Recovery Share: What is This Feeling About?

Sometimes I catch myself having a feeling and can’t figure out why I’m having it.

A common example is shame or guilt; I will simply be going through my day and realize I feel exactly the way you feel after you screw something up — only I can’t remember exactly what I supposedly screwed up. Or sometimes I am angry, playing out fights or arguments in my head, and don’t remember why I started feeling anger in the first place.

My basic belief about feelings is that they come from thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes they come so quickly that it seems automatic. For example, my team scores a goal and I feel happy. Of course. But why? Because I prefer my team to win — and that’s because of some convoluted belief system that’s probably a whole separate post. (Something about “basking in the reflected glory.”)

Since thoughts and beliefs tend to lead to actions, which have consequences, I think it’s important to stay aware of this process. So when a “mysterious” feeling arises, that’s a good opportunity to turn the interior lights on and have a look around. Let’s take a couple of recent examples.

The other day I was on a work trip on which I rented a car on the company dime. The company made the reservation and gave them the card, but something got sideways and the rental wasn’t on their card. So I had to pay it myself, and of course I would get reimbursed, I found this annoying but it wasn’t much money, the company is good about paying quickly, and I am happy to say that I didn’t yell at anybody or get angry at all — or so I thought.

The fact is, for some time later I was angry. I found myself wishing somebody with the rental company would ask if everything was okay so I could unload on them. Then my mind wandered off to completely different subjects — a family dispute, an old resentment from a different job, almost everything about the airport I was passing through at the moment. I even caught myself sending multiple Tweets about the airport!

And that’s when the alarm went off, and I thought, wait, what am I so angry about? Of course it was the rental — but I didn’t even think I was angry about it. So I went back through it, and I realized it’s because I carry a lot of shame and fear about money, and having to spend some I didn’t expect to spend — even if it wasn’t much and I would get reimbursed — had triggered that. Basically everything about money triggers some feeling me, and today it was anger.

Once I realized this, it was a fairly simple thing to let go of. I imagined myself sitting in the driver’s seat of my internal bus, with a passenger telling me I should be mad. And I said to that passenger, “I get it — you’re uptight about money and that was a pain. But logically, it’s not that much, they’ll pay it back, and it won’t cost you a penny. So we’ll let that one go.”

All of a sudden the airport wasn’t annoying, the anger tapes stopped playing in my head, and the reimbursement really was just that: a reimbursement. All because I looked around inside myself to figure out what was going on.

Now, it’s not always so simple. You should see the party that goes on in my head when I get an actual, and large, unexpected bill. Or when a pair of pants ceases to fit because I gained weight. Or when a woman doesn’t want to go out with me. That last one gets pretty special.

Of course, the same is true for positive feelings. I’ll feel like the king of the world because, maybe, a check came in a little bigger than I expected, and it’s comical how completely cocky I get.

But there is a process I can go through, a tool that I picked up in recovery that can be really useful. And it’s super simple, when I remember to use it: I just notice the feeling, check how it’s working, ask why I have it, go back through the process and see if there’s a thought or feeling I might benefit from letting go of.

If I don’t do this, then the feeling takes on its own life, creates its own story and thoughts and beliefs, and then I can start doing all sorts of crazy shit. And a basic goal of my life in recovery is to do (and feel) less crazy shit.

Thanks for reading.

You can find more shares like this here.

Recovery Share: Today is not Tomorrow

You hear a lot in recovery, and western spiritual circles in general, about staying in the moment. And sometimes, because I can be a bit of a crank, I want to smack people when they talk about it. But recently I had a good opportunity to practice just that — maybe not exactly in the moment, but at least sticking to today rather than making up some tomorrow to worry about.

The scenario was this: I was going to be leading a hike for a group of people I hadn’t met, so the day before I went to do the hike to check it out. It was also at pretty high elevation, so I was preparing myself physically as well as mentally. And, it being my first day at high elevation, and my first hard hike in a while, I struggled a bit.

Now, if there’s such a thing as a normal and healthy person, that would kind of be it: I struggled the first day, but since that was just a practice day it didn’t matter. I would do better the next day, and whatever happened I would deal with.

But I suppose I’m not normal and healthy, at least in this regard. Instead, my struggles on day 1 set off a carnival of fantasies and delusions about day 2. I was actually walking along on day 1 with my head sounding as if I was in fact on a disastrous day 2, with my physical struggles at least as bad and the whole group annoyed at and disappointed with me. I mean this in the sense of my thoughts, not that I was in some altered state where I was confused about which day it was … much.

Even during the hike on day 1, I kept telling myself, “This is not day 2! Nobody is annoyed or disappointed. You’re just freaking out because you’re tired.” But it didn’t completely work. I went through — put myself through — a fair amount of stress about shit that wasn’t happening outside my head!

Exactly why I would do this is an interesting question that I honestly haven’t worked through yet. But what I was doing was really clear: I was making up an entire day that didn’t exist, during which a lot of bad shit was going to happen to me. And I was, of course, driving myself nuts and ruining any shot I had at enjoying day 1. And ironically, blowing up day 1 would actually increase the odds of trouble on day 2.

So here is where two tools of recovery came into use for me.

The first was simply telling myself, “You are making shit up. This is today, and today is not tomorrow.” Just in a very practical sense, that isn’t helpful, even if I’m making up all sorts of super groovy things that will happen to me tomorrow.

The second tool was separating the hype from reality. In other words, yeah I could be in better shape and that’s a worthwhile goal, but that doesn’t mean I’m a faint piece of crap who’s going to fail and bum everybody out tomorrow. Or yes, I could have prepared myself and the group a little better, but those are helpful lessons for next time around, not indications that I should never do this again because I suck. And so on.

As it happens, both days went fine, and I was really exhausted, and I got lots of positive feedback from the group, and I still found all sorts of things I think I screwed up. It’s just what I do.

And in the end, that’s the biggest lesson for me: not that I could stand to lose weight or exercise more or work on my guiding skills — although that’s all useful — but to remember that sometimes I go a little overboard on worrying about things and finding faults with myself. Or a lot overboard.

It helps to remember that, because then I can go to a really helpful thing my sponsor one said about resentments: they are like cats. If you don’t feed them, then eventually go away. So maybe the next time I’m on a hike I can just say, “Oh, right, here comes the crazy like it always does; I wonder if there’s anything useful in it.”

Thanks for reading.

You can find more shares like this here.