Expressing Emotion

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings
English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emotions are a part of our internal make-up.  All emotions derive from two core feelings: love and hate.  Slice it how you want, all the positive feelings we have stem from a form of love, all the negative feelings stem from hate.  

I just finished reading a great book (I reviewed it – the link to that will be up within a couple of weeks) called, “Why You Drink and How to Stop” by Veronica Valli.  I was skeptical at first, but I kept an open mind and although I am over six years into my sobriety, I learned some valuable information from this book regarding emotions.

One of the worst behaviors I ever learned was “acting out based on emotion.”  Being a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve, if something made me feel sad or angry, I would act accordingly.  Likewise, if something made me feel happy or fuzzy, the addict in me would react in a positive manner and want more, more, more.

Now, human beings are emotional beings.  Duh, like I am telling you something you do not already know.   However, when we let our emotions rule us, we get into trouble.  There is no law or rule that dictates “everyone must know how everyone feels all the time.”

I will share a psychotic story from my past:

            When I was 22 years old, I was already married for six years.  Yep, I got married when I was 16.  It was part of that whole “alcoholic thinking.” As an alcoholic, I thought outside circumstances could fix the way I felt inside always.

            I had found out my husband at the time was cheating on me and I went ballistic.  Like full on rage mode:  seeing red, black, shaking, and everything else, that comes with unabated rage. Being ruled by my emotions (all stemming from hate) I decided to do what I thought was in my best interests and show him.

            So, being out of my mind (and to make a long story short) I wound up smashing my beautiful 1986 Monte Carlo into his pick-up truck.  Yeah, not smart.  This is not the best way to express emotion!  Now I had new feelings and emotions to deal with: remorse, guilt and sorrow.

           In the midst of the insanity, I thought I was expressing emotion in a healthy way!  I mean, I was pissed and needed to let someone know, right? Well, maybe… but there are healthier ways to express emotion. 

            One of the best tools I learned in sobriety is to take a moment and calm the hell down.  Just because I am feeling “some kind of way” does not mean I need to freak out, hop in my car to drive like a maniac or start throwing dishes. 

            Some of the ways I have successfully controlled my emotions:

  • Calling a sponsor or a friend and talking it out.
  • Deep breathing.
  • Chanting a mantra.  “Feelings aren’t facts, facts aren’t feelings.”
  • Journaling! 
  • Going for a walk or some other physical exercise.
  • And yes, even taking a nap.

                        I know I have brought up journaling a bit in previous posts, but writing does help.  Moreover, finding what helps (not hinders or hurts) to control and deal with emotions is the key. 

                        I still have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve, which may just be one of those character defects I have to learn to control if it has not been removed.

            How do you express emotion?

Keeping A Progress Journal

Image representing Penzu as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Keeping a progress journal is not “AA approved work” but it helped me.  As a writer, journaling has always been my go-to for jotting down ideas, writing my dreams and aspirations and detailing my day-to-day events. Journaling does not always have to be writing.  It can be doodling, drawing, cutting and pasting pictures from magazines and even using stickers.

There was a period of about a year in my early sobriety that I would cut out a meditation from “Meditations For Women” and tape it in my journal.  I would then reflect on the passage by writing my own ideas and finish it up with cute stickers on the page. It worked for me and when I went back and re-read my entries years later, it gave me hope that change is possible.

For example: on May 26, 2008 I celebrated two years of sobriety yet was still feeling insecure and helpless in a sense.  On May 26, 2010, after four years of sobriety, I could see that I was making concrete changes to the way I thought, which in turn changed the way I felt.  I had let go of old ideals and notions, replacing them with healthier ways of thinking (and living). On May 26, 2012, I celebrated six years of sobriety and still on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance of truth in my life.

Journaling allowed me to express myself without fear of being judged.  It allowed me to express ideas that may or may not be accepted by society.  Today I use Penzu, which is an online password protected website where I write my heart out.  Of course in the beginning (when it was all new and shiny) I was journaling in Penzu everyday, but like anything else in my life, the shininess dulled and I started journaling when the mood struck or I was really pissed off. I also journal when I feel elated (like when I met my new boyfriend).

