Posted by: innerpilgrimage | January 3, 2011

The Complete Circuit: Negative Feelings Flowing into Positive Feelings

      Last night, I was inspired to finally look up positive aspects of negative emotions. Having been gripped and held by fear over doing a thorough Fourth Step, I finally decided to try and figure out what positive potential could come of emotions which normally freeze me in my tracks.

      Now, there’s a lot more science to what actually happens when a battery works in a completed circuit, but I’m using it as a metaphor, anyway. Electrons, negative energy, flows from the negative pole, drawn toward the positive pole. Along the conductive circuit, usually wires, is placed something which needs that energy to function. The electrons rush to the positive pole, drawn to it. And, when it reaches the battery again in the completed circuit, it starts all over–keeping the flow moving.
      So, we have a cycle, as seen in reality. An ending, if you really think about it, is a beginning of something new. As long as we’re alive, that circuit helps us grow–which is also part of the natural process. We are not meant to stay in one place, ie. we’re not meant to sit in the refrigerator in our little battery package, waiting to expire. We’re supposed to use all of our emotions–good and bad–to grow. The primary ones, at least. The secondary emotions which hide the primary ones are like the refrigerated batteries . . . lots of energy stored up, waiting to be put into a circuit in order to be used.
      So how can these emotions coming from a negative place power growth? I mean, fear grips us and fills us with danger-sense, anger riles us up and makes us want to fight, and sadness makes us want to withdraw? They are strong, overwhelming, and can catch us completely off-guard, especially when we’re looking for serenity. We want to be at peace, even happy. We don’t want to return to the misery that made us turn to our addictions in order to avoid the constant barrage of unhappiness, stress, frustration, rage.
      First, one has to acknowledge that negative emotions even have positive aspects. It’s simple but not easy. I mean, if we grow up in a situation where those negative emotions are triggered constantly, we’ve learned that negative emotions are to be avoided. Because we were trapped in a constant cycle of negativity with no real outlet to grow, how could we use those negative emotions’ positive aspects? We never learned how to pass through them–either because it felt like we couldn’t leave those emotions because we were pushed to stay in them by people who had power over us while we were children or because right when we were passing through those emotions a new fear, anger, or sadness was triggered . . . making it seem like the negativity had no end because it overlapped. With the constant drain on us (because negative emotions charge us with energy to power internal change), we were left exhausted all of the time.
      This brings me to my second argument, that negative emotions power real growth and change. The adrenaline is flowing when we hit fear or anger; the need to self-care in order go through the grief stages happens when we hit sadness. If we’ve never figured out how to use that energy (ie. freezing when we feel fear instead of acting, raging fruitlessly when we feel anger instead of being productive, denying our sadness in order to appear strong instead of learning to live after a loss), then we stagnate. Not wanting to leave a comfort zone is stagnation.
      The third is that we’re societally encouraged to be happy all of the time. That’s not natural. A situation occurs, we have an emotion. For example, we reach the top of a high dive and walk to the end of the diving board. Suddenly, the fear of falling is triggered as we contemplate the distance between us and the water, we wonder if we’ll drown in the pool, we consider that perhaps hitting the water will hurt. Fear can leave us frozen on the edge or push us to just do it. Well, and the twenty kids behind us who have passed through the fear already and want their turn at the damned high dive already pushing us to go so they can go.
      Another example would be learning that a natural open space we have enjoyed for years is closed because some developer is putting up condos. We feel anger because of the injustice, because something that we and others like us enjoyed is now about to be only a memory. Something that we were told belonged to us, as citizens of a state or of our country, was granted to someone else to use in a manner we don’t agree with.
      My last example is the death of someone we cared about. That person’s presence in our lives made us happy, made us feel connected. And now? The qualities of that living person are inaccessible to us. Where there was laughter, only silence remains. We feel sadness because we have lost something in our lives which we may not have realized was so precious to us until it is gone.
      With the Brave New World concept that we are entitled to be distracted from all discomforts, we are left unable to function when real life sets in. And, just like in Brave New World, we seek anything in order to return us to that unnatural state of perma-bliss.
      Fourth, negative emotions are part of us, just like positive ones are. And, if we have nothing to compare our joys to? How can we truly appreciate the good times?
      So, now that I’ve introduced the potential energy toward the positive that negative emotions have, what are those positives? (I expect, like I was until last night, most people who’ve turned to the affliction of addiction have no clue how anger, fear, or sadness can be seen as a positive thing–which is why we turned to our substance of choice in the first place).
      Fear is our wake-up alarm that something is changing, that it’s time to leave our comfort zone. Fear alerts us that we need to get off our asses because danger is on its way. It could be that our lives are threatened; it could be that we are faced with a decision to act which will remove us from our comfortable nest and lead us into greater possibilities. Even if we fail (the core of the fear of trying something new, of entering undiscovered country), we have learned something about ourselves and have gained spiritually even as we have lost materially. From this website, I learned four fun facts about the positives of fear:

