Feelings are facts, right? Unknowingly this was a mantra I lived by for many, many years. I would feel anger and react. I would feel judged and react. I would feel jealous and react. This is how I operated for my entire life, going from 0 to 60 in an instant. The concept of “this too shall pass” was nonexistent. When I got sober and put down drugs and alcohol, I thought I would become happy. Doesn’t it say that in “The Promises” somewhere? That I am going to get happy when I decide to get sober? I thought I was entitled to happiness and I didn’t know how to cope with any other emotion.
I was at an A.A. meeting in Boston on a Saturday night. A woman shared her story and we all sat and listened. It was a typical speaker-discussion meeting, nothing abnormal. She shared about hitting bottom and the gift of desperation, which brought her to AA and made her willing to ask for help. She also talked about early recovery and how she dealt with her everyday emotions. I began to identify as she described the array of feelings that she passed through each day, even in sobriety. She explained that even though she got sober, life still happened and she was not entitled to a free pass on all of those feelings. I remember nodding my head as she talked.
As an active alcoholic addict I had treated my feelings like facts. This was a major reason was why I drank and used, so I didn’t have to feel. Life and the feelings that came with it became my major problem. Alcohol and drugs became my solution to those uncomfortable feelings. I could not wait out an emotion and sit with it. Never mind trying to figure out why I felt this way and what my part was. All I knew was, feeling bad sucks and getting high or drunk fixes it. Even if the relief I felt through alcohol and drugs was temporary, I did not care. I looked for the easier, softer way to deal with my emotions. The solution to my problems though, turned out to make my life worse.
As my alcoholism and addiction progressed I lost the power of choice. I had a mental obsession to drink and use. When I put a substance in my body, it instantly triggered a physical compulsion that was beyond my control. Like I said, the solution actually became a problem. I remembered what alcohol and drugs had done for me in the past. I had felt more comfortable, confident, carefree and just plain fun. But I began to lie about my behavior, live with constant fear, and resentments were starting to pile up. Towards the end, the only time I did not want to kill myself was when I was under the influence of a substance. However each time I came to, I would wake up with shame and dread of having to face another day. Finally circumstances made me willing to surrender and jump into A.A. with both feet. I was ready to find a new solution, one that works in rough going.
I heard people talking about attending meetings, finding a higher power, the 12 steps, and getting a sponsor. These seemed to be important to staying sober. I decided to do 90 meetings in 90 days. I got a sponsor within 2 weeks of getting sober. I started to pray to a higher power, although it felt rote and uncomfortable when I started off. It seemed like I was taking suggestions and I expected that life should be getting better. However, things did not always go my way. Can you believe it? Sometimes people would not drive the way I wanted them to. Or my mother would say something that pissed me off. Or my boyfriend would not come to visit when I wanted him to. Or my sponsor would point out that I had been dishonest by omitting the truth. The list goes on and on. The point is I had expectations that life should be easier now that I was clean and sober. Was that really too much to ask?
That night in Boston that woman talked about finding a higher power to relieve her of the mental obsession and to rely on that power through everything that life had to offer. She said God was there for her on the best of days and through her greatest struggles. As she went through the steps she had formed a working relationship with this God who? she trusted in. She learned that the 12 steps was a process that taught her how to react to ordinary, everyday life. She stated that she used to treat her feelings like facts. Now faith had become a fact in her life.
I desperately wanted what she had.
I realized I had been going to meetings, got a sponsor but wasn’t utilizing her, and was praying to a higher power but wasn’t trusting and relying on that power. I was doing A.A. cafeteria style: taking the parts I wanted that seemed convenient and comfortable, and leaving the rest. So I did not have a real solution for how I felt. I knew intellectually that feelings were not facts, but I couldn’t accept that knowledge when real life situations presented themselves. I decided it was time to try the steps and see if they could solve all my problems like I was hearing they had for many others.
As I went through the 12 steps with my sponsor, I learned how to deal with my emotions. I no longer needed to numb myself, run away, or overreact. I learned to identify fear, a false sense of pride, or a longing for acceptance for what they were. Next I stopped and asked a higher power of my understanding to show me the next right thing to do, rather than rely on self-will and cause a mess. My sponsor calls this, “hitting the pause button.” This was foreign and seemed impossible in the beginning. I made lots of mistakes and learned from them, (I still do.) Everyday I get opportunities to practice hitting the pause button. Without a solution, I immediately have an emotional reaction based on my first thought. By pausing, I can allow a second thought to enter. This practice saves me a tremendous amount of regret and grief.
A spiritual experience is the result of working the 12 steps. In the back of the big book, the term “spiritual experience” is expanded upon in appendix 2. A spiritual experience is defined as “a profound alteration in his (her) reaction to life…a change that hardly could have been brought about by himself (herself) alone” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 567, 4th Ed.) This is what I began to experience as the result of working the 12 steps. I found a real solution to my feelings. Feelings were no longer facts, they passed.
Faith has become a fact in my life.
“Once confused and baffled by the seeming futility of existence, they show the underlying reasons why they were making heavy going of life. Leaving aside the drink question, they tell why living was so unsatisfactory. They show how the change came over them. When many hundreds of people are able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of God is today the most important fact of their lives, they present as powerful reason why one should have faith” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 51, 4th Ed.)