Through journaling, which is really just a way of being blatantly honest with myself, I learned what I want in life, what mattered, what didn’t matter, what pissed me off, what made me happy, what I thoroughly enjoyed, what personality traits in myself (and others) I liked and disliked.  I learned that I always have the option of changing and adapting. The way I think can always be re-arranged until I am able to think in a way that leaves me feeling peaceful and full of love.

Do you keep a journal? If so, what kind?

Coping In Sobriety

Clean and Sober
Clean and Sober (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first got sober, it was pretty easy for me.  I’m not bragging, but I had hit such a low point that I figured getting clean and sober might well be worth a shot.  The one thing I hadn’t discovered in my new sobriety was ways to cope with life on life’s terms. This was definitely something I needed to figure out quickly.

See, life just kept on happening to me. It didn’t matter that I was clean and sober, or that I was trying to do the next right thing.  It didn’t matter that I was making a valiant effort to see my kids, to stay away from people, places and things or that I was working a rigorous twelve-step program.

My car still broke down, I still got yelled at by my boss and I still had (very) bad hair days.

Of course I would go into the “poor me” cloud.  “Hey, I’m doing the right thing… what’s this crap all about?” I had this grandiose sense of self (huge ego!) that since I finally started to do the right thing (after years of doing very wrong things) that I should get a reprieve of sorts and nothing bad should ever happen to me ever again.  Ever.

Reality check: shit happens. I had to deal with life on life’s terms and I had to find out pronto how to do that.

The only way I could do that was to go to meetings, be around other sober people who had serious clean time and work a good program.

I learned that drinking or drugging was not a coping tool.  It just added fuel to the already out of control fire that raged inside me.

I learned that I should start writing again and that I am a pretty good photographer.  I learned my triggers and how to avoid them most of the time.  Sometimes triggers still invaded my head space (usually when my mind was idle) and I learned that the best thing to do in that situation was to call another alcoholic in recovery. Maybe they could help me.  Turns out, I was helping them just as much as they were helping me.

I couldn’t wrap my head around that one.  How the hell could I possibly help someone with years of sobriety when I was so new? Now that I have over six years clean and sober, I know how.  Because when I talk to someone new in sobriety it puts things in perspective and reminds me of the way I used to think. I no longer think that way.

Some of the ways I learned to cope:

  • Go to a meeting. Talk to another alcoholic in recovery.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Write.
  • Go for a drive.
  • Listen to music.
  • Go to a park.

I can always come back to the problem later.  Obsessing and keeping the problem at the forefront of my mind will not help me.  And trust me, I am huge on obsession.  After all, I am an alcoholic and everything is about me.

If I had a dollar for every time I asked someone “What’s wrong?” with the presumption that it had to be something I did, I would be retired and living in my dream cabin in the mountains.

See, another HUGE thing I had to learn to cope with was myself.  I had to learn that people pleasing was not a coping tool, rather a way to mask whatever guilt or remorse I was feeling. I had to cope with that.  I had to learn how to recognize the difference between actually coping and sweeping the problem under the rug or enabling someone or using other poor methods:

  • drinking
  • drugging
  • silent scorn
  • blame
  • defensiveness
  • ignoring the feeling
  • manipulation

None of these ways worked!  These were not coping tools, these were character defects that I used to hurt people to get my way, pretending I was right (when I knew I was wrong).  Because as long as I was sure other people knew I was right, I felt better, if only for a short time.

How do you cope with day-to-day life or problems that come down your road?

The Little Things

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...
This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There comes a point in sobriety when the pink cloud of perfection and “I got this” dissipates.  Life continues to happen as we settle into our newfound freedom.  We settle back into our old way of thinking if we are not working a good program.

There will always be little things.  Life will happen on life’s terms consistently ( we can bank on that!) and it is up to us to learn a new way of coping to deal with the enigmas of life.