* Fear keeps you healthy and alive by warning you that you’re in danger;
* Fear invites us to act, to advance and grow, thereby making a change that aligns with reality and nature;
* Fear motivates us to try harder in order to have a successful outcome;
* And fear is the only way to develop the character asset of courage.
      That’s pretty cool to me. That feeling which has frozen me in my tracks for so long is actually just an alarm to let me know I’ve intuited an opportunity–sniffed out a prize worth seeking out. Whether it’s keeping me alive in order to grow or taking a chance no matter what the outcome, or even developing the character asset of courage . . . fear signals that I’ve been given a gold-embossed invitation that it’s time to go with the flow, to surrender that fear and take a leap of faith. Not only does it say that it’s time to change, it gives me the physical enhancements of a higher awareness and the potential energy to make a change if I use that energy.
      So fear is a good thing, despite the feelings of a tight chest and stomach, or even nausea.
      I personally hate anger because I perceive that it goes against my desire to love (Ah, the irony of being angry that I have to feel anger is not lost on me). Anger, however, can be seen as an opportunity to love by using that burst of energy I’ve just been given to create instead of destroy.
      In me, anger is triggered when I perceive an injustice. Life isn’t fair. Sometimes it is unfair in my favor; sometimes, not. When it’s not fair and not in my favor (or the favor of people I care about)? Then I get angry.
      Anger, like fear, gives a burst of awareness and energy, just like fear. Anger tells me, “Something is innately wrong, and I want to change it, damn it!” How I use that energy and awareness is up to me.
      I think nearly everyone knows how to destroy in anger. As children, we’ve thrown tantrums. We’ve kicked over block towers. We’ve hit, we’ve kicked, we’ve punched, and we’ve flailed our little arms and legs in order to expend this energy chaotically. That seems to be the default. However, if we haven’t learned to channel it productively or have been taught to quash it? We are left bereft of using it as anything but a destructive force.
      Anger seems to be a pretty good creator of resentments. We re-feel unresolved anger, and the energy boost once again is triggered. We feel guilt when we act out our anger in non-productive ways, often longing to go back and change what we did . . . even if we have no idea how we could have done it differently.
      Well, anger is simply another alert, just like fear is. But instead of fear telling us to move out of the way or take a risk to manage what is about to go wrong, anger alerts us to what is wrong now, today, in this moment. It lets us know that change we do not like at all has happened, and we have an opportunity to do something about it.
      So, how do I use anger positively, then? I want to have a tantrum. I want to tear apart the thing that changed, undo it completely, make it go away already! To use anger positively, I have to first appreciate that I have been given the awareness of an undesired change and have received the energy to do something about it. For me, writing is a wonderful outlet. I pour my anger out onto a page. This not only reduces my anger enough that I can use what’s left to fuel change, this also makes me aware of what I can use that leftover fuel for. Anger says, “Whether or not you know what to do, get up and do something!” Taking the time out to write out my anger at the change actually allows my head to start working on what actions I can take. Yes, it may not work as I wanted, but I have expended the energy. I have put it into something I believe in. Through anger, I have respected myself enough to fight for what I believe in (or what others believe in), and I can take from it the feeling of satisfaction that I poured that potential energy in making a change. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and the use of anger positively will make a difference. It may not make the precise difference we want to see today, but if we believe in the possibilities that anything can happen in this reality? We can let the good work we’ve just done go, let the Rube Goldberg machine our energy kicked off do its thing. Simply by listening to anger’s command for us to act then choosing creative order instead of destructive chaos, we have made positive change that will filter back into our lives. In other words, our use of the anger to create instead of destroy may inspire, down the line, someone else who has the power to make a real change.
      Considering that when we use our anger to flail and break stuff, it leads others to have triggered anger because we just used our energy to make something unfair happen to them? The use of anger’s raw power to create can also trigger others to use their anger to create, as well. And, the more people rowing the skiff with that directed power and the determination to use it? The more likely we cross the finish line and land in the victory lane. Or circle. Or wherever crew teams end up when they get first place.
      And, if one is really in a situation where one can’t act for the greater good? Get on a treadmill and run it off; get into the gym and push weights until the energy is gone. The raw power of anger can be used positively to create a healthier body through physical action and a healthier mind through the practice of using anger’s raw force for creative instead of destructive purposes. The benefit of practicing this new use of anger’s burst of energy means that it will get easier and easier to turn toward the creative until that becomes our default.
      In other words, we’ll become one of those people we wish we were . . . a person who rolls up his or her sleeves, gets that determined look in his or her eye, and single-mindedly works for fairness. Definitely an improvement over a person who rampages and strikes terror in people until others finally decide it’s enough and uses prison or a mental institution to remove their problem with our chaotic actions.
      Endings are part of nature, part of reality. Our lives up to this point, if we really sit down and examine them, are a series of endings. Our gestations ended, and we were born. Our infancies ended and we became children. Our childhoods ended and we became adolescents. Our adolescences ended, and we became adults. Jobs ended and we got new ones (or, in this economy, have been challenged to take risks because no jobs are available to us). Relationships ended, and we found new people to date or marry. Friendships ended, and we found new people to make friends with. We’ve moved from rooms or our childhood homes to new rooms in that house or new places to live. And if we’ve been pet owners in our lives, those pets have died (as is natural for living things to do) and we got new ones to shower love and care on.
      Note that everything I put up there has had something after it. Why? Because nature has dropped the gift of paradox into loss–for every loss we experience, we find a new beginning out of the ashes. Always. Even when we don’t move on from loss, our lives are still changed; we still have experienced a new beginning.
