Well, it is certainly hard to argue with this core belief, isn't it? I was talking with a new friend of mine in sobriety and I asked her what a core belief she thought she might hold that prevents her from quitting. At first, she said she didn't think she had any. When pushed a little further, she replied with today's core belief. I was hesitant to write about it, but after a little reflection, I thought, wow, this is a really big and relevant core belief. On the surface, it is obvious why we would hold this belief, but dig a little deeper and I think there is a lot more going on with this one.
Using makes me feel good
On the surface, isn't feeling good a big part of everything we do and strive for as humans? Whether it is physically or emotionally, feeling good is at the core of many desires and actions humans inherently have and do. I mean think about it, our most basic instincts revolve around feeling good; eating, family, community, sex, laughter; they all make us feel good. We actively and instinctually seek these things out for the pure and fundamental desire to feel good. Doesn't it make sense that using alcohol, drugs, sex and any number of other addictive behaviors to feel good would be a natural inclination of our biological and emotional makeup? It would seem that way if it were true.
Unfortunately, most of the substances we use to "feel good" actually do quite the opposite. There is a discernable difference between feeling good and the absence of feeling, but for the addict, the absence of feeling may be better than what we normally feel. This creates the illusion of "feeling good" and creates the desire to recreate that feeling as often as possible. Nobody wants to feel bad. Nobody seeks to feel bad. If we feel bad, we naturally seek ways to make ourselves feel better and in the case of the addict, that often comes in the form of substance abuse because it is the quickest and easiest way to alter our negative feelings. The problem with accepting numbness as the opposite of feeling bad is that it allows no room for growth. In order to grow, we must experience feelings on both sides of the spectrum. If something feels bad and we make a change that makes us feel good, we have learned how to deal with that bad feeling because the payoff is noticeably present. Conversely, numbness leads to apathy, and apathy leads to nowhere.
I can feel
The more I explore and write about these core beliefs the more I find myself realizing that the opposing core beliefs are not always as simple or beneficial as we would like. The opposite of alcohol makes me feel good would be alcohol makes me feel bad. Does that shift in our core belief really benefit us much in regard to our successful recovery and sobriety? I don't think it does. First of all, it's not always true. If it makes us feel good or numb or whatever, as long as we perceive that feeling as better than bad, it is worth it to us. No, the shift in our core belief has to be something tangible, something we can relate to, something that validates why we do not want to believe our original core belief any longer.
In my experience, quitting drinking and nicotine has opened up the gates to my emotions. At first, this can seem quite terrifying. Depending on how long we used, and consequently felt numb, experiencing feelings again can be quite overwhelming. The first thing I noticed was how the levels of my feelings are escalated. When I feel good, I feel better than I can remember feeling in a very long time but consequently, when I feel bad I feel really bad. Now, as addicts that may not sound appealing and may cause us to want to shy away from allowing ourselves to feel again but wait, there is more. What I have found about the bad feelings is that if I acknowledge them and let them be present, they carry far less power than ever before. You see, in the past when something happened that made me feel bad, I saw that feeling as part of who I was as a person. I defined myself by that bad feeling. Then I wanted to make that bad feeling go away. There is a reason we remember the bad more than the good. It carries a lot of weight. But, only if we let it. Think about it, it is a survival instinct. Our ancient relatives had to fight for survival every day. One of the ways they did that was by avoiding all the bad and harmful things around them so they could prolong their existence. We do not live in that same world any longer.
Sitting with discomfort
One of the best things I have learned from my time in sobriety is how to sit with discomfort. It is a new survival instinct for a new time. When something happens that makes me feel bad, sad, down, angry, or any other feeling I do not want to experience, I do a couple of things. First, I acknowledge the feeling, but I acknowledge it as something outside myself. Second, I let that feeling sit there, outside myself, for as long as it needs to sit. I do not give it any credit or even engage with it. I just let it sit. By doing this, I take it's power away. I no longer feel defined by the feeling, I feel in touch with it and in control of it rather than under its control. There is no better feeling than the ability to redirect feelings that used to consume us to the point of preferring numbness over feeling.
Once we begin to understand how to properly interact with bad feelings, the real joy of sobriety and feeling takes place. While bad feelings are something we have to actively engage with to keep under control, good feelings now have carte blanche. And let me tell you, the good feelings are overwhelming too but in the best of ways. I have never laughed, smiled, or felt as good as I do now. I heard a quote the other day that said the worst day sober is better than the best day drunk. There is nothing more true because once we learn that "bad" feelings are not so bad, we can then see that feeling both bad and good are better than feeling nothing at all.
Today, I embrace all of my feelings because I want to feel everything.