Slogans like, “Live and Let Live” and “Life on Life’s Terms” are important throughout our sobriety.  When we were out there, we let everything bother us. We harbored resentments over a lot of crap.  We were angry at our family, friends, the system and God.  We felt wronged and justified in our anger.

This thought process destroyed us!  It destroyed me for sure.  Some of the things that made me angry were other people, traffic, television, my mate at the time and the weather just to name a few.  It took me years to get it in my head that I was letting people, places and things control me by thinking I could control them.

This makes for one ticked off individual.  And how ridiculous is it being upset over little things we have zero control over. It is the moments of perceived loss of control that the Serenity Prayer comes in handy:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Once we realize the only thing we have control over is the way we think and that the way we think affects the way we feel, we now have a sense of freedom.

One Day at a Time

Image: givecourage.net
Image: givecourage.net

One day at a time.  Isn’t that really the only way we can live?  When we were in our addiction, we were caught up in our past aches, resentments and fears.  But that wasn’t enough.  We had to worry about the future!  What will tomorrow bring? Will I still have my job?  What about a place to live?

Since I am inherently skeptical, this whole one day at a time thing puzzled me.  After all, I was a being who only thought about what would become of me along with all the crap of yesterday.  Well, I couldn’t change yesterday and had no control over tomorrow.  Still don’t.  Never will.

Before I got sober, I remember thinking about never being able to drink (or drug) again.  That thought overwhelmed me to the point of anxiety.  How would I function?  Where would I hang out? What about my friends?  All of these are serious questions to the still sick and suffering alcoholic.

The first couple weeks of my sobriety were a rough lot.  I lived one minute at a time rather than one day at a time.  I could not think about the future.  Again, it was entirely too overwhelming.  And holding onto the past was what got me in such a shit storm.  So I focused on keeping my brain occupied.  I should have kept a journal, but I didn’t.  Instead I consumed mass quantities of Pop Tarts and watched the Military Channel.  I only left my apartment to get cigarettes.

But it worked for me.

Of course these days, I do think about the future and there are times when the past creeps in or I see something that brings back a fond (or not so fond) memory. But when it comes to not picking up, one day at a time, one minute at a time, even one second at a time is the best way to live.

How do we live one day at a time in recovery?

We go to meetings.  We get a sponsor.  We read approved literature. We talk to people in recovery (this is so important). We share at meetings (this is something I need to do more). We keep our minds occupied with things besides drinking (or drugging).

I have met so many creative people in the rooms of AA.  I have met many artists, writers and generally people who are doing what they want to do with their lives.  How cool is that?  Maybe they were always creative or maybe they found their creativity while living one day at a time.

Pushing Through

Image: faithoncampus.com
Image: faithoncampus.com

Once we realize that we are powerless and cannot get through sobriety (or anything for that matter) without a higher power, we are now in the position of knowing what to do.  There is a saying (and I am ad-libbing here): “Once you know, you can never not know.”

This picture above is also a magnet.  I saw it at Barnes & Noble one day and snatched it up.  It is on my refrigerator as a stark reminder to do just what it says. And I live by this rule in a selective way.

I’ll explain.

There are times, of course, when we need to give up.  If my car isn’t starting and I am about to crank it for the umpteenth time, I need to give up.  When drinking and drugging are leaving you feeling beaten down repeatedly.  Because doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insane.

Ya hear what I’m sayin’?

If you or someone you know is struggling with staying away from a drink or a drug (or any other addiction) the most important thing to remember is “just don’t pick up.”  Because picking up is giving up.  Picking up is giving up on your sobriety, giving up on yourself, giving up on the potential that you have!

This is something I think about from time to time. Of course, being an alcoholic, a drink will flutter across my mind like some deranged, chaotic butterfly.  It is a fleeting thought and it flutters out as fast as it entered.  Behind the thought of a drink comes all the memories of the insanity I called life at one point.  That is what keeps it green for me.  Going back to the life of hell I once lived would be insane.

Here are some ways to push through:

  • get to a meeting.
  • call someone.
  • go for a walk.
  • write.
  • listen to music.
  • pray.
  • draw.

How have you pushed through?

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