Early on in my recovery, a 12 step friend once told me something that helped me a great deal. She said, “I knew about the bottom I needed to hit in order to be willing to start taking steps toward recovery. What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional bottom that came a couple of months later.” Until then, I thought that I was alone, or that I was doing something wrong! What a relief to find out that I wasn’t alone. I started bringing it up in meetings and quickly learned that the “emotional bottom” of early recovery is a common experience.
When I think about it, it makes sense. The most common reason people drink/use/act in/act out is to avoid facing life on life’s terms, and the feelings that go along with that. We’re so very uncomfortable in our own skin, we feel so out-of-place all the time, our minds are running so relentlessly, that we become desperate to find some relief. And we find it in our sexual obsession. We want to feel some control in our lives, and we find it through manipulating our romantic and sexual interaction with others.
We do gain relief and a (false) sense of control, for a while. When we’re acting in/out, we feel like we’re part of a whole different reality, where nothing can touch us. But we come down from that. Hard. And our next “fix” needs to be even bigger than the last in order to achieve the same level of “high.”
So, what happens when you finally stop all of these reality-avoiding behaviors? Reality happens. Dealing with certain consequences happens. And all of the feelings we had been trying to avoid seem to have stockpiled, waiting to dump on us once we became sober.
Don’t despair! There is hope! What we don’t understand is that when we acknowledge and allow our feelings, expressing them in safe, healthy ways, they go away.
It was once explained to me like this: Feelings are like ocean waves. Imagine standing on the shore with a wall between you and the waves. The wall is like our addiction. We hear the waves crashing up against the other side of the wall and we assume that they are dangerous. We fear ever losing the security of the wall, because we imagine that whatever is making those powerful sounds on the other side would surely overpower us and drag us into the sea! What we don’t see is that when there is no wall to hinder them, the waves don’t pound. They roll in and then they roll back out again.
A sober life is one in which life’s circumstances are acknowledged and accepted. Our feelings may be uncomfortable sometimes, but they don’t have the power to hurt us. No matter what we feel, when we’re sober, we have choices about how to deal with them- choices we didn’t have when we were overcome with romantic/sexual obsession. We can take care of ourselves and reach out for help. We can decide to just do the next right thing. More and more, we can live without fear.