Do you want to make a man sweat or squirm? Ask him the most terrifying question in the world: “How do you feel?”
Our mouths will form the words, “Fine, okay, good, etc.” Our brains will be in full on “Red Alert” mode!! The red lights are flashing, the sirens are sounding! The command and control is shouting, “Dive, dive, dive!!” We want to get out of there as fast as possible!
“How do we feel?” What kind of question is that? Why do you want to know? What are you looking for? Society tells men that we don’t have feelings. We’re tough. We chew nails, chop down trees, and kill wooly mammoths with our own hands!
We. Do. Not. Have. Feelings.
And we most certainly do NOT talk about them. At least, that’s what I used to think…turns out recognizing our emotions and sharing them is KEY to recovery. KEY!!
These days I’m fairly comfortable talking about how I feel. In fact, it’s become such a critical, integral part of my recovery that I don’t even think twice about discussing how I actually feel to people. I’ve noticed it sometimes weirds people out that I can (a) be so open about my feelings, and (b) actually have all these words that I can use to describe my feelings. “What kind of alien are you?!” They think as they stare at me with those weird looks after I tell them what I’m feeling in response to their, “How’s it going?” question where they were only expecting the time honored response, “Good! How are you?”
But tonight, in my pornography addiction group meeting as I was listening to a fellow addict share, I realized that I wasn’t always this way. His comments about the difficulty he has sharing his feelings took me back to the first few times when I was faced with actually opening up and sharing my emotional state with someone — namely my wife and my counselor.
My wife is incredibly inquisitive. She would have made a great investigative reporter. She can sense a deeper question and knows exactly how to root out the answer even if it takes 100 questions to get there. I was not a fan of talking about how I felt. I WAS a fan of putting all of my emotions into a nice little bottle (you, know one of those 500 gallon commercial pressure cooker kind of little bottles). Although, apparently, it would leak and/or explode from time to time. Or at least, that’s what I’ve heard…
I remember one vivid example several years ago. My wife and I were disagreeing about something that I had VERY strong feelings about and I didn’t want to talk about it. She pushed hard for us to “talk about it.” 20 minutes later after opening up a bit, I remember her being very happy that we had “discussed it” and she said with a smile on her face, “There, doesn’t that feel better?” My reply was, “No! It does not! I am completely covered in sweat and feel like I’ve run 5 miles uphill with rabid dogs chasing me!” That was one of the hardest things I had done and other than cracking the lid on my pressure cooker a bit, I didn’t really learn or progress from there. I just knew I didn’t like it.
Fast forward a couple of years to when I started my actual professional recovery and I’m sitting in my counselor’s office. Nice big leather chairs, calm smile on his face, quiet waterfall in the background, and he asks me to tell him how I’m feeling at the moment (we were diving into my past around my addiction). “I’m fine.” (My brain: “Hmm, I think he could stop me before I get through the door, maybe I’ll jump through the window. How much could that hurt?”) He continued to follow up with about 20 other ways to ask how I was feeling that included probes into why I didn’t want to talk about it, and was I afraid that I might cry? Would crying be a bad thing? (My brain: “Uh, yes that would be bad! You’re not tricking me into a moment of weakness and having me open up to talk about my feelings with you! That does it, I’m going for the window…”)
I cannot remember which session I finally opened up and started talking to him about my feelings, but slowly and surely I did. And yes, I did cry. Although, I think it was water condensation from the release of years of pressure buildup in that stupid cooker. I’m also happy to report I’ve thrown out the cooker! And to be honest, I didn’t even have to deal with most of the junk I’d tossed into the cooker. God (my higher power) took that away from me during my 12 step program. Just gone! Boy, talk about a mountain of pressure being taken away. I haven’t had an anxiety filled day of pure panic since. Love it!
In the beginning it was a lot of, “I feel raw.” Or, “My nerves feel completely frayed.” Or, “I’m really sad today, or frustrated, or angry.” Usually I would just grab the strongest emotion I felt and just share that one. But he was persistent about teaching me to talk about the various emotions I was feeling and walking through the tapestry of why I felt that way. Where did those feelings come from? Were they new? When did they come about? Have I stored them there for a long time? It’s almost like learning math (I like math). You have to start with counting. Then you throw in addition and subtraction, followed by multiplication and division, finally you start some algebra, toss in a little geometry, and before you know you’re doing full on calculus!
Talking about your emotions is the same thing. In the beginning it’s, “I’m sad”, followed by, “I feel alone and that makes me sad.” Or, “I feel fear about what others will think of me or say if they know of my problem and how I struggle to overcome it and keep failing over and over again.” And then, one day, you just kind of talk about how you feel. You dig deep inside for what you’re feeling because you actually want to root it out. Because when you can identify what you’re feeling and where it came from, you can “Pray to God (or your higher power) and ask Him to take the unmanageable aspects of these strong emotions away from you,” you can then call a friend or spouse and “share with them how you feel, how it came about, what your part in it was (own it), and what you need help with in facing your emotional state that is causing you distress” and then you can trust that it will be taken care of as you immediately go and “serve someone else”.
And that my friends, is doing Step 10 from the AA Big Book (see page 84) for addicts. Remember when I said that sharing your emotions was a KEY to finding recovery? That’s why. It’s critical. It’s at the core of healing, staying sober, and being able to help others. It has made all of the difference for me. I feel so much peace being able to face my fear, anger, resentment, selfishness, and self-pity. I feel peace knowing I don’t have to walk the road alone. I have my God and my friends to help me.
You are not alone. This is a well traveled road. You can do this. Just keep taking the steps one at a time.
My name is Mike.