By: Marilyn L. Davis
I Don’t Want Feelings; I Want to Be Numb
“We numb our minds and hearts so one need not be broken and the other need not be bothered.” ― Peggy Haymes
Using drugs and alcohol helped us ignore our feelings and experiences. Shame, guilt, anger, anxiety, and unresolved issues were all things we wouldn’t or couldn’t deal with, so we used to cover them up.
We could not, or would not, experience the feelings nor think about all the adverse outcomes of our addiction.
Drinking and using helped suppress or numb our feelings or cloud our thinking, so we didn’t have to remember what we’d done to people we loved or accept our adverse outcomes.
Because of our use, many of us come to recovery with numbed feelings. Recovery is learning how to think differently and learning how to express the feelings when they pop up. Click To Tweet
Up Pops an Unfamiliar Emotion
What happens to most of us is that numbed feelings and reflecting on choices in our addiction come rushing to the surface in early recovery.
Think about all the stored or suppressed emotions from your use. Many people refer to this as the roller-coaster of emotions in early recovery.
For me, those feelings and thoughts were held down rather like a jack-in-the-box – hidden away only by my addiction.
And when they popped up, I had to learn how to deal with them, not by stuffing them again or relapsing.
Emotional Memory Stores The Feelings
Emotional memory stores all those old feelings. They are still there. And when they surface, we’re sometimes laughing when we feel like crying or crying for no apparent reason. We often judge these as inappropriate feelings for the situation. Yet, they are authentic, whether they come back in an orderly fashion or not.
Do Not Judge the Feelings
There is no rhyme, reason, or proper time frame for the suppressed or numbed emotions popping up or resurfacing. It is essential that you not judge the feelings but realize that they are probably just an old feeling able to surface now that you are not using drugs or alcohol to numb them.
This attitude can make it easier to accept them. It’s often a time of confusion, and your emotions can seem overwhelming. These reactions to the up-and-down emotional responses are common and predictable for most people in early recovery. It will get easier to deal with these emotions if you:
- Understand that your feelings will be “all over the map.”
- Know that the ups and downs will lessen with time.
- Learn to process emotions as they are happening.
Remember the Simple Categories of Emotions
The feelings that you are experiencing will correspond to one of these five categories:
- Bad – typically, guilty, jealous, envious, or other unpleasant feelings
Learning these and the various degrees of feelings will help you distinguish them, learn to process them, and not use them as an excuse to relapse, or try to find other ways to numb or suppress them.
Processing Feelings and Thoughts: They are Different
Learning to process your thoughts, opinions, and assumptions, along with your feelings, as the separate and distinct aspects that they are, makes it easier to decide if your thoughts need changing or your emotions are the problem.
For example, you walk into a recovery support meeting, and you are late. You are late because your babysitter had a flat tire that morning, but glad you made a meeting. You also feel guilty. You have not made as many meetings as you usually do because you have picked up some extra shifts at work to offer a camp for your children in the summer.
Since you have not relapsed, you think that what you are doing for your family takes precedence or priority over a meeting at this time. You think that talking to your sponsor is keeping your recovery important, and your sponsor agrees.
You feel grateful that you’re thinking of others and not the self-centered way you thought in your addiction. You’re proud that you can give your children some pleasant experiences since you fought so hard to regain custody.
However, other people at the meeting have entirely different thoughts, opinions, assumptions, and emotions. They make assumptions about why you are late and react to those erroneous opinions.
- John thinks you are rude to come late and do not value recovery, and he feels annoyed.
- Susie feels relieved when she sees you.
- Mary does not even know you; she thinks you have on a great pair of shoes and wonders if she should ask you after the meeting where you got them.
Your Thoughts and Emotions are Different Than Mine
Each person has different thoughts and feelings about the same experience. Individual perceptions of what is going on, what you and others think about something, and feelings about a situation or person rarely tell the whole story.
To get a clear picture of the “reality” of this scenario, each person would need to tell their truth, and then let others process it and then reach a conclusion.
Rarely do we take the time to ask about other people’s opinions. We have come to conclusions and have feelings about the situation. As the author, Fred Ward, says, “If some woman tells me how she feels about something, my immediate assumption is that she wants an answer, or that she wants me to solve her problem. In fact, all she wants to do is share or show how she feels.”
Learn to Claim How You Feel
People influence how we feel, not make us feel something. We are not subject to feel like a mechanical wind-up doll, yet, people often talk about something or someone “making” them feel a certain way as if they pulled our strings or wound us up and then ‘we felt.’
There are several problems with adopting this attitude; it removes your responsibility for your feelings and puts the blame or responsibility for how you feel on others. What happens when you make others responsible for your feelings?
- You hold them accountable for what you are feeling.
- If they are responsible, you have an excuse for how you feel.
- You lose control over how you feel because others made you feel something.
This can become a victim posture or a manipulative cycle that you need to break. Then you can acknowledge that they are your feelings, independent of others. You can state what you feel about what someone did or did not do without holding them responsible for what you feel.
This does not mean that you do not react to the actions of others. It is simply a way of acknowledging that when someone did or did not do something, you had feelings about their action or lack of action, but you claim the feelings as your own.
A less blaming way of stating how you feel about what someone else has done or not done, said or not said, is to express it as, “When you did or said that, I felt.” It lets you state what they did, but how you felt.
Dealing with the Emotions Takes Time
Taking responsibility for your emotions is empowering. You can choose how to feel in any given situation and not blame others for how they made you feel.
And the jack-in-the-box? Well, with time, you can put it on the shelf.
Writing and recovery heals the heart
When you’re ready to tell us how you learned to cope in your recovery, consider a guest post.
Marilyn L. Davis is the author of her memoir: Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook. Both of these books have earned five stars on ReadersFavorite and Amazon.
She is also the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink.