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Finding Joy

Margaret Phillips
| February 6, 2017

The past several blogs I’ve written have been a little deep, so I thought I’d lighten up the mood a bit. At least, I hope that is what the end product will be. Do you know what true joy is? Do you allow yourself to feel joy? What can you do to find joy in the journey of life?

Joy, in its simplest form, is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. However, if you don’t allow yourself to be happy, how can you find joy in this journey called “life”? I hope you are not waiting for me to deliver some great epiphany on this topic because I don’t have one. What I can tell you about joy is that I finally found it, but not until after a lot of heartache– mostly at my own hand, thanks to addiction.

I think most of us just assume we know what a certain feeling means. We know when we are supposed to feel a certain way in a certain circumstance. Can you truly say you know when you feel joy? I certainly couldn’t until my late thirties. Yep. You read that right.

Picture it. Sicily. 1926… no, wait. This isn’t the Golden Girls! (Although I do go on rerun binges.) Let’s try again.

Picture it. Memphis, 2008– when I was in what I hope will be my last stint ever in a treatment center. Each morning, group started off with each of us having to identify two or three feelings that we felt in that moment. Honestly, it took me almost a month before I really could identify some of them. Take, for instance, the feeling of “happy”. Why would I be happy when I’m sitting in a treatment center for the umpteenth time having let down everyone I love (including myself) yet again? The situation didn’t fit being happy. Intellectually, it fit angry, sad, mad—all of the common emotions we are supposed to feel when we screw up our own life.

I actually struggled quite a bit with that activity for a long time. I realized that I didn’t know how I truly felt. I knew how I was supposed to feel or how I thought people wanted me to feel, but I had no sense of what I felt in my heart. Or what emotions felt like in my gut. That revelation got me thinking, but not until after it scared me to death!

When I fell in love with my husband, did I allow myself to feel worthy of his love? When I lost my mom and dad, did I allow myself to feel sad? When I graduated from college was it really joy or just relief that I survived? I pondered over these questions until I made myself crazy. Feeling crazy was a feeling I could identify with for sure.

Try to imagine having several months in a treatment center doing nothing but focusing 100% on yourself and your feelings that you fought so hard not to feel. Top that with having to feel emotions with no old vices to reach for.  It was just me having to deal with me, which on some days sucked!

However, that time gave me the greatest blessing I could have ever dreamed of. Working on myself allowed me to start really feeling. Sometimes the feeling didn’t match the situation, but at least I was feeling.

It was a weird time to say the least. Looking back, I know I probably felt all of these feelings that we encounter as human beings, but I never allowed myself to actually feel them all the way through. That’s the important lesson. To truly feel you have to experience the entire life of that emotion. You can’t interrupt it early and expect to get the same result. Except “anger”, which I had down to a science.

To better illustrate where I’m heading with this, I’ll give you some examples. Whenever I started to feel happy I would drink. You know like “let’s celebrate.” When I thought I was feeling sad I would drink because sad is an uncomfortable emotion and no one wants to feel that one. Are you sensing a pattern yet? So whenever any feelings came up I quickly squashed them with alcohol and drugs because I didn’t know what else to do with them. In doing so, I could never get the feelings to move from an intellectual state to an emotional state. When I was forced to focus on myself, I could let emotions run their course and not stop them.

Sometimes, without knowing it, our first reaction is to hand over a tissue when we see tears. What that really says is “I’m uncomfortable with you crying, so wipe those tears and let’s not be sad.” Reactions like that, or reaching for any vice you my hold dear to you keep the person from feeling the full range of an emotion, thereby cutting its life cycle short and cheating the person out of the full experience. Ok, I may be getting a bit deeper than I thought, but you get the idea. Let people feel their emotions just like you need to feel yours. It’s part of life.

We talk a lot in recovery about recovery itself being an inside job (which it is). However, every single one of us, addict or not, has to heal from the inside out. If we can resolve what is happening to us on the inside, we’ll look better on the outside.

When I was able to finally let down my wall and allow myself to be vulnerable, I started to feel. That is when I began putting Margaret (myself) back together from the inside out. We all go through tough feelings at some point– feeling hurt due to a break up, sad for the loss of a loved one or friend, or feeling helpless when you see someone you love suffering, If you stay afraid to let people in to your heart because you don’t want to be hurt again or show a perceived weakness, you will only hurt yourself.

I realized that I blocked people from getting close to me in an effort to avoid being hurt. I feared feeling hurt more than anything. The downside was that by not allowing myself to feel hurt or sad in some fashion (or showing that I was hurting), I couldn’t understand the joy that comes on the other side of the spectrum. I strongly believe you have to feel emotions at both extremes to appreciate each one.

I’ve been so angry I could spit fire as I’ve heard it said. I’ve also been so overcome with joy that I thought I was going to burst sunshine. Today, I love everything I feel– and that includes sadness because on the other side is the joy and happiness I was always looking for in the wrong places. If I’m not feeling, I’m not living.

Happy, Joyous, and Free,

Margaret

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