OK…. I have realised what a huge mass of seething “stuff” is going on under the surface. As they say in AA (listen to me I sound like an old timer! ) The best thing about sobriety is that you get your feelings back, the worst thing about sobriety is that you get your feelings back.
And I really have
In the past I have been SO shut down from my own emotions that I have struggled to call them or realise what they actually ARE Even the easy ones, such as anger, happiness, sadness, are not so easy for me to identify … and fear ? thats actually something I can now recognise a lot, but still it often takes conscious processing to evaluate what that ‘vague’ distress is all about. The less common ones , honestly I still, ofetn really struggle to know what it is that I’m feeling. I sometimes use this mood chart to help me…
There is an even better ’emotions descriptor’ here I like this one because it allows you to think about how strongly you feel ‘something’ and roughly what category it falls into, to narrow down the correct descriptor.
I used to automatically think I was angry if I shouted (or wanted to) but the more I think about this I realise that default ‘anger’ covers so many underlying emotions for me.. fear, shame, vulnerability, embarrassment, anxiety, sadness. I’m trying hard to look at whats underneath the ‘shouting’ urge, and have become much more honest with my kids – for example “Im sorry I seem angry, in fact I’m afraid when you do X, because of Y; can you understand”
It is sometimes quite painful for me looking at what I really feel; for example – I haven’t really given Son1’s biological father much of a thought for many years. But when I started talking about this to Angela (a long time ago) some real emotions started stirring in me and I realised I felt angry, disappointed, contemptuous, of him, and also, more difficult, sad, vulnerable, hurt and let down. Admitting this to myself was very uncomfortable. Although I don’t think any of these feelings are unreasonable given the circumstance, I find it hard to sit with that strength of feeling. (which is one reason i drank, binged or spent loads of money I didn’t have) I still do find it hard if I’m honest, and I notice a tendency to lose myself in the comforting world of work where I know what to do, how to do it, and who I am …… (Thats the subject of another blog post I am sure)
The first place I got the courage to be truly totally honest (about everything) was in the safe space of Angela’s therapy room, and I reckon it took me a year. I WAS honest with my brother, with K, with my sober sister, but not about EVERYTHING all together. I think, on reflection, thats how therapy is supposed to work – providing a safe, non judgemental, space to practice thinking / behaving in a new way. Since I have felt very safe there, and since I have read Brene Browns work, I have started opening up a LOT more. The women I have met in AA have been fantastic for this. Pretty much nothing is going to shock them (well nothing I have done anyway) and the openness with which others have shared their stories and struggles with me, makes it easy to be open back.
Im not alone in this difficulty in recognising and identifying my true emotions, It seems almost universal in the addiction community (whilst actually using) some studies show that only 1 in 3 of us has the ability to correctly assess our feelings. Its important because because our emotions usually point towards deep and ingrained truths about our beliefs needs and wants. Our feelings come from our deepest desires, hopes, needs, and goals. If we don’t know what we’re feeling and why, or we deliberately drink it away (or do anyone of a number of unhealthy addict like behaviours designed to prevent us from listening to what we really feel) we will inevitably leave critical needs unmet. Then as surely as night follows day, if we can’t communicate what we need, it cannot be provided setting up a cycle of resentment, anger and unhappiness.
For me, ignoring what my soul was screaming at me that I needed, lead me to a breakdown, suicidal feelings and deeper into unhealthy addictions.
In the end, it seems to me that listening to how you really FEEL is just the first step. Being able to understand why you feel like that (sad, vulnerable, irritated) and communicate that, in a way which someone else can hear and understand, Thats how healthy relationships (with anyone) should operate. Im practicing, baby steps, trying stuff out now. I know Im doing better than I was before, because the quality of the conversations with two out of 3 children is so much improved, and the exchange of information is clearer and less ambiguous.
I just have to keep going, keep practicing and keep communicating.
Still frustratingly slow baby steps …