Emotions and drink – why I’m emotionally inept

Before I get into the meat of today’s post I have to say that sadly the father of my daughter’s friend passed away early this morning with all his family around him.  He didn’t even get to 50 and it is so very very sad.  I’d been writing this post up when I received that news.  I feel sad.  I feel sad for his family and particularly his daughter she is 18 in only a few days time and now as she becomes an adult she loses one of the most important adults in her life.  But I feel sad and I’m ok with that it is natural.  I also feel grateful that it wasn’t me and it wasn’t my daughter having to have her 18th party in a week or so without me there. And again I’m ok with that – it is ok for me to feel both these things simultaneously.  The rest of this post is so relevant to those thoughts I’ll now dive into it.

I was listening to a podcast over at Belle’s blog in which she talks about using drink to regulate emotions – that she used it to numb herself. Boy did that resonate with me; and take me back. About two or three days into rehab I sat in a group session with a selection of the current incumbents. One of them, the focus of this group was actually a gambler. They were talking about what their addiction meant to them, I’m presuming it was a Step 1 discussion. Anyway he sighed and shrugged regarding some point where he’d been asked about why he did it, what was the buzz or not etc. and eventually he sighed and said “Really I don’t know but what it does do is numb me to the world around me for that moment. That is why I want it. That is why I keep doing it. I want to be numb.” I remember sitting forward intently hanging on every word he said. The counsellor facilitating the session noticed and asked me what I was thinking. I told him and the group that I could have said those exact words about my drinking.

It was one of the many “lightbulb moments” I’ve had on my trudge to happy destiny. When someone puts into words what is in my heart and which I so relate to for a moment I’m in complete empathy with that person. That bond to other addicts is remarkably strong and special for me.  Many times I’ve heard stories from people that couldn’t be more different from my own in terms of specifics and substance but some of the way they speak about how they felt and what drove them it is as though it is me talking.

But that emotions things is so very important. I got to 41 years of age without being able to handle emotions. I had really little if no concept of love vs lust, sadness vs grief, happiness vs amusement etc. The subtleness of these things was lost on me because deliberately avoided feeling them.  I couldn’t handle multiple emotions at the same time at all, I thought I was a freak having that kind of dichotomy going on in my head.  I described myself for a long time in recovery as emotionally inept.  I didn’t do emotions – I still don’t do them well.

My old pattern was … start to feel down, alone, unhappy whatever – have a drink, it’ll make it better. It didn’t.  It made me a miserable, morose bore. If I started to feel happy if something hinted at good times I drank, normally to destroy it not to celebrate it, I didn’t deserve good times and happy feelings in my mind and it would all turn to shite sooner or later anyway so let’s get drunk and help it on it’s way. So I drank and it made me a miserable, morose bore.

My last ever bender came on the back of a text message from my wife containing the line “Tonight we can celebrate”. Already having started drinking that day and with a pint in my hand I read that and my head rather than focusing on the event my wife was keen to celebrate after 19 years of marriage and hard work (which was that we now owned our house outright having paid off the mortgage) went – “my life is actually still utter shit” and off I went on a several hour bender. Madness.

However having taken the drink away from the malady I have in my head I now have to deal with emotions. I’ve experienced grief in sobriety, I’ve had to stay with it, walk through it and experience it. I know that whilst that isn’t comfortable obviously it is important, that is how you deal with it. In time the grief moves over and you may reflect at times and be sad that is ok but again with the passing of time and the healing process you look back with happiness more than sadness most of the time and the world keeps turning. I’ve learnt that happiness will pass as well as sadness and sometimes I know why I feel that way other times it is just because on that day, at that time I’m going to feel that way and that is that and I just have to go with it and allow it to pass from me.

Back to rehab. Every session you had to introduce your self and why you were there… “Graham. Alcoholic”. Then you had to say how you felt. Boy was that a struggle for me for the first few days. Fine was my initial response then the laughs and being told that meant “Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional”. Then I’d say “My leg hurts” or “this chair feels hard”, I could feel a physical thing not an emotion.  It really was a struggle for me to connect to my internal emotions in any way at all. Now if asked I’ll tell you… “Graham. Alcoholic. Little anxious about the direction my life is taking at the moment”. You may not think that is much that sentence – for me it has been like climbing Everest to get here.

Going back to the start the death of this acquaintance of mine is making me sad today.  I’m am perfectly fine with that… I mean comfortable with it… 😉  (I should do a post about my inappropriate use of humour in times of stress or discomfort!)

About furtheron

Music and guitar obsessive who is a recovering alcoholic to boot
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9 Responses to Emotions and drink – why I’m emotionally inept

  1. Belle says:

    i remember once i was in a counselling session about 10 years ago, and the therapist said “how did that make you feel?” and i said “it made me think he was an ass.” and she says again, “what are the feelings?” and i’m like “he’s an idiot, he is so mean to me.” therapist: “Those are thoughts. Feelings are happy/sad/mad/glad…” and then i was forced to PICK a feeling. I decided on disappointed. i now use her happy/sad/mad/glad phrase all the time… i used to literally not have access to those kinds of words, always wrapped up in my talking words about thoughts … and yes, please do a post about sarcasm, humour, and being defensive… i’m right there with ya!

  2. Boy do I relate to this post. I suck at emotions. I was so numb for years I didn’t even realize I was depressed. Drinking made everything fuzzy and less acute. I still spend an inordinate time avoiding feeling too much, but that’s a horrible way to live too.

    I’m so sorry about your daughter’s friend’s dad. 18 is way too young to lose a parent.

  3. In my getting sober, I eventually realized that I was using wine (my main drink of choice) *in order to feel* the emotions that I was repressing, not necessarily to numb them. It was weird, because I thought I was using wine to numb, but I had already numbed myself to the point of not being able to feel properly. After getting sober, I’ve become sick of emotion, wary of feeling–maybe I’m more numb now, but I like not feeling so hard, being even, no ups or downs! For now, it works. I am less emotional, and I like that. Yes, grief is one of those big things that need to be truly processed–felt, then put away, then felt again. Great, thought-provoking post.

    • furtheron says:

      There is a common saying in the meetings I go to which is “the good news is you get your emotions back. The bad news is you get your emotions back!”

      I’d try to roll with it DDG my experience is that it does get better over the months/years.

  4. sherryd32148 says:

    Don’t worry…I “get” you. I’ve always used humor at inappropriate times to help me get through it.

    This post has really made me think. I mean really.

    I’ll get back to you when I figure it out but for now…thank you.


  5. Aunt Jax says:

    I’m a big ball of emotions… bu I feel ya.

  6. soberdiaries says:

    I am definitely feeling F.I.N.E. lately. I have never heard that before. 🙂

  7. I feel ya on this one, Graham. I was as numb as could be, even sober. If you asked me how I was doing, or asked me for an opinion on something, I would have stared at you as if you asked me a calculus question. I didn’t know. I really didn’t. I didn’t have access to myself and was lost. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I didn’t know that I could feel. But when i did feel, I felt *deeply* and in over-the-top amounts. Inappopriate amounts and ways of expressing it. It was all or nothing. Today it’s much better, but I still do have to navigate a little bit. I don’t get immediate access, and sometimes it takes me minutes, hours and even days before I understand what is going on, but at least I get something.

    Great post, Graham…loving the blog here.


    • furtheron says:

      I relate to your “all of nothing” – I think that was the problem before my recovery I couldn’t work in shade of grey (steady… not THAT shades of grey!) I only dealt in yes/no all/nothing on/off… Maybe that was why I ended up in IT and was (initially) very good at it – I was a binary object myself so could compute!

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