What happens if we feel? Feeling is the key to addiction recovery

What happens if we feel? Feeling is the key to addiction recovery

As I sit and listen to the rain drops pitter patter on the roof, eloquently timed with the woosh of the cars rushing by, I am struck with a question…what happens if we feel?

I heard the shocking news moments ago that someone I love dearly is about to hear that her friend (21 years old) died from a drug overdose. Suddenly, the mundane details of the day and the exhaustion I feel take a back seat. Struck with sadness for the shock my loved one is about to receive, I’m also struck by the tremendous suffering her friend must have felt.

I imagine, like with all addicts, that urgency to escape; the need to run from feeling and numb the pain of life. I remember that need from my old life. That desire. No matter what the cost, I needed to not feel. I had no idea what I didn’t want to feel but knew life and emotions were way too intense and I was too weak. So, I too, turned to drugs to take away the pain that I couldn’t bear to feel. The poison I chose varied by the day but the desire to numb myself from feeling did not.

It wasn’t until rock bottom hit that I knew feeling was the only way to save my life. At that point, I dared to ask, what happens if I feel? I resolved to acknowledge exactly where I was and feel what was coming up. With the help of a qualified doctor, I spent six months detoxing off of pain killers and dozens of pharmaceutical medications (for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety), feeling every single uncomfortable second without the comfort of escape. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Feeling every uncomfortable second without the comfort of escape

A lifetime of buried emotions rushed to the surface as I sat with the darkness, fear and doubt, wondering if I would ever see the light. I was so attached to escape, so attached to believing that I was the contents of my negative mind. So attached to that depressed, suicidal, anxious person stuck in victim mode. How could I ever get out? How could I ever not be this person? Who would I be if I let these things go?!

Having never felt before, or not knowing how to feel, my mind felt like a wild beast and my body was riddled with pains, soreness and restriction. Instead of running from it, I felt it. All of it. I gradually began to realize, as things softened, that these feelings were so intense because I had stuffed down my feelings for three decades; I had some catching up to do. I had to release those decades of being a victim, trapped in self-loathing, depression and pity. Tortured and drained, my breath, yoga and meditation practices kept me moving forward, confronting the intensity, letting go and pushing through.

When I first started to pay attention to my breath, examine my mind and feel my body, it was such an unfamiliar place; so foreign and extremely uncomfortable. As layers of suffering released—breath by breath—feeling became natural and imperative to my healing. Finally through the intensity of detox, I began to rebuild and restore my body and mind not only with my practices, but also with food and exercise. I did so with intense presence, movement and a journey inward, no matter how uncomfortable, hopeless or scary it got. As soon as I set this new habit for myself and stuck with it, continuing to ask myself to feel, releasing layer by layer, things moved quickly.

Today, with those dark days five years behind me, I live in a healthier space, free from the darkness, fear, addiction and suffering of my past. I feel no matter what comes in, without that intense urge to escape.

I’m reminded every day of my fellow humans that still live trapped in not feeling; trapped in sadness and suffering, unwilling to confront the pain. I remember that for some, experiences are too intense to feel, too traumatic, too horrible to look at and I pray that one day they find the strength and support to go through the pain and find freedom.

As the mind quiets, the body softens

Through my life’s work teaching these tools, I have learned one sacred truth: the body holds life experiences within its cells. I have learned, experienced and witnessed that as the mind quiets, the body softens and lets go of whatever it is ready to move out. It’s so simple, yet so difficult, different and complicated for each of us. It all starts with feeling.

I firmly believe that because I did the work to move out my past, I was able to move through the grief of the recent loss of my beloved dog, without the need to avoid feeling or self-medicate. I was able to sit with grief from that experience and that experience alone. I witnessed my mind and emotions as the grief from my past attempted to creep in. My willingness to stay present with that grief, to feel that grief, and to not allow my mind to attach past grief to it, allowed me to move through the intense emotion, release it, and heal. In order to heal, we need to feel.

What happens if I feel?

I find freedom from pain. I find relief. I walk toward and peacefully bask in the light and love of my true nature, returning home, knowing deep within, that this is who I am.

May all beings be free from pain and suffering.
May all beings know the unshakable peace that is eternal and lies within.

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