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You Can’t Unring a Bell

“You’re being too hard on yourself.”

There was a time, really not that long ago, when the statement above would have been met with resistance on my part.  My instinctive response:  scoff and declare I was not hard enough on myself.

I know this because it is still the instinctive thought.

Had I taken the time to self-examine, the statement would have seemed complimentary in nature.  There is value in being hard on yourself.  It motivates you to achieve more, it alerts you when you are wading into morally ambiguous territory, and it prevents you from adopting that godawful victim mentality.

Possibly deeper still:  if you are hard enough on yourself, then anyone external being hard on you is likely not to hurt as badly.

All of this is conjecture, of course; introspection was not an activity I placed high on my list until the years following active addiction.  Now it seems I am questioning every thought and feeling I have.

And yes, some days the jury is out as to whether or not this is a good thing.

One rather startling revelation has come up in the past few weeks, so revolutionary that I feel compelled to write it out.  Through the endless self-examination and awareness of internal dialog, I have reluctantly concluded that perhaps I am more critical of myself than is necessary, certainly more than is effective.  This is not necessarily news.  What is the newsflash:  the Inner Critic manifests itself in a variety of ways, ways I would have previously defended to the death as virtuous.

It has been recently pointed out to me that in describing an event about which I’m feeling badly, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the other side of things.   It could be an argument with my husband, disappointment with my kids, hurt feelings with a family member.  No matter what the situation, I am compelled to state their case, project their feelings, or rationalize why I may be overdramatizing the situation.

When this pattern was first pointed out to me, I dismissed it as a non-pattern.  When the pattern became too obvious to dismiss, I was defensive, indignant even.  This shows my extreme sense of justice, I proclaimed self-righteously.   I am a better person for considering all sides, aren’t I?

And then, the question I can’t un-hear:  but if you’re spending all your time understanding and appreciating the perspective and feelings of everyone else, then when are you understanding and appreciating your own?

Every once in a while I am asked a question that makes my brain fall silent.  Even now, and this is a few weeks later, I think of that question and I mentally blank.  Which always, without fail, means I’ve got shift in perspective coming.

So if considering all sides of the problem, all the possible scenarios, all the feelings and thoughts of everyone involved is not the way to go, then what the heck is?  Apparently, the answer is to relate the story, and end with how I feel.  Period.  No explanations, no rationalizations, no justifications.

Even, especially, if I am relating the story to myself:

I feel (fill in the blank), and then refrain from rationalizing the feeling away.

And then, apparently, I am to feel the feelings.  Oh, how hard it is to keep the eyes from rolling.

Feel the feelings.  Does that sound as inane to the rest of the world as it does to me?  Except, ever since discovering this pattern, I have attempted to take the advice.  And found it almost a physical impossibility.  I will clamp my mouth shut, then open it to say, “But I realize that…”  The closest I have come is to say, “I want to say…, but I’m supposed to just say how I’m feeling, so I feel…”

So now I’m in the really annoying stage of criticizing myself for criticizing myself.  Exhausting to read?  Imagine living it!

At this point someone might be thinking, “How does someone get a few years into sobriety and not learn how to feel her feelings?

I suppose comparing post-recovery life to pre-recovery life, I have made progress with understanding, acknowledging, and even communicating feelings.  For example, in the earliest days of sobriety, I needed one of those smiley face charts to even figure out what I was feeling.  So there’s been progress in the years since.

What is the endpoint, I demand?  Let’s say I figure all this out, and feel my feelings, what then?  Do I live happily ever after?

No such luck.  What is supposed to happen is a greater sense of peace, of calm, of self-worth.  Learning to identify, process, and resolve internal “situations” will create room for positive things like happiness, gratitude, and joy.

Or so I’m told.  To say that I am in the experimental phase of this (the world “bullshit” has rolled around through my head several times while writing this post) would be an understatement.

And how does one get started on this magical process?  The first step, one in which I am deeply entrenched at the moment, is developing awareness.  Every time the negative inner voice speaks up, I take note of what is being said and how it makes me feel.  In case you’re interested, my heart picks up a few beats, and there is a small clenching in my stomach.

Now, here is a critical part:  don’t get impatient.  Don’t criticize the critic!  Just take note, become curious, detach as much as possible:

“How interesting is it that you feel anxious about something, but you’re trying to convince yourself why you are wrong for feeling this way?”

Fascinating… you are angry about a situation, but at the same time worried that you will upset someone with your anger?”

“Isn’t that curious that you just walked by the mirror and told yourself how fat you are?”

It sounds preposterous, I know.  But I will say the few times I’ve successfully done this, I usually laugh, and it does seem to break some pattern.  I suppose time and practice will tell if there are long-term benefits.

From there… to tell you the truth, I’m not sure.  Since I’ve really only gotten as far as awareness, I can’t say for sure what’s next.  I find myself pointing out when I’m doing the things I shouldn’t be doing, like making excuses for my feelings.  Perhaps that’s another step on the ladder.

In terms of a step-by-step guide to feeling the feelings… well, I’m working on it.  So far I’ve learned a few on the “What Not to Do” list:

  1. Open a bag of chips
  2. Binge watch a Netflix series
  3. Name your feelings, then talk yourself out of them

I’ve gotten back into the practice of meditating again.  This was no one’s suggestion but my own, because I find that even a small daily practice of sitting still and being mindful tends to increase my ability to detach from my thoughts.

Like most things, it is a work in progress.  I am a work in progress.  We’ll see if all this awareness results in a peaceful, yogi-like existence, or I wind up talking to the walls…

Today’s Miracle:

This post has been rolling around in my head for weeks; the miracle will be, if you are reading, then I have actually published it!

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