Posted by: innerpilgrimage | November 2, 2012

Dys Ain’t Fuctional: What Do You Mean, I Have to Feel?

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 61 Days

      Today, I am going to read my book, The Language of Feelings, by David Viscott. I am hoping if I am more aware that I have nothing to fear–even from fear, itself, surrendering to authentic emotions may become part of the recovery process.

      See, yesterday I skimmed/read Perfect Daughters: Adult Daughters of Alcoholics by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D, and I got to the recovery section with much relief. I find hope in the part where it says, “Despite being severely broken, you can live a full life.” In a section entitled “Involvement”, I got a spiritual boot to the head: I’m not gonna get recovery if I keep insisting on trying to do it with the survival mechanisms of the addiction to codependency. See, Perfect Daughters let me in on a little secret I already knew but was trying to avoid, that of the two ways to recover (recovering intellectually or recovering through feeling)? Only one works. The ice water to the face moment came from this little self-awareness gem on page 273:
      “As adult children, if we could recover by doing it intellectually, we would have the healthiest minds in the world!”
      It took a bit to let that sink in, until I admitted to myself (then, to my husband at dinner last night, and, then, in group last night), that I had unconsciously tried to do that with nutrition almost a decade ago. When teaching my son about nutrition for school, I scoured the internet for food pyramids and nutrition-related information about adult and youth nutrition–even vegetarian nutrition (we were ovo-lacto vegetarians at the time). I did this while I was attending parenting classes, and I even let the parenting class instructor use the material when she was teaching about childhood nutrition. While I did this, I was morbidly obese. I knew, intellectually, how to eat in order to be healthy. I knew portion sizes; I knew daily caloric intake by height and age. I even knew how to do it with a meatless diet (despite being about as smart as a plant, chickens are not part of a vegetarian diet–they have legs and their on-board protein source is made of muscle tissue, ergo chicken is not derived from a plant protein). Oh, goodness, and the arguments I had with people over peas and corn not being vegetables nutritionally. Peas are a legume, which is a protein source; corn is a grain, which is a fiber and starch source. The vegetable category groups are low in calories innately, are high-fiber, and contain a lot of water–like fruit. And, yes, I will scrap over tomatos and avocados, which are officially fruit by how they grow. Nutritionally, however? Tomatos get to join their vine-grown veggie pals–peppers–and avocados get labeled “Nature’s Mayonnaise”, since they are 50 calories per tablespoon of fat. Very healthy fat that is beneficial to health, yes, but they’re still fat. I probably have a strong enough foundation in nutrition that I could go to college for it and do pretty well as a nutritionist as a career choice. This doesn’t change that I did this around the turn of the millennium, and I didn’t walk into the rooms until third quarter 2009. That is almost ten years passing between what I knew and what I felt.
      I still don’t understand how I can surrender the food for the most part. Well, okay. Yes, I know that I do it today more out of three years of habitually surrendering to it and associating positive life changes to surrendering to it. All of the recovery I gain hinges on the food that keeps my mind clearer than when I was in active food addiction. Surrendering to abstinence has brought such massive positive change in my life–even the bad times are now recovery opportunities–that to take the food back as my Higher Power is plain unthinkable. The anorexia? It’s thinkable, and I do think about it more often than I would like to admit or actually do. However, I have eaten between the lines ever since I accepted the anorexia as part of the whole compulsion-about-food package and modified my food plan in order to accommodate for abstinence in compulsive bingeing and compulsive restricting. And, well, at the time I was just dealing with the food? I prayed and meditated and lived with some feelings. I think I shut down when I was overwhelmed by the SLAA stuff. The food addiction? Well, I lost 100 lbs., and that was a physical-form recovery gift. When I hit SLAA and learned that my compulsive food behavior was a model of relationship behavior (bingeing the thrill of bad romance and approval-seeking; socially and emotionally restricting in order to keep people from hurting me), I just . . . got exhausted and decided that the social anorexia was a problem but I think I haven’t surrendered to the unmanageability that comes from emotional anorexia.
      And here I am, right here and right now, analyzing my many-layered recovery instead of actually surrendering to it.
      It’s curious that I was talking about being so aware of a foundation setting up beneath my feet to support a huge recovery lesson. It came much earlier than I expected, and I am not sure how it landed in my life so quickly after only intellectually surrendering to the foundation tools I need to set up a recovery from emotional anorexia. I have all three legs of the program stool holding me up: I intellectually know the benefits of using negative feelings to create positive changes as the mental recovery foundation; the trauma-sensitive yoga creates positive changes as the physical recovery foundation; sacred listening creates positive changes as the spiritual recovery foundation. It’s all there. I have the tools to work reintegrating a rich emotional landscape in my life. The problem is surrendering my inner honey badger (“Honey Badger don’t give a s**t”) to the wilds and actually risk living.
