Has anyone ever accused you of feeling too much? If you’re like me you might be soaking up the feelings of everyone around you. I was only a child when I first heard it. A tragedy had just occurred in our home. At least to me it was a tragedy. My mother on the other hand, didn’t view it that way at all.
As a matter of fact, my mother was rather put off with the drama that was unfolding in front of her. I was sobbing loudly and pointing at the floor. She shook her head, bent down and looked me square in the eyes. “You feel too much.” She told me, as if that were a bad thing.
Even though I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, I felt ashamed and confused. Had I done something wrong? And what did she mean, I feel too much? Didn’t everybody feel?
I looked at the dead mouse on the floor and my heart broke all over again. I didn’t care what she said. Seeing the little creature in that shape was a tragedy. I couldn’t stand looking at its tiny battered body. The pain inside my chest was enormous. I could barely breathe. I wondered if it had other mice waiting for it somewhere. I wanted to bury the tiny creature, but my Mom shooed me out of the kitchen and swept it into a dust pan. As if that weren’t injustice enough, she emptied the dustpan into the garbage can and then put it out on the road. So much for a funeral service!
I skulked around the house for days wondering if the mouse had made it to heaven, and if it had suffered much upon its death – which by the way, was beating by broomstick via my Mom!
I was careful not to step on spiders or kill bugs. I picked up dazed birds who’d hit the window glass and nursed them back to health. The more broken a creature was, the more attracted I was to it. As my teen years came upon me, I had many friends. They were my whole world. I thought I could feel their feelings, too. If my friend was having a bad day, it was my job to fix it. There was nothing separate about my relationships. I immersed myself into that person. I took on their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. I became them, maybe because I never did have a good sense of me.
I constantly rooted for the underdog, and only felt worthy when I was helping, rescuing or saving.
You can see where this is going!
Not everyone appreciated my help. The more they balked, the harder I tried. Personal boundaries, and letting go, were a concept that seemed disloyal and incredibly uncaring.
I never knew then that I was codependent. Or that my sense of self was based on what I could do, and not who I was.
I ran away from every bad feeling, and only wanted the ‘good ones.’ Of course, we humans come with a range of emotions and being from an alcoholic family, I had more than my fair share of painful ones.
Hurt, hurt! When I felt sad, I thought I might die. Emotionally, everything was… bigger.
I’d never learned how to work through my emotions. I either ran from them, or mood-altered to avoid feeling them. So when I first began using substance, I thought I’d found the answers to all my angst. However, I soon found out I was wrong. You can’t drink, snort or inject those pesky feelings away.
When I went to rehab I learned that my feelings weren’t my problem. This surprised me. I could understand how the ‘good feelings,’ weren’t a problem, but what about the ‘bad ones?’
Then I learned something that changed everything.
I was taught feelings aren’t good or bad, they’re simply comfortable and uncomfortable. I learned that I’d been judging my feelings, not feeling them. When you judge your feelings you fight against them and make them bigger than they really are.
I also learned that when you share your feelings with the people you love, and they share back, you become closer to them. Of course in order to do this your ‘family,’ needs to be safe. Otherwise you’ll only end up building walls and resentments.
For a long time after I completed treatment my ‘family,’ was my 12 step group. Not because I loved them more than my blood family, but because they knew how to stay open when I blundered my way through things in those early days. They were the ones who held my hand and reminded me to breathe when I got too far ahead of myself.
Today I know that I won’t die from uncomfortable feelings. I don’t have to avoid them, people-please over them or mood-alter. Feelings are like waves. Some are little and some are enormous, but eventually they pass. It’s what you do with them that counts.
Although many will tell you addiction isn’t about feelings, I’m still not convinced. All I know for sure is this – the more I recognize, accept and share my emotions, the less likely I am to act on them.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1-888-614-2379.