Feelings

“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.

 

Sought Through Prayer and Medication

Chronic depression is a disease, as is the disease of alcoholism and addiction. No one asks for it, the causes aren’t always clear and there are a variety of methods to help to treat it. Often depression and addiction go hand in hand. People with chronic depression often self medicate with alcohol and other substances because they either don’t understand their condition, or they do and believe that they have found a socially acceptable manner of dealing with it. Depression is part of my story as well.

I sought treatment for depression in my late twenties. An abrupt change in career path brought about a time when I could no longer cope on my own and I knew that self medicating with scotch whiskey was no longer helping me. I didn’t want to go the medication route at that time as I had plenty of prejudices against psychopharmaceuticals. I went the route of talk therapy and it helped me through that difficult time and also helped me to look at various self-help programs which I applied to varying degrees of success to my own life. The therapy helped me in putting some order back into my life and the depression lessened. I was able to put down the scotch and stayed dry for the next five years.

Like any other chronic disease, depression ebbs and flows, but it is always there. After that five year hiatus I returned to alcohol, slowly at first, then back with a vengeance as if making up for my dry time. I was always trying to control it, fight it and stop, but I was losing my battle. Depression and addiction worked together in my life creating an ever deepening pit of darkness. I was only able to complete the bare minimum to survive. I would spend hours alone, playing solitaire on the computer because that was about all I could do. I didn’t want to socialize, I didn’t have the energy for it. I could put on a happy face when necessary. “I’m fine!” I’d say when asked, but inside I was alone and dying. I had enough self awareness to know that my addiction was not helping me, but I couldn’t come up with better treatment plan for myself.

After one particularly bad night, combined with a severe physical and moral hangover that lasted for two days, I found the strength to stop everything cold turkey. I don’t know where I found the power to do so, but I stayed stopped. But after two months dry,  and in a deep depression I sought out help again.  This time, I said to my doctor that I wanted medication.  She started me off on a low dose of an antidepressant and slowly increased it until I felt what I thought must be normal. It was working. I felt so normal that after six months I decided that I could start adding alcohol into the mix again. And thus began a downward spiral of depression medication and self medication. I should add that I never told my doctor that I had started self medicating again along with the antidepressants.

Time goes on, I hit my bottom and came into a recovery program. Fortunately I had a sponsor who encouraged me to talk to my doctor and stay on my prescription medication. After about two years in the program and working with that doctor, I weaned myself slowly off of the pills. I have had bouts of depressions since then, but I have been able to work through them with the help of the program.

Most of us arrive at recovery with more difficulties than our addictions. I know there was a tie-in between my depression and my consumption. Everyone is different. I encourage people in recovery to be honest and candid with their medical professionals as well as their sponsor. Many of us use various types of therapy to help us live life to the fullest and there is nothing in recovery that should hinder sound medical treatment. By being rigorously honest we have a much better chance at success in our programs.

I applaud Wil Wheaton who shared his story of living with chronic depression. You can find his story (and the inspiration for today’s blog) here: http://wilwheaton.net/2018/05/my-name-is-wil-wheaton-i-live-with-chronic-depression-and-i-am-not-ashamed/

Stepping through Fear

Fear

Reams of paper have been used to expound on the subject of fear. The more I delve into discovering more about fear, the more material I find. It is pervasive in people’s thoughts and it subtly, and sometimes obviously, colours our actions. It changes how we feel and react to others. It causes arguments and wars. It runs the spectrum from a small anxiety about say, meeting a new person, to full blown paranoid phobias that can paralyze completely.

With all fear is the sense of a threat to me, my self, my ego and I allow it to affect me, how I feel about myself and what I do. ‘What if?’ ‘Maybe?’ My ego is always telling me that dismemberment and death is just around the corner, that everyone is trying to get me, that I will disappoint and that I can never do that! Fear is my ego saying to me: “That’s going to destroy, or belittle me in some way! Avoid it at all costs!” It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, real or imagined, fear, once it’s in charge is felt the same way and will take charge.

So…What happens?

I stay in my tiny comfort zone. I don’t try new things. I miss out on experiences. I don’t trust others. I don’t trust myself. I don’t risk anything.

So….Nothing happens.

Live in the moment!

When I am in fear, I am not in the present, rather, I am in the future. I am think of what ‘might’ happen. I am in the realm of endless possibilities and I can allow my fears to stop me cold.

“You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection – you cannot cope with the future.”  Eckhart Tolle

I am learning that I will never be able to cover all the bases, make sure that all the contingencies are in place. I can’t know the unknown; I can’t project what will happen in the future.  My ego says to me that I dare not go and my faith tells me to go boldly forth. Yes faith. I am learning to trust my Higher Power.

When I look back on my life, I can see that my Higher Power has always been there. The fact that I am here today writing this is proof that I have always been looked after by something greater than me. If that is true: I am here today,  and I know it, then why would I think that my Higher Power is going to suddenly vanish and stop looking after me tomorrow?

I am finding it much easier to simply live in the moment: in the NOW and not in the future. I can face and cope with what I need to do right now. Spending time in the future can stop me from doing anything in the now. If I focus on tomorrow I am losing the beauty of today.

Some days I am more successful than others. I usually see when I am focused on fear and can do something about it, like looking at the task at hand, staying in the now. I don’t know if I will ever wipe fear out of my life, but I can open the door to let faith in. Ego may always be there insisting that there are threats everywhere. My Higher Power is always there too giving me the courage to step through fear and move forward, knowing that I can cope with whatever is happening now.

I am grateful.