If you were to take a poll of all recovering alcoholics/addicts and asked how they initially got sober, then made it through the first year without relapse, my guess is that no two answers would be exactly the same. Of course, right? While there may be similarities in the tactics and methods employed, each individual has a unique set of demons that drove her to anesthetize in the first place. The cliché is apropos – one size does not fit all – especially when it comes to letting go of an addiction. However, there is one constant, one fact in particular, that IS the same for most people… consciousness.
When I refer to consciousness, I don’t simply mean the state of being awake. I’m referring to feelings. You know, those pesky emotions that plague us as human beings. The ones that cause physical reactions in our bodies like blushing when embarrassed, tears when sad, some even turn purple if angry enough! (Don’t laugh. I’ve seen it.) We have spent decades trying to perfect the art of being stoic. We were taught at a young age that showing emotions is not okay; it makes you appear weak, out of control or even a little coo-coo. So, being the compliant and ever-pleasing group that we are, we quickly learned that emotions are bad and we must avoid them at all costs. So, we unconsciously walk around with a deep-rooted and debilitating fear of feelings. Not that anyone could blame us – feelings, at least the unpleasant ones, suck! Let’s find a way to get rid of this! (Subconsciously, of course.)
Enter drugs, alcohol, over-eating, starving, hoarding, going without, lethargy, compulsive exercise, greed, narcissism, etc. In excess, not only do they become physical addictions, these actions serve to distract our minds so that we don’t have to feel. We will literally go to any lengths to avoid emotional pain. It’s like we have a gaping hole inside of us and we keep trying to put band-aids on to hold it together. Sure, alcohol, drugs, food can temporarily quell painful emotions, but until the gaping hole is exposed and allowed to heal, these uncomfortable emotions will continue to arise as will the need to push them back down with our “drug of choice.” …and hit, “repeat”.
Sometimes, There Just Aren’t Enough Band-Aids
You’ve heard of a “dry drunk” right? They have managed to quit drinking but haven’t addressed any of the underlying reasons they drank in the first place. (Gaping hole still intact.) Some of us will even “switch” addictions. For example, we quit drinking but now can’t stop eating or stopped doing drugs but started having sex with random strangers or gambling incessantly. This subconscious drive to numb our feelings is what keeps us in a constant state of distraction – completely disconnected from our emotions and our bodies. It begs the question… “What are we so afraid of?!?” They’re just feelings. They won’t kill you, right? Well, technically, no. But ask any Joe Schmoe off the street if he wouldn’t mind exploring the deepest, darkest, most hidden parts of his psyche and then just sit through whatever comes up… Yah. That’ll happen.
Our Own Personal Set of Instructions
We have become so adept at ignoring, masking, stuffing, squelching, and stifling our emotions that we can no longer hear the still, small voice inside us. Soul, Conscience, Oneness – that internal mechanism that causes a physical reaction in our body in response to certain external stimuli. It lets us know when a situation doesn’t feel right or that we probably should not make that purchase, or trust that person, or get in that car, or… Emotions are our moral compass of sorts. They tell us exactly what we need to know. There’s nothing worse than realizing after the fact that you should have listened to your gut feeling. If we can learn to embrace our emotions and listen to our still, small voice more often, we will begin to trust and rely on ourselves more. We will find that we are more aware and attentive to our own needs as well as the needs of others, and we will likely feel more capable and confident all around. So, the next time you feel an emotion stirring up inside, try to wait a few minutes before grabbing a band-aid. Your intuition is probably trying to tell you something.