Having Feelings is Not the Problem

Submitted by on Friday, March 28, 20142 Comments

“I love your fiery spirit,” a friend told me recently.

Look. Samsara is having feelings again.This provoked my memory of how I tried to kill my ‘fiery spirit’ when I first got sober. At the time, I believed that repressing myself was the answer to this alcoholism problem.

To be fair, though, my ‘fiery spirit’ was already half dead due to alcoholism and all the shame and baggage a good alcoholic ass-kicking can bring. So that when my humiliation began wearing off due to acceptance by others, good sponsorship, and working the steps, my internal fire began re-igniting. And as a triple winner by way of being a Highly Sensitive Person holding hands with alcoholism and codependency, my fire did reignite, but more into the thought-form of an unstable combustion engine.

“Feelings are not the disease; not feeling them, repressing them, holding back, is the problem.” ~ Pg 71, (Step 4) Codependents Guide to the 12 Steps

Having Feelings

Psychology, Philosophy & Religion, 12 Step Recovery Model

Despite what one is taught or what discipline one enjoys, feelings happen.

In this article I hope to lead the gentle reader into the undoing of the illusion that says feelings are the enemy. Although it is true that feelings can be painful and can sit alongside thoughts that may be untrue, nevertheless, they happen. And if we’re busy trying to pretend them out of existence or run from them or “should them away” it is my experience that they will catch up and will have their way – one way or another.

What Are Feelings?

When I say feelings, I do not mean thoughts. I do not mean, “I FEEL as if he is an alcoholic.” That is not a feeling. That is a thought using language to disguise it as a feeling, and usually so the person can defend it with, “But that’s how I feel.” The truth is probably closer to I “feel angry because I think or I believe him to be an alcoholic.”

Thoughts and Beliefs can provoke feelings and emotions. Thoughts and beliefs about situations or people can provoke them. And sometimes – like in my case – dreams can even provoke them. Either way one needs to frame it, feelings happen and the purpose of this article is not to discuss what comes first – the thought then the feeling or the feeling then the thought – but to accept that they happen.

Teaching someone to repress or deny their feelings is teaching self abuse. Now in illusion, we continue our own self flagellation, our suffering. In learning the truth, we can stop.

In the awareness and acceptance of whatever feeling or emotion we’re having, our ego no longer needs to fight it away. And in quieting the ego that prefers illusions, we can find our own way much more clearly; One less layer of illusion (or denial) means closer to the truth – whatever that may be in whatever situation.

Having Feelings That Don’t Feel Good

These bad feelings will surely kill me.

  • I was feeling very unstable.
  • I was feeling quite off.
  • I was feeling murderous.
  • I was feeling self-hatred.
  • I was feeling victimized.
  • I was feeling CRAZY.

I was feeling every negative emotion and feeling I had been trying to avoid since I can remember – though I did not know it at the time. I thought that the magical act of stopping alcohol or even my working the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was supposed to be making me feel better, not worse.

In truth, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And I know that’s the truth because after I relapsed, I went through it again, only this time cleanly; It was still painful, yes, but it was clean meaning that it was honest. Or like Carl Jung would say, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” And what I had done, absurdly, at this point was allow my brain to get information that I wanted to believe that I was not where I was supposed to be; Particularly that I should not be feeling what I was feeling or having the emotions I was having.

Carl Jung: "There is no coming to consciousness without pain."

A.A. Group Messages Were Not Helping

Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps is the Recovery Model

The A.A. Group is Merely People and I was confused on this point when I was new in sobriety. I thought that everyone was sober and I also thought that everyone knew what they were talking about. Because I only ‘knew’ most of these people in meetings, I thought they really lived the way they spoke although the HSP in me, at the time, still knew something was wrong.

