Updated: Jun 29
When I quit drinking, I became extremely self aware. Sometimes, painfully so. I think one of the most rewarding yet difficult things about sobriety is that everything that you've been repressing comes bubbling to the surface. Suddenly you're aware of every pain point in your life that has led you to where you are today. And with that comes both devastating grief and alleviating relief.
I'm a firm believer that we are who we are today because of the life experiences we have endured. A lot of who we are stems from our childhood, and how we learned to make sense of the world. As children, our brains are malleable and absorbent, taking in all of the information around us. How we are raised, what we were exposed to, and how we were treated as children trickles over into how we show up in our adult lives.
I can't deny that I had a pretty great childhood. I lived on the lake with a huge backyard, a big house to play in, and a little brother to look after. I was living the picture perfect childhood, until I wasn't. When I turned ten, my parents split up. It seemed as if the picture frame snapped in half, and the image inside had become distorted. I felt as if my whole world was turned upside down, and I quickly had to navigate how to deal with big emotions.
In all honesty, I've blocked a huge part of that time out of my memory, so it's hard for me to say exactly how I was feeling. However, I do know that I learned that it was easier to push down my emotions instead of feeling them. Part of that was due to the fact that when I did express my emotions, it usually didn't end well. If I was ever upset about the divorce, it led to my parent feeling guilty about their decision. I then had to deal with comforting my parent instead of dealing with my own suffering. After multiple same case scenarios, it became a pattern. I was placed into the parental role of doing the comforting, when as a ten year old, it was my feelings that needed to be listened to and held.
At ten years old, I learned that it was better to keep my feelings to myself than to voice them out loud, because it could lead to hurting the feelings of others. I felt as if it was wrong to feel suffering when others were more entitled to it than I was. I could only turn to myself with my painful feelings, and I was never taught how to do that. So, I learned to repress them and to push them away. In a way, I learned to invalidate my own feelings on behalf of everybody elses'. Four years later, I ended up in the hospital after planning to commit suicide. As a young adult, I didn't feel like my feelings mattered or that they deserved to hold a space in my life. But boy, has that pattern prolonged some serious trauma in my adult life. No wonder I turned to the bottle to listen. It wasn't healthy, but it was all I knew.
It wasn't until I quit drinking that I realized I wasn't properly dealing with my emotions. Subconsciously, I would drink or smoke weed to deal with emotions I didn't want to face. But I didn't really realize I was doing that until I quit. And when I didn't have a way to run away from my feelings, I was faced with the overwhelming task of dealing with them for the first time.
Even though I knew I had to deal with my emotions, I didn't have the tools to do so. Thankfully, I started therapy about six months after getting sober, and that has significantly helped me with emotion regulation. It's taken time, but I'm slowly starting to unlearn the unhealthy pattern of repressing and invalidating my emotions. I had to relearn that I deserve to feel all of the human range of emotions, just as everyone else does. I do not have to feel guilty about what I feel, because emotions are apart of the human experience.
It's been a learning process to say the least, and I've realized I invalidate my feelings in more ways than previously imagined. For example, I recently had an interview with a successful woman who I look up to immensely. After the interview, I was pretty disappointed, because I was hoping that I would've had a chance to speak with her about her life experiences, but it felt impersonal and business-like. Immediately after the feeling of disappointment arose, I pushed it away and invalidated it because I told myself I should be grateful for even having the opportunity to speak with her. Even though it's true that I was grateful for the experience, I still was entitled to feeling disappointed, too. After telling my therapist, she reminded me that I can hold two feelings simulataneoulsy. I have the ability to be grateful for the opportunity, while also feeling disappointed that the experience wasn't what I'd hoped for at the same time. It might sound like common sense, but to me this was revolutionary.
One of the ways I've started to validate my feelings is to simply feel them. Instead of judging the feeling that arises, I identify what the feeling feels like in my body. I try to locate the feeling, mentally describe it to myself, and then simply sit with it. I ask myself questions like: Is it a hollow or heavy feeling? Where do you feel it in your body? What color would you assign this feeling? Sitting with the emotion allows it to pass through my body, completing its cycle. Instead of pushing the feeling away, I allow it to flow exactly how it needs to. If it's a particularly painful feeling, I comfort myself through it, and remind myself that suffering is a part of the human experience and that it's only temporary. Being mindful of my emotions has been extremely healing for me. I'm able to allow my emotions to arrive how they are, without resisting or vanquishing them. I don't over identify with the emotion, but I don't ignore them either.
Throughout my sobriety, I have felt both out of control and more in-tune with my emotions. I've began to deal with my emotions as they arise, but I've also had to deal with some emotions that I've been storing for over a decade. If we don't deal with our emotions, they build up and the body keeps tally. Our feelings don't just go away unless we allow ourselves to process them completely.
Some emotions have risen without me being aware they were ever stored. The most difficult is the resentment that I feel, deeply rooted in not feeling listened to or understood as a child. I identify the feeling of resentment as a deep burning pit inside my abdomen, where at the bottom sits the lonely and sad ten year old girl who is waiting for someone to comfort her. Sometimes I have to reach out to her and send her warmth to let her know that she deserves to be listened to. I'm slowly working to untangle the hurt that resides within me, but it's a tight knot that will take time and patience to straighten out. I constantly feel a physical weight in my heart from all of the emotions that I have buried inside throughout the years. Everyday, I work to soften that spot, showering it with love and appreciation, but twelve years of repressed emotions is a lot to undo.
Dealing with emotions after numbing them for so long is a very difficult thing to do. Especially if you're someone like me, who spent their whole life invaliding them. If you feel like you resonate with this post, you aren't alone. You deserve to feel all the beautiful, mediocre, and even difficult emotions that come with being human. You do not have to silence your needs or voice to comfort someone else's. You deserve to be listened to and heard, just like every other person that roams this planet. Try to sit and feel warmth towards yourself, so that the child within you knows that no matter what, you haven't abandoned them. You are worthy of living the human experience to its full capacity.