Is it Love, or is it Hate? -- Recovery doesn't beat feelings after all
It's a love/hate relationship with sobriety sometimes. Worse, it's often hard to tell between the two, to be quite honest. I mean, it's all those damn... I think they're called "feelings" and what-not... what the hell does a racing heart mean? Sweats? Shakes? Upside down stomach... what's THAT all about? And a tear?! Oh hell no...
I didn't even realize the amount of compression and stuffing I had going on as I grew up in life. What's more, it was very difficult for me to show any sign of it unless it was through either laughter, or anger. Two extremes at the opposite ends of the global-emotional-sphere I lived on. It was all I knew how to do. Or, it was all I allowed myself to know how to do. It was safer that way. Laugh first and loudest, then I can't be laughed at. Get unbearably angry, and they stay far enough away that they can't hurt me. That was my sick theory, anyway. In practice, it was far more harmful than I had recognized -- which simply fueled the Escape Train.
On a number of occasions (specifically in this case, just before my wife passed away) I remember having to deal with "stuff" head on. My wife was coming home from an extended stay in a medical facitily where they managed to save her life (for the second time), and I was putting up a tiny little shelf for some equipment she now needed. It was a chore I'd done so many times before in my past, so it should have been a sleep-walk task for me... but I just couldn't get it right.
My poor, dear mother was over that day, helping me clean and sanitize the place so my deathly-ill wife wouldn't have to be bothered by the mess a drunken man can make, and she helplessly watched as I struggled to do the simplest thing -- put a screw in the wall.
I couln't do it. I mean, I was "sober" (aka - hadn't had a drink for a number of hours), so it was something I should have been able to easily do, and in my past, it was something I could have done in five seconds. But not this day. I was stressed, hungry, and more importantly -- triggered/craving/urging/jonesing for a drink.
I slammed the drill, bit first, into the wall -- right where the screw was supposed to firmly attach but now couldn't, thanks to a drill-bit sized hole which had just suddenly appeared with THUD!. I was beyond angery at that point -- I was literally going out of my mind.
Again, my poor, dear mother.
She tried, helplessly, to assist from a distance. Wise of her to do so. And when she realized that she was completely helpless, she simply left the room in fearful tears to let me cool down.
I've always been a slow burner with a long fuse, but if the spark hit powder-keg, I was a fast, hot heat. I would go up like an explosion and come down just as fast... unfortunatly, I can't say the aftermath was as well off, although in this case it was nothing more that a drastically oversized screw-hole and a bunch of pirate-language that spewed out from between my hardened, thirsty lips.
After the flame died out, I went into the livingroom where my mother had retreated, and I saw her crying.
A normal person would feel remorse, even empathy or sympathy, towards the innocent person they've frightened, especially since they were the one that caused the discomfort to begin with. Instead, when my stomach rolled over, I simply became more angry. Don't get me wrong, I apologized, but it was an obligitory apology -- not a heart-felt one.
I really sucked when I was drenched in my addiction. Anyway...
Let's fast forward about ten years (possibly more, but we're gonna stick with ten).
I'm in recovery. When I first got into recovery, I was sure I was going to be okay with my "feelings." Hell, I'd learned a long time ago how to stuff that crap away in the tightest of places, and when they did start to ooze out -- I'd just cover it with laughter until it was smothered into extinction. Yep -- I was GOOD. Really good.
... everyone knew it. Everyone but me. What the?!
I mean, I "knew" it, right? I was doing it for crying out loud! But... I didn't know.
When I first got into counseling -- I mean REAL counseling, where I had to really look at... <gulp> myself -- I was asked a very, very strange question:
"How do you feel today?"
"What? What is that supposed to mean?" I thought. "I don't feel... anything."
"I feel fine." I retorted bitterly.
"Fine isn't a feeling. How do you feel, right now?" my counselor asked.
I honestly didn't know. I didn't comprehend the question at any level. By that point, I'd gained just enough trust in my counselor that I decided I could almost trust her, so I told her, "I don't understand what you mean, 'How do you feel.' It doesn't make sense to me -- I feel fine. I'm not sick. I'm breathing. I'm fine. "
She appeared slightly baffled at first, but recoverd very quickly and stated, "I can appreciate that. Hmm. Let's go this route -- what's happening to you physically? How does your stomach feel? Are your palms clamy? Do you want to leave the room or stay here?"
"Now that she's mentioned it, my stomach is in knots... it hurts, i'm hot, and i just want to leave -- but I'll drink if i go, so I'm going to shove it into the corner of my mind, ignore it, and stay here." I worked over the answer, and eventually I told her, "I'm fine."
Ya -- I'm still a pretty sick guy to this day... but I'm a whole hell of a lot better now than I was.
Let's zip forward a few more years...
I began to learn that our bodies react to our "feelings." Hell, that's what feelings ARE -- physical responses! And I've learned to recoginize that certain physical reactions occur depending on what's happening either around me -- or in my head. That's right, sometimes I react/"feel" when things aren't actaully happening. But the trick is to not ACT on a reaction, but rather to respond to it.
Need a slightly better explanation? I did, so I'll attempt to relay the same:
A misquito lands on my arm and begins its vampire business.
- I react: I jump out of my chair and throw it through the window, cursing at the living creature for doing the only thing it knows to do, smash it to oblivion, and then complain that the damn thing is going to make me itch until I bleed -- so I scratch the bite... until I bleed. Then I get angry about my broken window. My reaction.
- I respond: I swat, and probably flick the misquito off of me, and then do something to prevent more bites; put on clothes to cover me up, spray on some misquito repellent or eat garlic ;), and/or light a campfire or a Citronella candle (or both). My response.
This is an important distinction to make, because not only is it useful in keeping us from wrecking everything in our lives (most notibly relationships of any kind... and perhaps a window or two), it also helps us determine what feelings are causing us this greif (or joy in some cases) to begin with.
So now, I do my best to respond, rather than react.
But that doesn't really resolve the "feelings" entirely now, does it? It helps, but...
"How do you feel today?"
"Again? I hate this question." I internally roll my eyes in hidden protest. I had thought recovery would have beat it all by now -- but it didn't. It was all still here, strong as ever... nothing was simply removed.
But how I responded to the question was, "I don't know. I ran into a situation where..." and I then spilled my guts. I explain that I'm excited about a project, anxious about meeting this person, angry about what someone said to me, and happy that something nice happend to me today. I explain why my stomache was "wrinkled" and why my palms were clammy and why I was so heated.
I had, over time, come to recognize feelings. More importantly, I had come to learn how to TELL PEOPLE about them. Sometimes I still direct my feelngs incorrectly and I react, whether in frustration, happiness, worry and fear, or even love. But at least I recognize that it is THERE and that enables me to begin to respond more appropriately. Once I know it is there, it is only a matter of naming the feeling, and then sitting with it, and settling it.
This is a major step for me. It's a major step for all of us in recovery. I will guarantee on my life that every single person who is truly living in recovery will attest to this on some scale. I promise. And every one of us has made it through those "terrifiying, deadly" feelings. Recovery doesn't make them go away and just "beat it all," but it has most certainly helped me learn to respond to them differently.
Yet, I still I often wonder: "Is this Love? Or is it Hate?"
Atleast now I know it's there.