I could be saying how well I was doing, while the psychic megaphone over my head screamed, “Can’t you see how lonely I am?” Not surprisingly, I wasn’t drawing healthy people into my world.
When the words “feelings aren’t facts” first pierced my brain, I was hooked. My baseline was misery, so it was a huge relief to believe I was lying to myself. Over the years, I repeated this gospel, too. Until I saw it for what it was — a form of emotional abuse.
I get it. Many of us have a tendency to dramatize that we’re unaware of, largely because our addiction made life a f**kshow. But our lives continue even after we put our substances down, and the show rolls on. When my sober boyfriend of five years died, I was 24. And five years clean. The tragedy was real.
In truth, I’d barely learned to identify my feelings. My therapist had finally resorted to pulling out a chart with stick figure faces, each labeled with an emotion. “Pick one,” she encouraged. I needed that chart for a long time. When I tried to express myself in the real world, however, I had a very different experience.
“Don’t believe your feelings,” I was cheerily told as I moped around the rooms. But my emotions were the only thing that seemed solid. Even if I wasn’t great at describing them, I experienced the world through my senses. My mindscape was a constant stream of love and hate, desire and abstinence, hunger and disgust.
I tried to act the part, fake it till I could make it past this sadness, but my actual sentiments came out despite these efforts. I sensed that I was making the people around me uncomfortable. Left alone, my mind went wild. This grieving is going on too long. He was only your boyfriend. No one will ever love you like that again.
Trying to change my mind about how I felt wasn’t the same as changing my feelings. Yet ignoring my feelings and listening to my supposedly rational mind felt equally horrible. The only thing it did help me succeed at was questioning my every move. I must be doing this wrong, I’d think, vowing to hide better.
The Psychic Megaphone
There was just one problem with suppressing the truth — it didn’t work. I didn’t merely sense I was repelling people, I was. I could be saying how well I was doing, while the psychic megaphone over my head screamed, “Can’t you see how lonely I am?” Not surprisingly, I wasn’t drawing healthy people into my world. This had the added bonus of giving me something new and shiny to mull over. These people are messed up!
My feelings, I now know, were never the issue. It was the stories I told about them that caused the problem, a habit that, like any addiction, got stronger every time I did it. I turned my unworthiness into legend.
I was scared, too, that I’d be overwhelmed by my emotions. In some sense, I was right to be afraid. Overwhelm reeks of powerlessness, and when I’m powerless, I’m tempted to act out — smoke, spend, eat, f**k, drink.
I had to learn to grant a healthy to respect my feelings, to pay attention to them without reacting. This is also known as self-soothing, which many people are taught, or learn. But I don’t know of any addicts who sober up with this ability intact. I didn’t get anywhere near it for a decade in sobriety. I’m slow.
The light at the end of the tunnel is this: when we stop believing our feelings, they lose their power to stop us in our tracks.
But How Is It Emotional Abuse…?
Find out why Lisa sees it as a form of emotional abuse in the original article Recovery Myths That Can Hurt You at The Fix.