Category Archives: Recovery
I have my “office” next to two windows in my dining room that look out over a large fenced patio. I have 10-15 blooming plants there that I so enjoy. I have always been a gardener. In 1983, I moved to Florida so I could enjoy plants all year long. It gives me great solace to look over my plants.
“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.”
by Hermann Hesse
During this holiday season, I am moving through a season of reflection about the choices I have made over a lifetime of 74 years so far. Feeling regret reminds me that I have not forgiven myself completely for the missteps I have taken. Choosing to be in a marriage that was basically loveless for 15 years seems like such a waste of life’s vitality. But I did it. So it must have been what I needed to experience. It was after the betrayal that I hit my emotional bottom. Holding your breath for over 60 years isn’t easy. But I am a tough nut. And, in retrospect, a tough nut to crack.
As I move through this retrospection, I am using a technique from Raphael Cushnir. He has written several books about the emotional connection. From his website’s overview, he recommends a 2-step process for learning from our emotions. From this overview:
What is an emotion?
An emotion is a message from your brain, delivered to your body as a physical sensation.
Why are emotions so crucial?
Emotions are essential in reaching the greatest possible understanding of who we are and what we want. The more attuned we grow to our emotions, the wiser and more discriminating we become.
Whenever we’ve grown stale, emotions reawaken us. Wherever we’ve grown stuck, they get us moving. With just the simple ability to notice and experience our feelings, daily existence becomes fascinating and vibrant. We shift from lethargic to motivated, from passive to energized.
What does feeling an emotion entail?
Step 1) To experience an emotion, place your attention directly on the sensation it produces in your body.
Step 2) Keep your attention on that sensation until it either dissipates or changes.
That’s all there is to it. Really. These two simple steps, however, are often anything but easy. To perform them well, especially at the most difficult times, requires the following shifts in the quality of our attention.
Shift 1) Slow down
Feeling time is different than to-do list time. Emotions require us to sync up to their inner flow rather than press our own timetable upon them.
When we do, they not only dissipate the quickest and easiest, but they also reveal great personal insight without any effort whatsoever.
When we don’t, and instead attempt to think our way through a problem too soon, our powers of analysis become completely unreliable. For that reason it’s helpful to heed the maxim “Feel first, think later.”
Shift 2) Get Microscopic
At first our internal sensations can seem distant and amorphous. But whenever we observe them up close, in patient detail, they yield the greatest possible rewards.
Emotions may be hot or cold. They may be heavy or light. They may move throughout your body in waves, swirls, or flashes. They may produce internal imagery or sound. They may pass in an instant, or gradually over time. With practice, all these emotional aspects become much easier to sense.
The above two steps, along with the above two shifts, make up the2X2 process for Emotional Connection.
What is Emotional Surfing?
Over time I developed an even easier way than the 2×2 process to describe how to feel. I call it surfing. To understand why let’s look at ocean surfing.
Among the most challenging sports, ocean surfing involves the rare combination of two constantly moving elements. There’s the surfer on the board, and also the wave on which the surfer balances. Each millisecond during which surfer and wave proceed in unison, all is well. But at the first instant of disconnect – wipeout.
When surfing your emotions, the “wave” is your constantly shifting inner experience. The “surfer” is your attention, following the wave up close, in matching motion. There is absolutely no attempt to control the wave or otherwise alter the experience. It’s strictly “Whither thou goest, I shall go.”
When surfing your emotions, the “wave” is your constantly shifting inner experience. The “surfer” is your attention, following the wave up close, in matching motion.
In this, however, is a wondrous paradox. The very act of surfing your internal waves without trying to change them is precisely what does change them. Your attention facilitates flow. It creates additional inner space. These two results of emotional surfing – flow and space – allow turbulent waters to storm freely and calm quickly. They also allow you to keep your balance no matter how enormous the swells.
How do thoughts enter into all this?
Thinking can cause you to wipe out while surfing in a variety of ways. The most common ways are distraction, analyzing, and judging. When any of these disturbances occur, it may be a brief or long time before you become aware of them. But at the moment you do become aware, it’s crucial that you recognize the thinking in a neutral way and return to the sensations in your body straight away.
Getting down on yourself for wiping out only creates more tension and makes surfing that much harder.
Another way thoughts impact surfing occurs when feeling states kick up painful beliefs about yourself. Say you’re feeling shame, for example. You might then have the thought, “I’m a total loser.”
If you try to banish that belief because it’s unhelpful, it will only fight back harder. And if you decide the belief is correct, and therefore collapse into it, you’ll likewise give it power.
Surfing a feeling is completely different from engaging with the beliefs you may have related to that feeling.
Instead, it’s best to notice the thought with a kind of inward bow, a “thank you for sharing,” if you will. Then, with no further engagement, return to the wave of the moment at hand.
Bottom line: surfing the feeling is completely different from engaging with the beliefs you may have related to that feeling. The good news is that the more you feel your difficult feelings directly, the easier it is to be free of harmful beliefs once and for all. In fact, they just disappear all on their own.
!. Syd (one of my favorite bloggers because he posts from his AlAnon experience) has written a great post about growing up with alcoholism. He is not an alcoholic yet he has recognized that he took on the same emotional characteristics of someone who is alcoholic.
