In early recovery, I was often told, “Trust me, you’ll feel better soon”, or, “I know this is hard, but I promise, you’ll feel better soon.” I lived by those words. I was so shaky, ashamed and scared. I felt awful. I desperately hoped the non-stop physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual suffering would stop. I wanted so badly to feel better, physically as well as emotionally. I tried each and every day to focus on those words of reassurance and deny what I thought and felt inside. I held tight to the recommendations of my recovery role models, the encouragement from my friends and family outside the rooms of recovery and my own willingness to get better, hoping eventually I’d feel better.
And eventually I did, but not in the way I had expected. What began to happen was I started to feel my feelings better. I started to feel happiness better, I started to feel anger better, and I started to feel sadness better.
Although this sounds like a play on words – feeling my feelings better - the point is, in order for me to experience healthy recovery I had to allow myself to actually feel what I had long been trying to deflect, change or control.
For example, during the Christmas holidays my emotions would always kick into overdrive. No matter what age I was, I would become completely nostalgic. I’d think about stringing the lights with my dad, hearing my grandfather whistling a holiday tune or sitting at the top of the staircase with my brothers and sister waiting for my Dad to tell us Santa had arrived. I’d get excited to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with my family or maybe catch an old Charles Dickens movie by myself. As I got older the holidays stopped being those experienced as a child. They became strung by addiction instead of lights and wrapped around bottles of wine with little food instead of gifts presented with love.
I won’t lie, those first few winter holidays in recovery were difficult. I couldn’t stop focusing on how sad, angry and frustrated I felt for all those Christmas and New Year holidays lost in the blur of addiction. In those early recovery years I had difficulty fully embracing the magic of the season. To be honest, I really wanted nothing more than to get through the series of events, wishing they would just be over....