      That’s where grief comes in. The purpose of healthy grief is to learn to live again, to start a new chapter in our lives without the thing we just lost. Now, as an addict, grief isn’t something I learned to manage. I still look backwards and try to will my childhood to have been normal. But life did move on for me anyway. I grew up, left my parents’ home, got married (and divorced), got remarried, and now I have a son who is turning 18 this month. I will be a grandparent some day; perhaps I will even meet my great-grandchildren. And I will face the end of my life, just as I will face the ends of the lives of the irreplaceable people which populate it.
      My own grandparents are gone. My father’s step-father died when I was still in college, and I felt the loss of this kind and wonderful man intensely when I visited my father’s mother in the weeks after he was gone–expecting him to walk out of the back bedroom to greet me with a smile and hug. My mother’s mother died while I was pregnant with my first son; my mother’s father died while I was pregnant with my second. My father’s mother was the first person to hold my son after we left the hospital; we went straight there upon discharge. My second son still had the new-baby smell–that saltwater scent I never realized my first son had because I was distracted by my obsession to get us out of the hospital then deal with keeping an infant alive in the middle of a snowy January. Well, and to deal with the unexpected life change when I became a mother for the first time–which I was not ready for emotionally, physically, or mentally. Anyway, my father’s father died after both my sons were here. He made choices in his life which left him outside of my children’s lives, for his wife of many years decided that my first son was going to take his love from her (as opposed to the sane understanding that love is not finite, but she was beautiful, not reasonable). So, he never knew my second son, and when he died and I was told? I had no reaction. And when I was told I wasn’t invited to the funeral? I was okay with it, since the funeral was about his wife. She was already grieving his loss, and I had no emotional connection with him any more. I didn’t care to be there, so she could perceive that I ruined her big day as a grieving widow. I’d already been hurt enough that my grandfather felt he had to sneak around behind her back to see my toddler son for the final time he did. Considering his affairs were part of the reason I feel my father wasn’t emotionally available to me as a child. My father’s father wasn’t emotionally available to my father, so how could my father learn to be emotionally available to me.
      Yes, I have some resentments, but somehow I mourned bits and pieces of my life properly, even as I was left emotionally frozen in time by other parts I still cannot accept and won’t mourn to this day.
      I logically know that birth, life, and death are part of reality for all living things. Perfection-seeking, however, has left me settled in the past as I try to undo it. Yes, I actually will go backwards into memory and try to will it different. Which is silly, since I appreciate what I have a lot more. I just wish I had not lost all of those years because I didn’t know or didn’t want to accept what I was doing to myself.
      But, I have been drawn from that slow death, recovered from the addiction–in that I am not currently acting out the addiction. By no means am I “recovered” in the program. I am in recovery for the rest of my life; even upon my last breath on this planet will I never say I am “recovered”. There is no finish line to recovery for me, because that would mean that I assume I can learn everything there is to learn. That’s a pretty grandiose attitude for someone who’s trying to be humble. Plus, if I was revived and lived an extra day, week, month, or year past that initial “last breath” moment, I would have the possibility to learn more. So, if I died today, I would be in complete understanding that learning opportunities were waiting tomorrow–ad infinitum.
      Anyway, loss is an opportunity to learn to love. By going through the healthy process of grieving and learning to live again after the loss, I am showing myself love by acknowledging that the often-bizarre emotions and actions of the grieving process are normal. Loss is an opportunity to practice acceptance and humility in the face of the Universal Constant of impermanence. Things change, and I change along with them. I will not exist eternally, but I can grow for as long as I have left. In fact, the growth is, in itself, an ending-and-beginning process. I cannot go back to a time when I didn’t know that new thing; I can’t unlearn what I have learned. I may not practice it, and that is my choice. It is all of our choices.
      So, loss is an opportunity to be part of reality, of acknowledging that everything has a beginning and an end. But I can take with me that every loss is an opportunity. The qualities of a person I admired can become part of me; that person may not physically be present, but they will live on. I can share memories of that person with people who never knew them, potentially inspiring the listener to pursue those qualities in themselves. Loss simply is another word for change, and since change is generally considered a good thing, loss can be considered a good thing as well.
      Emotionally, loss brings with it the gifts of vulnerability, compassion, empathy, and love. When we grieve our losses in a healthy way, we are compassionate to ourselves. When we are ready to accept the compassion of others, we can be vulnerable with them. The loss, itself, allows us to know what another person who faces the loss after us is going through and use what helped us (or avoid what we wish others had avoided with us) in order to be compassionate when they come to us, vulnerable. Most of all, we get an opportunity to experience love.
      For me, love is an elusive concept which has shown up as obsession, romantic passion, approval-seeking, and enmeshment with others. I wander through my past sometimes, asking myself, “Was this love? I think it might have been,” when I am met with a memory of pure acceptance for who I was at the time by another human being. I have touched love; they’re like little dandelion fairies of my memory floating on the wind sometimes. I squint to see the detail as they float away and become white blurs until I cannot see them at all. But just like sending a wish out on the dandelion fairies as I blow them from the stem, it often feels like love is as elusive and fleeting as that.
      I have learned a few things about what love is like from people who appear to have experienced it. But there is no definition, no steps I can take to get my certificate in “Being a Loving Person”. It’s trial and error, and when I find myself bonded to someone and trust them and am willing to forgive the harms they do me only because they were unintentional (a person saying “I didn’t mean to” is much different than knowing that they didn’t mean to; the repetition of harms with the wide-eyed apologetic excuse-making is my own personal addict-minded forte), I tend to believe that I’ve found real love there. And I have no words for it, only a sense that the person supports me growing into whoever I am going to become and that the person forgives my backslides when I get overwhelmed.
      In other words, when I am accepted as an imperfect human being (even if some of my actions aren’t acceptable to that person) because that is the way of being human, I feel love.

