“The great part about recovery is that you can feel again. The lousy part of recovery is that you can feel again.”
My goal, when I was still in my disease, was to numb the feelings that flowed through my head. I wanted to escape how I felt about myself, about others and about situations. I couldn’t deal with how I was feeling so I tried to eliminate them completely. Loneliness, depression, fear, anger and resentment were some of the stronger feelings I felt more or less at any time and often in a combination of two or three. I had only one way to deal with them, and near the end, even that didn’t work. I didn’t know how to live with them. I guess I missed that course in life: Dealing with Feelings.
For the first three or four months in recovery I was on the proverbial ‘pink cloud’ where everything was wonderful. Then it hit me. I had started to work on Step Four and I was realizing all of my defects of character. As the saying goes, a sober horse thief is still a horse thief. I might have been in recovery, but I was now a ball of emotions and feelings that I had to learn to manage. I had begun to feel again. I remember going on a bit too long at one meeting. Afterward, another member asked me it I had a sponsor. “Of course I do!” I replied somewhat proudly. “Maybe you should use him,” suggested the member.
It was in the heart to heart discussions with my sponsor that I first started to learn that to deal with feelings I first had to accept them. Using examples of his own life, he showed me how he worked through those strong feelings in early recovery, just as I was doing: by working with his sponsor, by talking about them and by discovering their source, the ‘exact nature’ of those feelings. Why was I angry? Who or what was I angry at? Was there threat to me? What can I do to diminish my feelings of anger? I learned how to do the same with other feelings as well.
Analysing my feelings helped to diminish their strength and power. I learned that I needed to acknowledge what I was feeling and where it was taking me. I didn’t have to allow the feeling to take me into depression or loneliness, anger or fear. I had a choice. My feelings didn’t have to dictate my reaction. If I was lonely, I could go meet a friend or pick up the phone and call someone. I didn’t have to wallow in loneliness, allowing it to spiral me downward into deeper and deeper sadness. Often I would just get on my motorcycle and drive and drive and say the Serenity Prayer over and over until I felt peace replacing the strong feelings that threatened my recovery.
My life is manageable today and I lived more in tranquility than chaos. The frequency of those strong feelings is diminished. Strong feelings still do come up but not as often and I know that I can’t avoid them. I have to deal with them. It’s my choice when I do so, but sooner rather than later works for me and frees me to enjoy my life and not be burdened by it. I am grateful.
I recently read a book that lead me to watch a documentary on the building of Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral being built in Barcelona, Spain. As I looked at the structure, the columns, the soaring spaces within and the pinnacles without I couldn’t help but wonder what might the thoughts of its creator architect, Antoni Gaudi, have been as he was dreaming it up. Did he imagine when he was first putting his pencil to paper that the building would take well over a century to complete? That he would never live to see it done? That the plans would be destroyed along the way and others would have to interpret how he intended it to look? That money would have to be raised not from within the church but from private funding in order to build it? If he had focused on that, the first shovel full of dirt wouldn’t have ever been removed. Is the end result of the cathedral, which is scheduled to be finished in 2026 going to be exactly like Gaudi envisioned? No. Along the course of construction materials had to be changed, technologies changed and innumerable things had to be reinterpreted. That doesn’t make the results any less spectacular. Even in its unfinished state, it attracts millions of visitors every year who marvel at the results of Gaudi’s vision.
It’s so easy to be negative, a pessimist, or a party-pooper. I can always look around and find things that are wrong or aren’t going well. I’m not sure why. When someone is positive and bright about the possibilities of the future there always seems to be someone who will say they ‘aren’t being realistic’. Why do we consider that the negative result of something we’re working toward is more real than the positive? Why is failure more ‘real’ than success? Why do so many people think that it’s unrealistic to have an attitude that things are going to work out?
I think it has to do with expectations. In life there are many variables and few guarantees. The pessimist loves to focus on those, the things that ‘might go wrong’, the people who will ‘let us down’, and all of the possible things that might fall short of the ‘perfect’ result. I’m coming to learn that it’s the ‘process’ that is the important part of anything we do, not the results that matter. Another way of looking at the saying: “It’s the journey not the destination that matters.” Life consists in meeting the challenges and solving the problems that we face, not lamenting that the path is uneven and rocky.
We need dreams in order to move forward. We need to focus on our visions of what can be and work toward those things. We live and work in the present to make those dreams a reality. The pessimist and the party-pooper often don’t even begin a project because the results might not be exactly as they expected they should be. Push ahead. Today’s dreams will only ever become tomorrow reality if I work toward them.
A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown. -Denis Waitley
Dream! Plan! See a future that you want for yourself! What are your hopes and aspirations? What are your goals? Where would you like to see yourself in five years? Ten years?
What? You don’t see it as possible? Then you haven’t looked around you. Miracles happen, wishes come true and dreams are realized because people make them. I sit in a room full of people who had no dreams and little hope and here they are clean and sober and living lives beyond their wildest imagination. I can read online everyday success stories of people who came out of abject poverty and yet created a completely new world for themselves. The skyscraper you see glittering in the sun or the castle overlooking the valley were once dreams in the minds of their creators that have now been realized.
Not possible for you? Then you don’t know the process for fulfilling a dream. As addicts and alcoholics we spent hours solving the problems of the world and sharing with everyone who had the patience to hear what we might have done and what we were going to do. Unfortunately we never picked ourselves out of the gutter or got off of the barstools to make those ideas come true. We came back to the same place day after day and said the same things over and over again. If we do thing same things we get the same results. No one has ever married the person of their dreams, bought a house on a tropical island, written a book or fulfilled any dream by sitting on the barstool. You have to step away from what is and walk towards what can be.
Fulfilling a dream takes work. It takes patience. It takes humility. People often tell me that they wish they could live in the rainforest near the ocean as I do. I tell them that they can do so if they want to. “It’s not impossible.” They reply that they can’t, they have a job and family and a mortgage. What they are really saying is that they don’t want to risk a change of what they have to get what they want. They might like the idea of stepping out of their comfort zone, but they really don’t want to make the necessary changes. They don’t want to do the work needed or the time to do it so it’s all really just pie in the sky. What they are really dreaming about is finding a genie in a bottle or a visit from their fairy godmother.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Chinese proverb.
I’ve learned in my program of recovery to enjoy the moment, live in the present and trust the process. And I can still dream. I am learning not to live in the future, rather work toward it. If I want a sober and clean life it begins one day at a time and gradually the days begin to add up. At first it’s difficult. It’s change from the norm and out of my comfort zone. With the Twelve Steps, it gets easier. I have to do the work. My dreams are the same. I have to work at them. I have to take that first step toward them today and another step tomorrow. And it all starts by stepping off the stool.