Wed, 16 March 2016
Originally I had titled this post, ‘What no one tells you about getting sober”, but really it’s what no one tells you about life.
In early 2011 I knew I needed to get sober. It’s a longer story, one you can read about here, but a couple months into my recovery, I realized I was going to have to face something that I had never done before:
Face my feelings sober.
And it’s no shock that many people that get sober from drugs and/or alcohol, turn to another “drug”: shopping, relationships, exercise, food, over-achieving, busyness, Internet, you-name-it. Whatever they can get their hands on to numb out with. Why? My guess is that they get sober and feelings come up. They don’t drink anymore, so they have to turn to something else to cope and numb.
We live in a culture that doesn’t teach us how to feel our feelings. There’s no class in school for it, and many families don’t talk openly about it. And even if we kind of know what to do with our feelings, rarely are we encouraged to do so. The generations before us were mostly emotionally illiterate– meaning vulnerability (which is what encouraging the expression of feelings is) is simply not fostered. Personally, I grew up in a house with a metric shit-ton of love, but when it came to vulnerability– Nope.
So in 2011 when I found myself sober, the irony was almost funny: When drinking I had my days feeling like I would crawl out of my skin if I didn’t have a drink (or 5), and then when I got sober, I felt like I had crawled out of my skin– like I was this raw person walking around bumping into everything. Emily McCombs says so eloquently about this stage:
“Snorting coke is not hardcore. Walking around feeling whatever fucked-up shit you feel, without escape, 24/7, is fucking hardcore.”
And yes, it’s fucking hardcore.
I think many of us get to a point where we feel shit come up– shame, disappointment (in others or ourselves), fear, worry, feeling like we don’t belong, *insert your hard feeling here*, and we instinctively run. Far away. Into a bottle of booze, an entire pizza, Facebook, online dating, food restricting, being busy, *insert your choice of numbing here*. We get so used to doing this we don’t even know we’re doing it. And you might think– “Well, what’s the harm? Those are SHITTY feelings! No one wants to feel those, DUH!”
Seriously, I used to say that too. And sometimes my addiction still whispers it in my ear, claiming it is the comfortable and easy solution. Like the time last year when my son was really struggling in school. Like the kind of struggling where my heart cracks open and I wonder if I would get arrested if I just kept him home all day and we just hung out and I would make sure no one came over at all, ever to talk to him for fear of hurting him. I was sitting at a stoplight and my mind slowed down and I thought, “I should have been doing more to advocate for him. I’ve been wasting time, we’ve lost time. What if he grows up to be an addict too? What if he starts drinking as a teenager like I did? What if because of my negligence in advocating for his special needs he becomes a heroin addict? I am seriously the worst mother. Gawd, I need a glass of wine.”
Just like that.
Because to BE in that place of feeling like a failure, to BE in that place of heartbreak for him is too much. My brain tells me I cannot bear the weight of this pain. My heart panics and cannot take it. Wine would make it better. It would go away.
And luckily for me, I have the tools (I’ll get to those in a minute) to see this quickly when it happens, and not drink.
But, I GET IT. I get that it totally blows to BE with those feelings. It’s raw, and brutal, and fucking hardcore.
But, here’s what I know for certain happens when we keep numbing…
The feelings don’t go away. The don’t just dissipate into the atmosphere with every sip or bite or mile on the treadmill. They kind of get shoved deeper into your body where they just wait. And they don’t just sit there. They kind of bounce around and manifest as anxiety or maybe depression for some or negative self-talk or self-loathing. And then we feel like shit and we don’t know why. The feelings don’t just go away. They fester and eat away at you. Until, one day, they have an exit point.
Feeling your feelings can be multi-layered. You may have trauma, which typically needs professional help from a trained therapist or other mental health professional. But, what I can do here is give you an example of what it might look like to get through feelings those hard feelings.
The example I gave above of feeling guilty, anxious, and afraid for my son. Because I’ve been doing this work for so long, I am quickly able to recognize that stream of thoughts and see what’s happening. This takes practice. You might spend days on end having those thoughts. Try to be mindful of it and see what’s happening. If you can’t stop them as they come, that’s okay. I want at first the win for you to know what’s happening.
Then, cry if you need to. Scream if it’s what feels right. Get really fucking angry. Say as many bad words as necessary, journal all your feelings out, write scathing letters you’ll never send. Just let it out.
Next, talk to someone who’s earned the right to hear your story. Not the bank teller, not your condescending mother-in-law, not your judgmental neighbor, not your friend that is only sometimes reliable, but someone who loves you for all your humanness and human-mess. If you don’t have this person, I know it’s hard, and you may not have this person for various reasons, but I beg you to reach deep on your courage and vulnerability and keep trying to find her.
The other thing is practicing compassion to myself. I made up that I was the worst mother because I didn’t advocate for my son enough. I didn’t do any Autism 5k’s ← Bad. I didn’t know about non-profits that had free parent liaisons ← Bad. I didn’t know what my rights were as a parent concerning his IEP ← Bad, all bad. But, the truth is: everyone falls short sometimes. In regards to my son, I didn’t know about a lot of things that were available to me because previously we hadn’t needed them.
Practicing self-compassion is just that: a practice. No one gets their yoga or meditation practice down on the first, second or third try. They keep at it over and over again and sometimes they have good days and sometimes they don’t. Same with self-compassion. But, the point is to try.
My hope is that you pull something out of this– even if it’s just knowing that you need to try to slow down on the numbing to face what’s happening inside of you. Solicit the help of your trusted friends. Know that your feelings are normal and okay. And please, be kind to yourself.