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Emotions Are Not The Enemy

Emotions help us communicate with people, ask for help, and react quickly in dangerous or difficult situations. Our ‘gut feeling’ about things is often very helpful when solving problems. On top of this, letting out our feelings can be incredibly therapeutic, particularly in early sobriety when we might have been using alcohol or other substances to avoid doing this.

Sometimes it can feel like the overwhelming narrative is encouraging us to avoid ‘feeling our feelings’. Classic emotionally invalidating lines include (but are not limited to) ‘man up’, ‘pull yourself together’, ‘you’re overreacting’, ‘get over it’, and ‘cheer up’. Whilst I’m sure most people pulling these lines out of the bag have good intentions, they can lead us to believe that having emotions is wrong.

When our feelings are consistently belittled, we learn to push them away. At first, this seems like a decent solution. However, feelings are sneaky, and often end up coming out in other ways. By refusing to acknowledge and feel your feelings, you aren’t necessarily eliminating them, only temporarily pushing them down. One way or another, they will find their way to the surface.

To be clear, I am not a licensed therapist or psychologist, just someone with an assortment of experiences (like most people). I pushed my feelings away for a long time, and used alcohol as a coping mechanism for years. Despite how hard I tried to ignore those feelings, every time I got drunk enough, they would reappear. Expressing them when drunk meant they were exaggerated or warped, and I rarely had the courage to say how I really felt when I was sober.

Many people use alcohol in this way, and who can blame them? The world is scratchy, sharp, and difficult, and we’re sold a one-size-fits-all remedy that supposedly solves all problems. Self-medicating makes complete logical sense, especially when you consider everything we are taught about alcohol through society and the media.

Somewhere along the way, people usually realise alcohol is actually making things worse. It manifests in different ways for different people, but I have never heard anyone say that alcohol resulted in the healthy and regular processing of emotions. However, going sober and giving up what you use to soothe yourself in difficult moments is a daunting prospect. Not many people are willing to make that jump, especially as people so often talk about being ‘up and down like a yo-yo’ in early sobriety.

I can only speak from my own perspective, and I’ve always struggled with mental health issues and been quite emotional, but when I got sober my emotions were raw, real, and very much there. Stuff I had been repressing for years started to bubble up, and I would find myself bursting into tears at the most random moments. The supermarket, the car, and the park became regular sobbing spots for me. I didn’t know what to do with myself. At first this might not seem like the best advert for alcohol-free life, but it only got better from there.

It turns out that those emotions needed to surface. It was an emotional purge – a deep cleanse that my body had craved for years. Was it easy? Hell no. It was one of the most difficult times of my life, and the range of emotions I felt was too colourful for words. But did I need it? Absolutely.

From then on, I was faced with creating a new relationship with myself and my feelings. I was lucky enough to find myself surrounded by people who validated my emotions and wanted to help me manage them. I also sought help from my GP for mental health issues that I’d been ignoring for years.

Now, I take medication, meet regularly with my doctor, and have help from various services that range from therapy to practical support. Not everyone’s emotions, trauma, and past will look like mine. In fact, no one’s will look exactly like mine. People feel different feelings to different degrees, and some people will be struggling with a mental health condition that makes a lot of these issues more complex.

I’m not saying there’s a one-size-fits-all remedy. I’m just saying that I’m pretty sure emotions are not the enemy. We don’t have to make them go away, like a horrible shadow that we wish would leave us alone. They can be beautiful, useful, and informative. They can help us bond with each other, and they are a fundamental part of the human condition.

Whether or not you're interested in sobriety, if we start trying to accept our feelings, we can eventually let them wash over us like waves. It’s not easy – not by a long shot. Being vulnerable means we are open to being hurt by others, and that can feel scary. However, emotions are natural, and everyone gets them. They are coming up for a reason, and it’s good to listen to your body for signals like that, and try and figure out what they might mean.

Whether they arise for a reason that feels rational or not, feelings are nothing to be ashamed of.

As I said, they are not the enemy.

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