      And in reading that book about the language of feelings, I suppose I am doing more of the same–trying to intellectually recover from an ongoing emotional trauma from childhood. Yes, I am intellectually very aware that I am trying to feed my need for oranges with apples. I just don’t want to feel again. But why wouldn’t I want to enjoy that which makes us fully human?
      Because my history with feelings hasn’t been historically positive. Having authentic feelings brought decades of punishment–physical, spiritual, mental, emotional. And I can coolly minimize it by being grateful I missed the sexual abuse bullet. I can do a lot with the guilt that others didn’t when I did. I can minimize and deny that what happened to me wasn’t really bad at all, was what others went through, too. I can justify not allowing myself to experience any kind of emotion because I haven’t really suffered like others have suffered. Oh yeah . . . I am good at playing the codependent survival game.
      And that busy, busy mind decided on its very own that to get some good busy work in to avoid feeling? I should consider making a board game of Codependent Survival, where codependents move around a board and answer questions about their codependency. That? Is all levels of compulsive recovery avoidance. Dang it. I know what to do. I just don’t wanna.
      Surrender and effort, Jess. Surrender and effort.
      I know that knock-knock-knockin’ on real and lasting recovery’s door is meditation. Oh yes, contemplative listening and awareness of reality and my inner world. I don’t WANT to enter that ineffable space, where feelings abound. I have a bad relationship with my own feelings, a resentment toward myself for a time when I considered a final “cure” to transitory (though long-lasting, because I denied the natural-flow resolution of the emotions) experiences. I don’t want to meditate because I will find myself, and I fear I will hate myself. Crap, I know my inner addict hates me; I have that childhood-bourne tape of “You’re too hypersensitive!” running all of the time.
      However, as a charming intellectual aside, I finally found my codependent pattern: the Scapegoat. I was the one the family was able to point to when it came to emotional upheaval in the family. Fix Jess, and the problems go away. The problem is that recovery would never have fixed it. I was supposed to become cold about the trauma my sisters and I (and even my parents) experienced. It was just easier to point at Jess, who was so very close to revealing the family secrets, and say, “Disregard her. She’s not right in the head, and we have the therapy bills to prove it.”
      I have used every one-on-one therapeutic solution out there except honesty, openness, and willingness. I have talked about my childhood trauma in therapy rooms until I was exhausted. I have used medication since I was eighteen and the stress of college on top of the stress of life brought me to the edge of despair again and again. I have tried behavioral therapy to change how I react, intellectualizing recovery in order to keep as sick as my secrets.
      Emotionless, I can speak of the abuse and separate myself from the past. It becomes part of the record, the facts. I don’t want to go back into the emotions, and now? I admit I fear getting back into my Fourth Step yet again. I do not want to look at all of the people I resent, because I feel guilty that I am not nice inside me. I am supposed to be “The Nice One”, “The Approachable One,” and “The Princess to Rescue.” Well, that’s what the addiction says. I earned my freakin’ Prince Charming according to the best fairy tales out there. I suffered; I was loyal; I sacrificed myself for the good of the kingdom. I washed the dirty laundry and hung it up on the line so the neighbors saw how clean we pretended to be. I ate the poisoned apple and choked on it and became cold and lifeless. I was cursed by a very powerful and wicked fairy to suffer and fall asleep for a hundred years. I stayed in a tower and let my hair (the stairway into my head) be climbed and used by lonely people made magical by my own thinking. “Where is my damned prince?” I complain. “Where is my billionaire who poops flying, magical, wish-granting unicorn ponies?”
      Life is not a fairy tale, which is why said Prince Charming with a pocket full of Happily Ever After isn’t coming to rescue me. It’s my job to rescue me, a self-rescuing princess. Well, if I’m going to go with the princess archetype, which I don’t want to. I am not an archetype. I am a real person whose experiences left me rationalizing emotional numbness as a means to survive. This emotional numbness is keeping me from the rich life out there. To take from a modern fairy tale set to celluloid? I gotta ride out the tornado in this black-and-white life to reach the Technicolor adventure known as real life. Oooh, that’s a pretty good metaphor for how I live in addiction and how I want to live the promises on a daily basis as a recovered woman participating in my life. As an addict, everything is black-and-white, all-or-nothing, a clear and sunny day or a dark and stormy night. I am powerless, in addiction, over the demands others put on me (many of them illusory, created in my own fairy-tale befuddled brain–imperfect people get cast as villains, which means everyone is a villain to my addict brain). In recovery, I am on an adventure in a world filled with wonder and mystery. The difference between me and Judy Garland’s Dorothy is that there may be no place like home, but I accept home (surviving long-gone trauma instead of thriving in real recovery) is still a pig farm in the Dustbowl filled with people who are telling me what to think, feel, and do because that’s what they were told they had to do once-upon-a-time.
