Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Painful Emotions are Actually Useful

For a lot of my adult life I just wanted all my emotions to just go away.  I kind of wanted happy to stay but was willing to give it up to get rid of the others.  I had no problem with going through life being numb.  I felt like I had had enough painful emotions to last a lifetime and I was just finished with the whole thing.

In recovery I learned that emotions were given to us humans as tools to keep us safe.  I had no idea!  I thought I was just being tortured for no reason.  "No," my mentors said, "If you broke your leg and had no pain, you would keep walking and do yourself damage.  The pain alerts you that you are injured and need to take action to take care of yourself."

The same thing is true of painful emotions.  Of course, the usefulness of those emotions depends on my ability to determine exactly what causes them so that I can take the appropriate action to take care of myself.   That was the hard part.  I had to have a lot of help with that because I had spent so much of my life blaming what was going on outside me for my painful emotions.  I learned that the pain was really about what I told myself.
When I was angry I noticed that I thought someone had deliberately done something to hurt me.  Sometimes that was probably not true.  It was a good idea to talk to a mentor to help me sort out when I needed to protect myself from someone and when I needed to just let it go.

When I was afraid, I also learned to talk to a mentor to sort out whether I was entertaining a real or imagined fear.  It turned out that most of my fears were about the future and that the problem was that I had a habit of believing I could predict the future and my predictions were always about disaster.  So...I learned to do today the next right things and let the future take care of itself.  Fear was useful in that I could use it for motivation to take action when action was needed.

Grief and sadness - unavoidable - a natural reaction to losing people I loved.  The price we pay for love.  But when I let go of anger about it, or beliefs that I could have somehow prevented the loss, I was just left with the sadness of missing the person and learning to live without that person.  Something that every human being must learn to do.  So...we can have compassion for each other.

I started out in recovery feeling guilty about everything.  My mentors taught me to sort that out too.  We started with harm I had done other people - guilt alerted me to the need to amend my behavior and do what I could to right the wrongs I had done.  When I had violated my values, I also felt guilty so I learned to examine my values, and commit to living up to them with the help of God. 

I was going to make mistakes, my mentors told me.  They also said, that a daily review would help me remember to stay on track, but that I was not to carry guilt for my mistakes for the rest of my life.  Instead I was to try to do better the next day.

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