  •  “Anger is the dubious luxury of normal men the Big Book kinda says and was often repeated in meetings.
  • When I’m angry, I’m on a dry drunk and I’m just one step away from a drink” I had heard other A.A.’s say.
  • When other A.A.’s would express ‘negative’ feelings (victimization, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc) I’d hear other A.A.’s quote the “Selfishness, self-centeredness is the root of our problem,” quote ( Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book ; Pg 62 ).
  • A.A. woman helping me work the steps – while sponsor was out of town – and I’m dealing with resentment list of a relative who called me a a whore for wearing a wrinkled over-sized shirt to my surgery. A.A. woman asks, “What was your part in that?” (Yes, really.)
  • After being stolen from my boyfriend (again), in an A.A. meeting, my anger at him would become replaced with anger for the one who’d say, “You’re powerless,” or “Acceptance is the answer to all your problems.” (So I ‘accept’ that he steals from me and that’s my answer? My anger stemmed from the smell of bullshit and the apparent complicity I was apparently expected to have in my own exploitation.)

Misappropriated / Worshiped Concepts of Anger, Powerlessness and Acceptance

Anger. It’s an emotion. I’m not going to dissect or defend its right to exist. I don’t hardly need to because it’ll exist with or without my words. But I will say that anger is an honest emotion that tells me when something’s off. I may not have the language to express myself other than calling it anger, but there it is: Anger. And calling anger a dubious luxury is a bit ridiculous except in the context of the Big Book (Pg 66) which is not only addressing why and how to do a 4th step but to which I interpret their version of  ‘anger’ as deep resentments.

Anger has a bad reputation and to deny its place is spiritual fascism. I first heard Gangaji use the term and I loved it because it spoke the truth to my heart. So that when we feel these certain feelings, good, keep those! But when we feel those other feelings, that’s bad, so get rid of them. And in the truth and reality of it all, there they both are; Just sitting there, being feelings.

“I’m powerless over everything!” That sounds depressing. If I were powerless over everything, I’d go back to drinking and at least catch my buzz on. But as it is, I had to quit drinking because I lost power and now I have some back. Or, in a reality-based setting, if you’re really powerless over everything (people, places, things) then…

  1. You lack power in all relationships. Is this true?
  2. You lack power in your home, community and the world. Is this true?
  3. You lack power in how your car behaves. So no need to get the oil changed or give it gas, right?

I’m only slightly chiding. Society loves to worship concepts and turn them into rules and even more-so, perhaps, is the mind-pained person dragging their alcoholic ass-kicked body into another society.  But as a human being desiring freedom, isn’t it equally important we hold up these ‘recovery concepts’ and discover the truth of them for ourselves?

“Acceptance is the answer.” If you are in A.A., you may have read that “acceptance is the answer” in a story in the Big Book or have heard it oft-quoted in meetings as some part of the ‘A.A. program’ itself. It is not. It is the re-telling of one person’s story:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment…” – Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book ; Page 449 in the 3rd edition or page 417 in the 4th edition

Acceptance is not always the answer to all my problems, but is always the first step in solving them.

Silly analogy: I am accepting that I have an empty coffee cup and, speaking of feelings, I feel a tinge of sad. That is no answer to my problem of ‘lack of coffee’, but is the first step in fixing it, moving forward. [A short time later…] As I sit here with a full cup of coffee, all is right in my world. I no longer feel a tinge of sadness AND I have coffee. By accepting the Truth, I can then take an action moving forward with whatever perceived problem I have. But just accepting I have no coffee is not the answer to the ‘not have coffee problem’ because I did not see my cup fill magically up once I accepted that it was gone.

Real ‘my story’ analogy: I accepted that my boyfriend stole from me and would steal from me again whenever he needed money. I’m not sure how I could deny it since history had proven he would. Is that the answer to my problem? Do I simply accept this behavior and thereby gain my serenity? No. I accept – meaning acknowledge, NOT agree to – he is what and who he is. And then I solve this problem by changing my pin # to my bank card; I solve this problem by not loaning him money.

Recovery and the 3 A’s : Awareness, Acceptance, Action

From the 1st step to the 12th step – Awareness, Acceptance, and Action are tantamount. In Al-Anon and Codependent Recovery I see it more often explicitly discussed (and this is a wonderful piece of reading here on the 3 A’s), while in Alcoholics Anonymous Groups, never. In A.A. groups I hear more about “being powerless and “acceptance being the answer” than is reasonable, based on the 12 Steps itself! The steps do not stop at acceptance and in fact, the argument’s been made that Step 3 is ACTION and then, of course, 4 – 12 are as well.

