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EMOTIONAL SENSITIVITY AND SOBRIETY

The last week or so has been the hardest time I have had thus far in my 151 days of sobriety. I feel quite anxious, overly sensitive, and self-conscious. Stress does strange things to me. I am not used to caring about anything, so when I go through something stressful, or emotionally trying, it throws me for a loop.

Apparently, these feelings are normal, and the stressors are just everyday life events. This is what regular people feel? Damn. I’ve been reflecting upon what life was like before I discovered drugs and alcohol could temporarily relieve my physical and emotional pain as well as my anxiety, and I’m coming to realize that I was an overly emotional and sensitive kid. Really, that’s what I still am. I only consider myself to be a semi-adult, which is something I’m working on.

I remember being very young, living in VA Beach, Virginia, somewhere between 1990 and 1992, and being in my parents’ bedroom and crying listening to “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. I remember knowing that the song was about his toddler son that had fallen out of a window and died and just lying there and listening and weeping. I was between the ages of 4 and 6. Was this normal? I think not. I also remember seeing commercials on T.V. about sponsoring starving children in South East Asia and crying and begging my parents to sponsor one of these poor children. Do I have a good heart? Yes. Was I an overly-emotional child? Absolutely. I remember feeling embarrassment quite easily and wanting to crawl into a hole and hide so I would run away and cry. I remember not wanting people to see me become so upset and if they did my embarrassment only worsened. All these feelings were being felt before age 10.

My parents were loving people, but when it came to whining and crying, they just didn’t have much time for it. If I was physically hurt or sick, that was one thing, but they weren’t coddlers when it came to emotional pain. Pain was a weakness, or at least that’s how they made me feel, unintentionally, I’m sure. They couldn’t quite understand me, neither one of them are highly emotional beings, and as much as I know they love me, I know they still don’t understand me. And that’s ok, I don’t have to lay all my emotional shit on my parents, and I didn’t figure that out until I was about 28 years old.*

By the time I hit middle school age, which by the way, I feel are the hell-on-Earth years, I had an enormous chip on my shoulder that I dared anyone to touch. When I felt embarrassment, which was often, I became angry instead of sad. I would threaten to beat up my peers, and on occasion, I followed through with my threats, and other times I talked my way out of it if I thought there was even a slight possibility that this person would get the best of me in a fight. In hindsight, I was a bully. A pissed off bully. I had a rep to protect (I’m rolling my eyes so hard at my 12-year-old-self right now), so obviously I was going to wear offensive clothes, smoke cigarettes, cuss like a sailor, and act like a complete asshole. Hey, it was cool.

By the time I got to high school, I was so worried about what other people thought about me that I had to adapt to the people around me. With certain people I felt that I needed to act extra tough, with others I felt the need to act extra free-spirited, and with my boyfriend, I was seen and not heard because I was so scared to say or do the wrong thing in front of him. I could chit chat all day and night long on that stupid AOL instant messenger with him, but the moment I was in his presence I was frozen. Eventually, I just started smoking pot and drinking every time I was with him so I could stand to be me.

When that freshman year boyfriend dumped me, I felt actual heart ache for the first time. I was 15, I was no longer a virgin, and I felt like a piece of garbage. I had little-to-no self-esteem when I was with him, and after it was over, I’m pretty positive there was a deficit. My relationships for the next 12 years were toxic, based upon drugs and/or alcohol, and were going absolutely nowhere, but I felt like I needed those men to fill a void. When they didn’t fill it, I turned to the one thing that always filled it, mind-altering substances.

Obviously, I was a self-medicating, which led to an eventual crash and burn of epic proportions, and I’m happy to say I made it out alive, and here I am, clean and sober, stumbling through early sobriety. I say I’m stumbling because on the outside, things look pretty good, and they are, but on the inside, things are still healing. I’m going through a breakup, which is hard enough, and I’m also trying to figure out how to afford to support myself when I have to move, which is soon, and I’m living in one of the most expensive counties in the country. I am scared, I am stressed, I am excited, I am sad, I am happy, I am a million different things right now. But, this is life. This is what people have to do to survive. I am not unlike everyone else around me. I have quality problems right now, but my go-to coping skills for the emotions those problems cause, is a problem.

Yesterday, I had to talk myself out of going to the store and buying a bottle of wine after a frustrating day at work. It wasn’t hard to talk myself out of, but I still had to do it. Last night, I woke up out of my sleep with a pretty draining anxiety attack. This morning, I woke up from a very vivid, very scary, very stressful nightmare. This is my mind and body responding to the stress I am feeling, and I don’t like it. I don’t like to feel these feelings. It’s uncomfortable. Life is uncomfortable.

I struggle every single day not to go drown these feelings with drugs or alcohol. That is something that is really hard to admit to myself. I numbed myself to a point of feeling basically nothing for years, and then after I couldn’t numb myself completely, all I felt was pain. I am grateful for the ability to feel joy today, as well as the full spectrum of emotions, but it is hard sometimes. I have to work extra hard to rid myself of negative feelings. I have to talk to people, I have to do footwork, I have to identify when something isn’t right and do something to change it.

Being sober is by far the most rewarding gift I have ever given myself. Nothing comes free, and in order to succeed, I have to work through my emotional wreckage. My wreckage runs deep, but I know that in a month, or 3 months or sometime in the not so distant future, I won’t feel this way. I have a great network of supportive friends and family that tell me only positive things, they share their experience, strength and hope with me and help give me the courage I need to keep moving forward.

Today, I practice contrary action, because my first instinct is to run. I refuse to run and hide and cry alone today. Today, I accept that I am a human being, with emotions, needs, and wants, and that is ok. Today, I am healing.

*Disclaimer: For the benefit of my family and friends, I am fully aware that everyone has their own perception of how things were/are, and just because I remember things a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s exactly how they were. Children perceive things very differently from adults, obviously, and I may recall things as not exactly or at all how they were. When I recall thoughts or feelings, I mean no offense to those the thoughts or feelings may have been about.

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