I am learning how much I have struggled with my feelings. I am beginning to understand at a deeper level how fear, shame and avoidance of my feelings led me to addiction and how at times I still try to find ways to avoid my feelings and true needs and don’t fully realise it.
I shared recently about what I learned from Jonice Webb’s book Running on Empty : Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. In the book she clearly explains through an actual example how suicidal feelings are a result of being raised in a climate where knowing and connecting with and expression our true feelings is either not allowed, or true feelings are denied or ignored, dismissed, minimised or shamed.
From the outside the home looks happy and ‘normal’ and often some siblings will escape from this kind of situation with less scars, if they are less sensitive and emotional, but the really sensitive, empathetic feeling ones suffer, often putting on a false self to hide the pain, anger or sadness inside. They then berate and turn against themselves, judging themselves harshly and against perfectionistic or self punishing ideals,standards or rules.
Other children may be lucky to find someone, what Alice Miller calls an enlightened witness who hears them or nurtures them in some way. In considering my old childhood I see how I missed out on what my other siblings had, loving grandparents. My father’s Dad was dead when my father turned 12, his mother lived in Holland and we only met her once. My mother’s stepfather (who everyone loved) died when I was only 1 year old. My mother’s mother never connected with me at all, but she cared for my sister. The sister who did try to be there for me had addiction issues herself and had a cerebral bleed when I was in my teens, my father then died and he was the one who understood me a little more than my mother, but he was still quite a harsh, undemonstrative person who hid his own feelings from himself and us.
This is my history and its a history in which I learned not to feel. I learned to pretend and I learned to turn to substances for comfort. Sobriety came some years ago but I still attracted relationships with others who struggled with their own feelings and were not that comfortable when mine began to burst out of the woodwork in my first attempt at therapy, about 6 years into recovery.
In her book Jonice gives us tools for figuring out our emotions. The key is to learn to express our emotions appropriately. When we have an upset we need to find someone to talk to about it who will offer us understanding empathy and support and model how we can do this for ourselves. Sadly many of us who have been neglected or abused find it hard to find such a person as we tend to attract what we came out of, at least until our pain gets too much for us and forces us on the path of healing.
I find in my case my emotions and feelings are often more conscious on the level of bodily tightness or pain. The work I have been trying to do over the past few years is to identify and sit with these sensations and feel into the pain or trapped feelings. It is necessary for us to accept that life does contain pain at times, we cannot just wish or will it away. Our pain or feelings are there to tell us something and if we keep ignoring what it is, our body will suffer and try to get our attention through some difficulty, pain or disease.
Failure to accept our emotions leads us to more suffering than feeling the emotions themselves. Once we develop the ability to accept and sit with our emotions our literacy grows, we don’t tend to act out as much pain, especially if we can develop a loving voice within to self soothe.
I have had a few difficult nights myself after a recent conflict in my Al Anon group. I woke this morning with a lot of bodily pain, in sitting with this and watching the pain transform into tears and other feelings, these words came to me : I feel so sad and I feel so alone. I know this sadness and aloneness is not just about the current situation but what it represents too. Feeling like I don’t belong and am not going to be accepted and loved if I am angry. I feel sad and alone as I have been told I am not allowed to express my pain in certain ways in the group, I also have to censor what I share about being involved in any other 12 step fellowship. The group is entitled to set these boundaries but they don’t suit me and end up making me feel very alone. I don’t have a lot of places to go and share and its hard to feel that I can release the truth if I am scared all the time of walking on the eggshells of other’s vulnerabilities (which I DO care about a lot) which I really feel are their responsibilities to unpack and address. However on the up side I can realise all this and in taking my feeling seriously I can act on them. I can use the good parts of the program and realise the limits of those who participate in it.
The emotionally aware part of me that is developing can see that others in the group struggle with accepting the full range of feelings too. They want to come down hard on me and force uncomfortable truths into to the silence. I just can’t do it. That is my boundary. Old me would have tried to compromise and adapt, but new me doesn’t want to. Just being able to write that makes me feel empowered, but its not a realisation I have come to lightly or without some deeply painful feelings.
Today I know that there is a way to feel less alone and sad, even when I feel lonely and sad. It is to acknowledge how I feel and hold my own hand. I don’t want to reach for platitudes such as the ones often shared in that group to deny the truth or minimise it. And I can take care of myself. Its much lovelier to have someone to share my true feeling with but I am beginning to see that is just not a realistic expectation to have of everyone and when others let me down I can be there for myself if I am truly willing to be honest with myself about how I feel. I can also accept their limits are what they need to care for themselves at their stage of recovery. I don’t have to make them bad and me good. But I do need to realise that in being me I didn’t do anything wrong and I do have a right to share and grow in the way I need to.