“There is a check list of characteristics that those of us share who were brought up in an alcoholic or other type of dysfunctional household. Isolation, unease with authority figures, people pleasing, sensitivity to criticism, difficulty in intimate relationships, fear of abandonment and rejection are just some of the traits that are developed to cope with alcoholic dysfunction.”
“Sadly enough, many children who grew up in alcoholic homes also become alcoholic or marry one. It is what we know how to do–seek out the familiar–even if the familiar is hurtful. I can think back on so many relationships that were not right, largely because I was attracted to those who were most familiar, yet the most injurious to me.”
“We really grew up with such a sense of responsibility that there was scarce time for childlike fun. I know that I would escape through play from the anxiety that was always just below the surface. Lives are lived in fear of being found out. So we learn to hide feelings and the truth from others. We lived life from the standpoint of victims, and became reactors. I know that I did what I could to drive people away so that they would abandon me because I wanted to be the victim.”
“It is amazing really what alcoholism does to those who don’t even drink. I took on all the characteristics of the disease without ever being alcoholic. When the characteristics of an adult child of an alcoholic were read tonight, I recognized the “old” me in every single line. But the “new” me who has been in recovery for four years now sees that there has been a behavioral change. I no longer exhibit every characteristic. That indicates to me that there has been a profound change in how I view others and myself since coming to Al-Anon. Yes, I still have a fear of abandonment, but it is not as crippling a fear as it once was. I see that my relationship with others has changed for the better. I am no longer wanting to solve their problems or accept responsibility for their actions. And I have learned to appreciate who I am at last–imperfect but okay. “
“Ask yourself these questions and see if some resonate with you:”
Do you constantly seek approval and affirmation?
Do you fail to recognize your accomplishments?
Do you fear criticism?
Do you overextend yourself?
Have you had problems with your own compulsive behavior?
Do you have a need for perfection?
Are you uneasy when your life is going smoothly, continually anticipating problems?
Do you feel more alive in the midst of a crisis?
Do you still feel responsible for others, as you did for the problem drinker in your life?
Do you care for others easily, yet find it difficult to care for yourself?
Do you isolate yourself from other people?
Do you respond with fear to authority figures and angry people?
Do you feel that individuals and society in general are taking advantage of you?
Do you have trouble with intimate relationships?
Do you confuse pity with love, as you did with the problem drinker?
Do you attract and/or seek people who tend to be compulsive and/or abusive?
Do you cling to relationships because you are afraid of being alone?
Do you often mistrust your own feelings and the feelings expressed by others?
Do you find it difficult to identify and express your emotions?
Do you think someone’s drinking may have affected you?
“Just remember that we didn’t choose this disease. We were simply in the way of it. And we learned about it over many years. Now I am undoing all that has been harmful to me. It takes time–One day at a time.”
“I’d stayed up too late last night (watching Battlestar Galactica in bed on my iPad!,) gotten up early, and had a long day. As we waited for the check, Mom asked how my day was and I mentioned that I was pretty bushed. She thoughtfully offered to go to hobby group with Son. Since she’d accompanied him a few times before I didn’t think he’d mind.”
“But when I told him Mom was going with him instead of me, he began to protest and continued to beg me to go as we made our way to the parking lot. I was surprised, and torn because as we approach the end of Son’s single digit birthdays, I have a limited number of such opportunities left.”
“He continued to cling to me and whine (not too passionately, but stubbornly nonetheless.)”
“My mom absolutely couldn’t tolerate it.”
“As I listened to Son’s faux-whining and gave further consideration to my decision, she immediately tried to shut him down – I think in my defense, although I hadn’t asked to be defended.”
“It’s okay, Mom, he just wants me to go with him,” I said, soaking in the feeling of Son’s arms wrapped around me in his attempt to obstruct my progress toward departure. But she kept offering alternatives and telling him to stop being upset.”
“I quickly lost my patience and told her the conversation was between me and Son, and to stop involving herself in a discussion that didn’t involve her.”
“And then came the truly astonishing, revealing part of the conversation:”
Son: You have to go, and that’s that!
Mom: Stop that! She said she’s tired. Do you want her to drive while she’s tired and get into an accident?
Me: Mom!! Stop trying to make him feel guilty!! Stop trying to make him feel responsible for things that he’s not responsible for!
Mom: Well he has to know the circumstances!
“Oh my god, how instantly she can transport us to another universe!”
Me: But that’s COMPLETELY MADE UP!!! That hasn’t happened, and it’s not going to happen!
“But she couldn’t see it.”
“She doesn’t understand that she was trying to make him feel guilty for wanting me to come with him to hobby group, and she doesn’t get the concept that she’s teaching him to feel responsible for everything that happens in the world.”
“If you want your mother to come with you to hobby group when she’s tired, and then she does, and then she has an accident, it will be your fault for begging her to go.”
“She can’t see that she’s teaching him to try to anticipate how things will turn out and then shape his desires, needs and feelings around that, as if anyone can really anticipate the future.”
“She can’t grasp that she’s telling him that he has the power to keep his mother alive by not expressing what he wants in that moment.”
“No wonder I’ve lived most of my life unable to validate my feelings, needs and desires in a healthy way.”