This is strictly my opinion – based on where I initially got sober and my own personality and story – but if one has been raised in an ACOA, broken, or trauma-inducing “Don’t Speak. Don’t Feel. Don’t Think.” system, attending too many A.A. meetings without benefit of Al-Anon or Codependent recovery is a recipe for relapse. I say ‘attending too many’ because those alcoholics who begin to familiarize themselves with you and you to them will be more likely to throw out those sayings and cult-speaks to you which may re-affirm old patternings you’re exactly trying to re-pattern!

Years ago I told a sponsee, after her several relapses, I wanted her in Al-Anon as soon as possible which went against exactly how my sponsor did it for me which was for me to have a year of sobriety. But I listened to my intuitive voice (my spirit) OVER how I was ‘taught’ – in feeling like I knew what would benefit this girl. And she’s been sober since; NOT because I threw out trite phrases with no basis in sanity or reality, but because I helped her to find her  intuitive voice, her spirit, God.

Growing Up Having Feelings

In my home, feelings were only okay if they were approved. Right or wrong – while neither is more the truth –  this was my perception. If feelings were not approved and a little feeling tried to escape,  shame, blame, manipulation, humiliation or tacit disapproval would quickly follow.

Having Feelings. They Happen.

Being a most feeling sort of person by nature, I was undone. I was also very much primed for my entry into a subculture that had the same sorts of personalities telling me, again, that in one way or another, my ‘bad feelings were bad’.

At this point, I am making a distinction between the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Newly Sober Having Feelings

With the A.A. Group Messages I was hearing – despite being in opposition to what my sponsor was teaching me – I thought my solution was simple: Quit having feelings. So I tried that.

  • I tried to develop a thicker skin.
  • I would show no emotion.
  • I would pretend I was okay.
  • I would develop no new problems.
  • I would take that “Act as if” catchphrase seriously.
  • I would BEHAVE as if I were fine and surely my mind would catch up.

Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. ~ Carl Jung

How I Tried to Repress, Escape, or Deny Feelings

As  a result of this subconscious illusioning of my confused mind, I was either having feelings or trying to repress, escape, change, avoid, think my way out of them or otherwise deny them.

  • I went to even more meetings trying to escape my feelings.
  • I got creative in trying to think my way out of feelings.
  • I smiled a lot more in trying to cover these feelings.
  • I was dishonest with myself (and as a result felt like a phony.)
  • I tried ‘phrasing’ my way out of feelings. (Let Go. Let God.)
  • I said yes to people and situations that hurt.
  • I tried covering ‘negative feelings’ with gratitude.
  • Anorexia made a nice healthy comeback.
  • Self-mutilation enjoyed its healthy comeback.
  • Sugar in place of food made a nice healthy comeback.
  • Sleeping a lot was a nice escape.

Cognitive Dissonance: “In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the excessive mental stress and discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time.”

In my current life, I was holding ‘negative feelings’ yet firmly believing I should not be. My upbringing had taught me so. My trouble with alcohol had taught me so. The cult rehab I was in at age 15 had taught me so. And now, members in A.A. were teaching me so. In every manner of turning around, I had been taught and was still being taught that ‘having feelings’ that others did not approve of was the cause of my suffering.

Had I thought it through a little further, I would have understood that repression and denial was the perfect model for why I sought comfort in alcohol  in the first place. It allowed me a respite for the so-called negative feelings I had suffered through the day, or for the emotions I’d never fully felt or dealt with in my life story.

So I Got My Drunk On

And I Quit Feeling So Highly Sensitive

And after a little over a month of this kind of sobriety – which is the longest I’d not had a drink in about 7 years –  I finally got drunk.

Fukitol or Feel ItIt was wonderful. It was the most honest I had been with myself since the day I picked up my white token in October of 2002. No longer suffering through a neurotic dissonance, I was perfectly and justly re-aligned.

I told my sponsor I did not want sobriety. And I didn’t.

What the ever-loving-fukitol was the point in surrounding myself with quackfakery that hurt like that? “They’re liars,” I told her, “And alcoholic or not, I can’t live like that.”

And, while on this 3 week daily drunk of alcohol, I was steadfastly (though subconsciously) confirmed that this world had no room for me. So there I am; Escaping the hell of lies and illusions and throwing myself back into the eventual hell of a full time job of murdering feelings.

 Related: How does an HSP Get Sober?

Back to Sobriety I Go

And Finally to Al-Anon & Codependent Recovery

This time, when I went back to sobriety, I was healthily grateful. And angry. And it was this dose of anger that spurred on my “How does an HSP Get Sober” period of time. I quit pretending. I quit denying and repressing where I was and any feelings that happened, were provoked, or arose.

And I went through the fire as Gangaji might say. Or I went through legitimate suffering in lieu of neurosis as Carl Jung would say. I may have been in pain and may have FELT like I was going crazy but I wasn’t. I had a good and honest mentor who had been through the fire herself and was there to help me process, work through, and give me suggestions. And sometimes she would good-naturedly laugh as my tear-streaked face pleaded with her to make these feelings go away. And then I’d laugh.

No longer did I desire to illusion, lie, prevaricate or dissemble these feelings away. There they were and they were pissed; They would have their way with me. And the most beautiful news and message of this episode in my life is that they did not consume me into insanity or death. Feelings are not insanity. Feelings are feelings – maybe sitting alongside some thoughts – that are just there.


A Most Feeling Conclusion:

When someone is having feelings that are painful or expressing feelings that are painful, and this can happen in any subculture or community and I am only using my 12 Step Group experience as the vehicle, to ask or teach them (tacitly or overtly) to deny their feelings or pretend them away or repress them, is synonymous with asking them to perform self-abuse.

Once in a while I’ll hear someone say in an A.A. meeting, “They cared more about my life than my feelings.” when speaking of sponsorship usually. But when I came into recovery my feelings WERE ‘my life’ and they needed dealing with. I had feelings buried deep down that I’d not been able to express and, without benefit of alcohol, they came out one way or another.

Saving my physical body’s life might be nice and an added benefit of recovering through sobriety but bodily death never scared me; That was never my final fear. My final fear was living the samsara of repetitions into hell ; The hell of my mind where the feelings and emotions hung out.

Fortunately, in time, I discovered and still continue to discover that drug use in A.A. is a healthy explanation for many of these pieces of advice; Minus, that is, the innocently-trying-to-really-get-sober newcomer who really is stone cold sober with feelings but who is being led down the path of these superegoic or conceptually misappropriated practices.

But if she she can remain sober despite the effort of trying to not have feelings, despite the thoughts that having feelings will drive her crazy,  she’ll be even better than had she not gone through the fire of her mind and the fire of bullshitology.

Because after the fire, there is peace.

And, yes, room for even a still fiery spirit.


Validation of Feelings


Maybe of further interest:

  1. My Little Codie Recovery Page on Facebook.
  2. My Codependency Articles, Resources, and “What is Codependency?” anyway.


  • Dan said:

    Loved what you said about acceptance being the first step in solving my problems. Also love Tara Brach’s radical acceptance. And Rumi’s the guest house.

    A therapist told me that thoughts originate in the brain and feelings originate in the body. That tightness in my clenched fists is anger. That heaviness in my chest, sorrow. Mindfulness helps me be aware of both.

    Currently reading Joseph Goldstein’s “Mindfulness” He discusses sense organs and their consciousnesses: Sight, sound, taste, touch, and thoughts. Wait what? Thoughts? Thoughts, he argues are merely the stimulus the brain senses, the brain being just another sense organ like the ear or the tongue. A bird chirping and “I hate her” are just stimuli which I meticulously label. But I thought sounds were “out there” and thoughts were “in here” Wait. “In here?” Where is this, “in here?”

    Where is the “I”

    What is this thing that is thinking?

  • Samsara (author) said:

    This I thinks that’s cool, Dan.

    “Who is this I having this thought?” – Ramana Maharshi


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