Allowing Ourselves to Experience Pain.
From Hope for Today, page 227:
“It helps to keep in mind that getting better doesn’t always mean feeling better. When I need to walk through pain to let it go, I remember “This Too Shall Pass.” I tell myself that just as thinking doesn’t make it so, neither does feeling make it so. My life is going to work out according to God’s will regardless of how I feel, so why try to manipulate situations to avoid the unavoidable – human emotions? Such behavior only creates more pain, and I certainly don’t want more of that!”
This has been one of the toughest lessons for me to accept in Al-Anon: in order to work through a feeling, I need to allow myself to feel it. There is no way around this truth for me; if I don’t allow myself to feel my feelings, they will stay with me. If I want to live “lightly but abundantly” I need to let go of my painful feelings.
How do I do that? By sitting with them. Sitting through them. Or walking; I find walking an excellent way to deal with my feelings, and the dogs agree, they are more than willing to go for what I call “a burn around the neighbourhood” – a fast-paced walk for a long distance, during which I may start out with a feeling roaring hotly in my chest and head, but I am always returning home the last few blocks, feeling spent and at peace.
I allow myself to think the angry, or painful, thoughts, then I identify the feelings behind them, and I let those feelings flood through me, without trying to stifle or resist them. I may weep, if the primary feeling is pain.
Then, I look for my part – the character defects which drive my thinking. I ask my Higher Power to remove them, and then I ask for peace.
A friend once commented upon the way the dogs start out one of these walks with a focused intensity on forward, and end up looking around with noses always moving – the canine equivalent of sight-seeing. I laughingly replied that we were all doing pretty much the same thing, it’s just more obvious in dogs.
Before I learned that a hard fast walk is a great way to let out my feelings (or, if it happens to be bucketing rain, a ferocious bout of housecleaning) I used to numb myself out. I’d start repeating a little mantra of “it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter” and it would be like flicking a switch to the “off” position – shutdown, blessed numbness, no more pain.
Except it wasn’t working quite that smoothly and effectively below the surface – I wasn’t processing my feelings, I was storing them. I was, if you like, hoarding them, with new layers on top of old, so that the original landscape of my self became totally obscured from my view. That hoard of feelings was so overwhelming that I didn’t know where to start. So I didn’t, I just flung another on to the heap already there, and walked out of that room.
By the time I came into Al-Anon, I was pretty much living on the front porch of myself. The entire rest of my house of self, was stuffed to the ceilings: old moldering crap mixed with relatively untouched newer items, all mixed together in one giant seething mass. I tried not to go in there, if I could possibly avoid it.
In Al-Anon, I learned that if I wanted real recovery, I was going to have to do an inventory, Step 4, and sort through that massive hoard of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, unmet dreams and desires, expectations, disappointments, resentments, and unfelt, stuffed pain.
I was terrified that the pain would destroy me completely if I were to feel it – how was I to maintain mental stability while doing such a task?
By working with my sponsor and my program friends, by asking my Higher Power for help, and by taking it one small step at a time. I don’t have to deal with the entire past today. I can deal with today only. One day. How am I feeling right now? Why am I having this feeling? Is it because of an unmet expectation, or is it the result of an unkind choice made by another person?
If the latter, can I let go of my people-pleasing and my fear of conflict, and say that “I feel this when you do that?” If not, can I accept that I’m going to have to put up with this feeling until it passes, as they always do? Can I make the effort to see this other person as sick, rather than demonise them?
Feelings can be painful, frightening, intimidating. But I want to have access to my feelings, without being controlled by them.
One of the Al-Anon Promises: