Feeling the feelings…

The emotional stunting effects of alcohol are a quick escape. An emergency exit from life. But switching off the hardships doesn’t make them disappear. They are still there waiting to be felt. The more they are blocked out the greater they become. The intertwining of alcohol and problems is inevitable. Until the fear of quitting would mean facing the deluge of repressed emotions. Initially, it felt like the waves of emotions would wash me back to the bottle and leave me to drown. But the fear was a pretence. A facade. There was no tidal wave. There were feelings. Some unpleasant and difficult. But it is learning to ride those waves that make quitting drinking possible.

There is suffering in life. Some are worse than others. Some perceptions contort our suffering. Some fight through the pain where others would quit. Escapism through alcohol or any other means presents a false reality. Of more suffering that needs more alcohol to escape. The cycle builds. Or simple things become huge problems to justify the escape. Suffering, dissatisfaction and pain still happen in life. Without alcohol to fall back on life can seem daunting. But over time resilience builds.
At thirty-two years old I was emotionally a child. My emotional intelligence had been stunted by years of refusing to acknowledge reality. It is emotions that make me human. Without emotions, I am just a husk. Without the ability to perceive reality in its rawest form I am denying myself the beauty of life. It is the wonder of the here and now that breeds happiness. It is the processing of inner pain that makes recovery easier. Life is difficult sometimes. But by acknowledging the hardships and low times as a necessary part of the process the whole process of life comes into full view.

I had to put a lot of work in to overcome the barriers that had been constructed over the years. It took years of chipping away at the wall that separated me from my emotions for it to finally fall. I remember a therapist suggested a technique. He said “imagine you are a baby. You have just been born and the nurse has passed you to your mother. How do you feel?” I tried it on the train on the way home. It was a quiet carriage. Just the rhythmic thud of the wheels on the track for company. I closed my eyes and tried what he had suggested. Initially, I didn’t feel anything but I kept trying. Eventually, I got a feeling of warmth. An inner warmth. Like a good whiskey. The wall came tumbling down. My experiences and emotions began to connect like magnets. Drawn to each other. I was no longer just a witness to events I had experienced. I could FEEL them. It was overwhelming. It was the beginning of becoming human again.

I was in an AA meeting recently and someone explained the pain they experienced at the passing of a family member. How they didn’t want to feel what they were feeling. How they wished to escape the feeling. The yearning for the deadening sensation of alcohol. But in the long term how they knew the short term pain would pass. Escapism would result in further troubles down the road. Pain isn’t nice. Especially inner pain. Emotional pain. The type that returns the morning after a night of drinking, with its friend’s shame and guilt along for the ride. The twisting of years of avoidance, pulling at the mind and gut. The only way is to accept and deal with it the best you can. That is life. That is sobriety. Being able to deal with things when they arise. And understanding when the weight is too heavy to carry alone. Sharing the burden with people who understand. That is what it all comes down to for me. I suffered in silence for years. A twisted knot of anxiety and fear. Ashamed for not getting help. Even more ashamed to ask for help. Deadening was my choice, it was the wrong choice. The fleeting feeling of escape brought about by the initial emotional block of alcohol was always exposed as a trick. Soon reality was waiting.

In sobriety, I have found a level of contentment that I would have never expected to have found. It wasn’t what I set out to do. I set out to get my life into some sort of order after the destruction of addiction had asset-stripped me. I found a level but I also found a quiet bliss. A joyful serenity in the peaceful moments of life. The ability to just reflect on decisions and experiences. No longer does the past batter me with shame. It has gone. I have made peace with it. It is now the closed chapter in the story of my life. It is the learning stage of the hero’s journey. Without it, I wouldn’t have made it here. Without the trials and tribulations, I wouldn’t have learned my strength. Without the depression and loneliness, I would never have come to appreciate contentment. Without daring to feel the feelings of life I would never have become attuned to the moment. And at this moment I am okay. Life can change like the wind and when it does I’ll adjust. That is all I can do. I’ve learned that controlling the flow of life is impossible. All I can do is adjust my perception.

Watching or reading too much news is bad for me. A bombardment of negativity creates a false perception of a world full of hatred. It exacerbates my anxiety. I accept that bad things happen daily. All I can do is try to tip the balance in the favour of love. All I can do is the next best thing. All I can do is embrace what life offers and try to deal with it the best I can. This approach was very new to me. Alcohol was my excuse for not engaging in life. Sobriety forced me to engage in my emotions and the here and now. Neither was easy. Feelings aren’t something I was accustomed to as a working-class man. “Push feelings down and carry on” was the advice given. But it can only go on like that for so long. And unpacking the bag of negativity I had filled through my life was difficult. But it was the first step on the path to liberation. It was trial and error. Learning what works and what doesn’t. It was reading and reflecting. Learning who I am and who I thought I SHOULD be. It has been a revelation. I am not who I thought I should be. Where I sought chaos and noise, I now seek peace. Give me the waves hitting a beach or the birds singing over a noisy bar any day. I turn down visits to the bar now. I don’t find them fun. I think I only went because of the alcohol anyway. Remove that and the appeal vanishes.

I see my life in chapters. Hardship, lessons, growth, contentment. From it all, I would only change a couple of things; I would have quit drinking sooner and I would have followed the guiding inner light instead of following the lights of others. I spent too much time trying to be them, the people who I wanted to be like. But as I can’t go back I am grateful for the lessons.

Today has been a good day; nothing bad happened and I didn’t have a drink. Those minor victories are more important than I ever imagined.

Charlie.

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