      I’m overanalyzing it to avoid feeling. And there it is, the crux of the SLAA awareness. How does one withdraw from the Honey-Badgerin’ life anyway? I feel more in control when I don’t give a s**t. I feel . . . hm. I feel grandiose, an authority because I am intellectually and not emotionally driven. To be cold is to not be irrational. To have no feelings is to be in full control. Boy, this IS anorexia. Everything I hate about eating and the resulting belief that eating makes one gain weight (as opposed to be healthy and strong and capable of relying on one’s body) and wanting to starve myself into the perfect life can be find-and-replaced with emotions. Hm . . .
      Everything I hate about feeling emotions and the resulting belief that feeling emotions makes one suicidal (as opposed to be healthy and strong and capable of relying on one’s spiritual/emotionally honest self) and wanting to starve myself emotionally into the perfect life.
      Oh, that is good. I am not sure what I’ll do with myself when I leave this time of major recovery activity and enter into the time of repose. Then again, it doesn’t matter what I do, if I make the effort to surrender to the emotions I don’t want any part of. Okay, then. I have, potentially, the next year of recovery lain out before me. Or more. I can work the steps intellectually, which will make a difference–despite knowing that I won’t get the spiritual awakening if I don’t surrender to the emotional-spiritual side. I guess perhaps clearing out the upper level stuff until what’s left is the stuff I can’t inventory without actually feeling emotions (well, besides fear). I don’t know. This isn’t the time to think of more solutions I don’t use because all of them require the one ingredient I refuse to remove from its locked cabinet: My emotions.
      I was right last night. This sucks. This really sucks . . . but I am wholly and fully aware that in recognizing it? I have a very real recovery opportunity that will Change my life with a capital-C. I think I know why, too. I had an opportunity to become vulnerable to someone in the recovered-slash-trustworthy camp. It took me two years to be willing to even consider getting close enough to this point with another person. But I see right now in the light of truth that I wasn’t going to open emotionally. I really think I might have turned to M— in order to be saved yet again, to avoid feeling it (and therefore not heal it). That wasn’t what I would have wanted, but I know how compelling the emotional anorexia is. The social anorexia seems to be more a symptom than the core addiction. The social anorexia is how I act out the emotional anorexia. I can go into public and speak to people and socialize pleasantly. I can be charming and act-as-if I am compassionate. I even sometimes feel empathetic growing pains when I make it after faking it. Then, I stuff those unwanted feelings back down and add more locks and chains. I see my emotions as the ills of the world in my very own Pandora’s Box. No one cares what I feel. No one wants to know I am afraid of people violating my boundaries because I want to stay sane enough not to ever consider suicide again. No one cares I am angry about injustice when it gets in the way of their convenience (I still see slave-trade chocolate on shelves and potentially hazardous toys and food made in China; I see the fast-food industry use poisonous chemicals as filler because they HAVE enough money to buy the FDA approval of carcinogenic substances). No one cares if I am grieving the loss of a program mentor who I still would not have let into my emotional landscape (It’s an addict-message Catch-22: No one cares if I hurt, therefore I don’t let people see I am hurting, and they still don’t care if I’m hurting, so I don’t let them see I am . . . and so on). No one cares if I am happy, though they will get in my face if I am not acting my age–and I can hear the critical messages of how I am manipulating people by working “The Approachable One” angle by using playfulness as bait. The emotional anorexia is kicking my ass. I am powerless over emotional anorexia, and my life is unmanageable and still unhappy–which leads me to believe I still am feeling something. Sadly, it’s malaise at seeing the bright, beautiful, colorful world through a hazy shade of wintry gray.
      My name is Jess, and I am a many-layered addict. Food bingeing and restricting, bad romance and emotional anorexia, and compulsive learned helplessness and self-appointed authority. You know, this is a lot like cleaning a house which has a lot of clutter hidden in the corners and cabinets. It is gonna get a whole lot messier before it gets better. But at least I know, now, and I am grateful for the gift of awareness. It may be an Ugly Holiday Sweater of awareness, but it’s still got huge recovery value on a cold, wintry day.


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