Feeling was new to me before I entered sobriety. Most of my life had been spent pretending to be who you wanted me to be or wearing a mask that I felt helped me belong or hide. Or numbing the fuck out to avoid feeling.
All of that changed when I got sober. The intensity and the amount of feeling was overwhelming, on the daily. I hear people say all the time that this “pink cloud” exists in early sobriety; a time when apparently you are so happy to be sober and excited about changing your life that everything is rainbows and unicorns.
I never had a pink cloud. If I had any kind of cloud it was storm clouds, wreaking havoc in my life, but essentially teaching me what being human without substances in my body is really like. The first few months I was hit hard with some very scary truths, I was codependent in most of my relationships, my ego fed on manipulation and a forced sense of control, and I allowed other people’s emotions and reactions to dictate who I thought I was. In truth I had no idea who I was. The only thing that was certain is that feeling is painful, especially when you have practiced not feeling for 33 years of your life.
I began to gain clarity as I worked the steps and looked to my mentors for advice. I started seeing a therapist regularly. I began to slowly walk into my shadows, a baby step at a time, to unravel and untangle the stories of my past that shaped my adult life and alcoholism.
I learned that boundaries create more freedom in life. I learned that beneath my shame, fear, and anger there was a potential for peace. I learned that I am powerless over people, places, and things, but I do have power in my choices, my reactions, my words, and actions.
I learned that I am not alone, that my higher power can inform my choices, reactions, words and actions if I allow it to.
About nine months into sobriety I woke up one morning and I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t resentful that the sun was shining and that I had to get out of bed. I wasn’t worried about the things I hadn’t finished yesterday. I woke up and felt “ok”. I don’t know about you, but I had never felt ok in my life. This was new, it was a feeling that lay in the space between the extremes of feeling like I was everything or I was nothing. I was ok.
Like all things in life and recovery, more was revealed. A little time after I got my two year chip life happened. Events took place in my life that created a vast hole of sorrow and despair. I fell into a funk. I labelled it depression.
The sadness continued. I thought about drinking. That always seems like the easy solution, cunning, baffling, and powerful, right? That tape when played to the end always ends in misery. I stayed sober. I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist, thinking maybe medication could help. I work in behavioral health and know enough about mental health to know major depressive disorder and other varieties of depression are real, and that there is help available when sought.
I prayed, I meditated, I went to meetings and talked to my mentors.
My higher power intervened and in a moment of clarity I realized that I was authentically sad. That my reactions to the events in my life were warranted, things were really shitty. The feelings of betrayal, grief, and disappointment were REAL, coming from adult, present day, sober me. Not some manifestation of an old story or trauma that happened earlier in my life.
I allowed myself the space to feel. With this awareness, I moved into the space of acceptance, that my feelings are genuine and deserve to be honored. I allowed a soft, tender space for sadness, grief,betrayal, and disappointment to be seen. This acceptance created freedom and room for action, to take the steps necessary for me to maintain my healthy boundaries and self-respect in an honest, no bull-shit, no manipulation, no victim, no martyrdom manner. Just facts and reality.
I am on a life-long learning curve, unlearning the tools for survival that brought me to sobriety and learning, maybe for the first time that I deserve a life of contentment, respect, and joy.
My path today is feeling all the feelings and with interest and curiosity; exploring if they are coming from present day, sober, capable me, or if they are a story from my past that wants to keep me small, safe in my self-constructed prison of fear and inadequacy.
First I had to let myself feel anything. I had to stop using to allow that reality to unfold and become available to me.
Now, I get to examine that reality. Is this real, my feelings and emotions? Is my reaction to the current situation warranted, or is some ghost that lives within me running the show? And now, how can I be present in reality, honoring my humanness, my flaws, my imperfections, and thank God for all of it?
Sobriety is hard. I’ve often heard, my worst day in sobriety is better than my best day drunk. Sure, I had some fun times drunk and high, but none of that was real. From the beginning, it was a way to escape.
I want reality, I want to be present in my pain, and in my joy. I want to be clear headed enough to discern what works for me and what doesn’t, then take action that facilitates me co-creating, with my higher power a life of meaning and purpose. Even if that action means waiting, not-reacting, or walking away. Even if that action means feeling all the feelings with such an intense vulnerability that it makes me uncomfortable. Especially that.
I want to be ok with whatever life throws at me. I want to be ok with not being ok, to remain present even in my discomfort.
Recovery has taught me that every experience is an opportunity to let my humanity serve me, to teach me and to guide me towards growth, that I can be ok with feeling all the feelings.
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