I got sober I was just a dry drunk with the same coping skills, minus the alcohol. Where was I going to run when I got scared or I was in pain? Where could I hide if problems presented themselves, as life does? I had nowhere to turn.
I would be stuck staring at the same blank face, tear-stained and confused. I was left alone. So I had to ask for help from others. This is the hardest thing to do early on in sobriety. I had never asked before because then I would have to let you into my life, or worse, owe you something I didn’t want to pay.
Through the years as tragedy struck and hard times fell upon me I had to learn quickly how to rebound and survive such incidents. Women in my groups, my sponsors, and friends surrounded me and set examples for me to emulate. I got plenty of practice learning how to care for myself during difficult times – because life was happening all around me just as it had been all along.
As each new obstacle appeared I became stronger and stronger. I saw through proof of survival, that I could make it through some of the most challenging things ever presented to me, all while stone-cold sober. It was very difficult. I didn’t do it gracefully either. There were a lot of mistakes and amends I had to make along the way as I learned how to navigate the treacherous waters of sober life.
But each time I succeeded I paid special attention to what had worked and I built a mental check list that I could call upon as each new challenge confronted me. As I started to become more confident in my abilities, I was able to start soaring through them seemingly unscathed and relatively unwavering.
I picked up the set of tools in spiritual tool kit that I had acquired and I used them when necessary. I learned that I needed to take care of myself first, before I could take care of anyone else. I was oh so familiar with the air mask analogy that they drill into you each time you get ready to take off for a flight. I developed skills of self care that are today very valuable to me.
I learned that no matter what happens I will be okay. I have proved it. I have survived 100% of everything that I have been through thus far. So, when the time came that I would bury my two parents within 4 months of themselves I had finally hit the Olympics of emotional pain. I took home the gold. I did not drink through it, and was even of use to others as I went through it.
I came out scarred but intact. I came out on top. Now today when I am facing things that are painful and that bring hurt to my heart, I remember what I have learned; I recall from my mental list; and I just don’t drink no matter what.
I am currently in training for the next big event to unfold in my life. I know that when it does, I’ll be more than ready, because I am still doing what has always worked for me. The methods have been tested tried and true. I’ll be ready to go to the mat.
For now, I’m ready to hit the road, leave the big city behind and find refuge in my feelings and memories – things that would have surely been reasons to escape before now bring me comfort and peace. As I lay on the cool grass that lays over my parents mortal bodies, I know today that God has me and that their spiritual bodies are busy loving me through it.
I miss my dad. I miss him a ton. But, I am going to be okay. It’s okay to miss him. In fact, its healthy to miss him. This is a truth I know and can now appreciate for what it is. Happy Birthday Daddy.
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.