Living Well - Emotional Health



In my last blog, I talked about how physical health directly correlates to successful sobriety. Interestingly enough, physical health also correlates to and is in direct cahoots with our emotional health. As I stated in the last blog, studies have shown that physical exercise has a positive effect on our emotional health. It has been linked to a decrease in depression and anxiety, among other maladies. It makes sense if you think about it. Originally, we were hunter-gatherers. That required us to constantly be on the move for food and shelter. We did not settle and we certainly never allowed ourselves to become comfortable in one spot. If that was our inherent state of being, then so much can be pulled from the affects on our physical and emotional being when placed in a stagnant state. We are not meant to be still. Both our physical and mental health suffers from a lack of exercise and I don't just mean physically. Our minds need exercise too.

I had a long talk with L yesterday about my goals and the directions my goals are taking me. She is struggling a little to understand my end goal. One of the things that have occurred to me over the past six months of sobriety is that I am no longer happy to settle for less than I believe I deserve. Don't get me wrong, I am proud of myself for some of my accomplishments thus far. I went to college at the age of 37 while working full-time and with a family. I received my Bachelor's and then a Master's degree. I used my education to gain employment in the field I studied and have been doing so for five years. I have done well. If I stayed on this trajectory I think I could look back on my life and feel pretty proud of where I ended up, especially considering where I started. Nevertheless, I now know I can do and deserve more and I have no intention of accepting anything less than my full potential.


What is my end goal? To live my life on my terms for the remainder of my days. I spent the first 48 years of my life doing God knows what; I have some making up to do. I am no longer willing to settle for, doing well. I am no longer willing to dread a day of work. I am no longer willing to miss out on things I love because of a lack of time or money. I am no longer willing to stand by and let life happen to me. Today, I am only willing to actively participate in each and every step I take moving forward into my future. I am finally able to do this because my emotional health is strong and unwavering, I am confident and proud, and I am dedicated and driven. These are things I never felt while actively engaged in addiction.


What is Emotional Health?


Emotional health, wellness, strength, and a number of other buzz words have become quite the topic these days. If you know me at all, I tend to bristle at the idea of trends because I do not like to be a part of the 'norm.' I try to be my own person, as much as I can anyway. I try and teach my ten-year-old son to do the same thing, though he struggles greatly with this idea. Nevertheless, I have found that the idea of emotional health is so significant, so important, so absolutely imperative to our overall health, especially with sobriety, that I am all in, with these buzz words.


Regulating Emotions


My definition of emotional health is pretty much based on the words themselves: healthy emotions. We can be too sad and we can be too happy. What we want is to be aware of each emotion as it arises and we want to be able to not only regulate it but also understand from where it is coming. Let's talk about regulating emotions first. It probably sounds counter-intuitive to think we can be too happy. Again, this is only my personal opinion, but what I mean by regulating emotions is that we need to be able to feel and even enjoy them, but also, not let them take over. If we envelop ourselves in one emotion, we are likely to miss out on others and the other emotions taking place may be important. Remember how core beliefs work? We only see the evidence that supports our core belief and we disregard everything else, even though conflicting evidence may be occurring, too. It is the same with emotions. Too much of one emotion leans more toward a manic state and that is not healthy either. We need to be able to feel joy but be aware of sadness; feel anger but be aware of the potential for change; understand disappointment but be open to redemption. Well-rounded emotional health allows us to adapt to our surroundings no matter how difficult or easy they are at any given moment.


The Origins of our Emotions


Understanding emotions was my nemesis and something I am still struggling to understand today, but I am making progress. What does it mean to understand our emotions? It sounds silly if you don't dig very deep. I am happy; therefore, I feel good; what is there to understand? No, I am speaking more from where the emotions originate and even more importantly why they originate during a given circumstance. Let me give you an example:


L and I have a wonderful, trusting, equal, and understanding relationship. Nevertheless, if I feel she thinks I have let her down; whether I have or not, or whether she actually thinks I did or not; I tumble down an emotional rockslide until I gain further clarity of the situation. It can be a simple or complex situation; it doesn't really matter. Once I feel the misunderstanding occurs, I become very anxious, nervous, and even scared. I cannot control what I am feeling and the only thing I can do is try and figure out why SHE feels that I let her down. The truth is that most of the time, she isn't even feeling that way, it is all in my head. Why is this important? Origins. The panic and anxiety I am feeling are not necessarily coming from anything that is actually occurring at that moment. More likely, I am reminded of something deeper, a core belief maybe, that tells me nobody understands me. That reminder sends me on a roller coaster of emotions that could be avoided if only I was able to focus on why that emotion took place in that situation, in the first place. L is just an unlikely bystander forced to deal with my emotions because I have not yet tracked down why I react the way I do in certain situations. When I gain an understanding of that emotion or that core belief, I will better be able to handle those reminders in the future. (L is never going to let me live this blog down...)


The beauty of emotional health is that each time we grasp a new understanding of how our emotions work or from where our emotions originate, we begin to learn how to better handle them. It's like building physical strength; each time we work out, we gain a little muscle and strength. Each time we learn about one of our emotions, we build some emotional strength. Can you imagine how strong and healthy we can become if we make a concentrated effort to better understand our emotions, core beliefs, and true selves? I don't know about you, but while I do want to be physically healthy, I do not need to be a Hercules; I do, however, want to be an emotional Hercules.


I am in training, for emotional health.