      Well, I’ve written for a few hours now, and I’m ready to go do anything else. I think what I was meant to learn today is here. Now I get to let it go to my Higher Power, so it can be processed behind-the-scenes and brought back to me in whatever incarnation or life example or learning opportunity I am being given.
      My eating is weird, but it’s still within parameters. I ate more for breakfast than normal, but I didn’t feel sated until I ate it. I didn’t walk away feeling bloated or underfed, so that’s good. I guess sometimes I want something tiny, and other days I want a full meal. And this is buggering with my sense of strictness on myself, where I tell myself that if I don’t eat within very precise rules, I am not abstinent.
      But I am eating within my food plan and I don’t feel like I’ve overeaten and I don’t feel like I ate emotionally then left the table wanting to eat more because I felt bad. I dunno. I guess as I learn more about the difference between a food plan and abstinence (abstaining from . . . the addiction? Does that mean if I eat one chocolate chip because I feel sad, I broke abstinence?), I guess what I do will change, as well.
      Ugh, give it to my HP already, Jess! An answer is always forthcoming, even if I don’t particularly like it.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict, a food-restricter, and an approval-seeker. Man, that’s exhausting to think about . . . all that energy to punitively binge, or to punitively diet, or to keep my eyes scanning for the one person who can fix me. Thank goodness for program; I’m beginning to think that the unpleasant task of going back in my life and reviewing my resentments really isn’t all that daunting. After all, if I have enough energy to kick up chaos all around me in order to keep people away? I probably have enough energy to process the negative emotions which will surface as I do my Fourth Step and turn a negative experience into a positive one.



  1. I’m a almost through the 4th step right now. It wasn’t nearly as bad as i thought it would be. I’m enjoying your blog. Very insightful & inspiring. I bet this post was awsopme to write. There’s a lot to think about, Keep moving foreward in you recovery!

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