Two ends of a spectrum; two ways to approach feelings when possibly there is a middle way.
As the adult child of an alcoholic I suffer from both frozen feelings and dramatic excess. I know how to emote even when I don’t know how to feel.
Early in recovery I heard the phrase “feelings are not facts.” It helped me with panic, with fear, with anxiety, with the overwhelming sensations I would get when thinking about the future, and with the dread of dealing with the past. At first I used this phrase to discount my feelings, to intellectualize them, to say “this isn’t happening NOW so the feelings shouldn’t exists”. I sent my feelings underground. I missed an important point. The feelings were VALID; they were NOT signals informing me of immanent danger which was how I experienced them. They WERE signals; that something was going on, that if I could find someplace safe, some emotional sanctuary I could investigate them. Understanding that the feelings were not ACTUAL events helped me bring them to the right size. KEY POINT : the right size. I still had feelings- they were less dramatic and chaotic.
Later, I came to think that evidence of a “successful” recovery was to have only positive feelings; feelings of safety, sanity, of confidence and compassion. If I was sad it meant I wasn’t practicing the principles. If I was fearful is meant I had no faith. If I felt anxiety it meant I had issues with control. If I felt resentment it meant I was lacking acceptance. Every negative feeling indicated a failure to be following my program well. There were times when I was ashamed of expressing my feelings; I didn’t want anyone to think I was “doing it wrong”. It took time, but eventually I became a REBEL AA chick and told it like it was– unlovely, painful and difficult. That helped me heal. From frozen feelings, to feelings too big to be dealt with, through denial to expression, feeling them and letting them go.
I later chose a career where being together helped others feel safe. I led classes, had private students, and wrote. I still do. I back-slided to an old way of dealing with feelings. I looked at my job as something special; these are situations in which I felt my personal condition needed to be in balance and “resolved” without leaking emotions or states of being that would distract from the work with my students. I had to have edges in place so that you, the student, could feel secure in finding your feelings and boundaries. This meant, I thought, that none of my feelings could be expressed publicly or show in any situation where my student might see me.
I fell back into the intellectualizing of my feelings, discounting them through mental machinations of “understanding” rather than processing. This helped to put them aside so I could “do my work.” It was not healthy. Left in the dark they had an impact on my life and decisions even though I was not admitting to the emotions. They would come out… some way, somehow.
The danger came when I found myself practicing “spiritual bypass” as the way of setting feelings aside. I meditated on feeling neutral, I used my mind to rationalize, reason and denounce my negative emotions. I didn’t take the time to investigate, love, accept and process anything that would stand in the way of being in service. I truly felt that if I “put it all in neutral” that I would serve people better. Eventually, I choked. I am too healthy now to go long with FROZEN FEELINGS. I do come back to treating myself as I would a dear friend and advise her to let go, to give in, to feel. That there is NO SINGLE RIGHT WAY to process grief, memories, anger, sadness, loss or any one of the other many emotions one visits in a full life, a life lived fully.
I came back to seeing myself with compassionate eyes.
And then my sponsor died. My grief and sadness were stuffed down for a days. I had known the end was near. I knew she was ill and it was her time to go. “Just not yet” was the phrase that came to mind over and over. I wanted to write, I wanted to cry, I wanted to be aware of a VOID- but nothing came. I felt distracted, I felt tired, I felt unfocused and cross. I was worried that I was either suffering from frozen feelings OR that I had been practicing spiritual bypass, that somehow I was not grieving right.
I paced around inside myself thinking “What the heck!” and then it came to me: “This IS how I grieve!” It was this way with the passing of my father and of my mom, and in may passings since. I didn’t cry out loud, I didn’t become inert and devastated in a dramatic way, I just came “unglued” not is a big way, not so that you would notice, but in a deep and frightening way inside. I lost internal edges, and have the feeling of being unmoored, untethered, adrift.
I became ME without YOU. The void was there- this feeling WAS a fact. And I didn’t want to circumvent the feelings by becoming neutral. Not frozen, not bypassed, and not discounted. This is how I grieve. And it will take as long as it takes.
(Read more about feelings in this Psychology Today article.)
Kyczy Hawk E-RYT200, RTY500 is the author of “Yoga and the Twelve Step Path”, a leader of Y12SR classes, and the creator of SOAR(tm) (Success Over Addiction and Relapse) a teacher certification training now available in an ONLI
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