Who Needs Feelings?

I sit in recovery groups, literal circles, and listen to people talk about their feelings. “I couldn’t feel my feelings,” they say, shaking their heads in disbelief, like that explains everything. Or they say, “I can sit with my feelings now,” and nod in satisfaction, like it’s all better now. Newcomers confess with their heads hung low, “I’m feeling my feelings, and I don’t like it,” like it’s the worst thing that ever happened, or they say, “I’m learning to feel my feelings,” like it’s the fucking best. Men and women with a decade or more of sober time, people who figured out how to drink but still don’t like the choices they are making, let the air whoosh out of their mouths and put it out there, “I’m still numbing,” with chocolate or exercise or home renovations, like looking for something that takes a person outside herself is a problem in and of itself, as if those things could do a fraction of the damage drugs and alcohol did to their lives.

I get this and I don’t. Of course I used drugs and alcohol to change and amplify and dull my feelings. But I have never suffered from a lack of feelings and I did not have to “learn” to feel them. I always felt them, for better or worse, usually worse. For years, I thought anxiety was God or my gut telling me I’d fucked something up. For practically my whole life, I thought the crushed feeling in my chest meant I was special and sensitive and too good for this world. I thought the sinking in my stomach meant I’d been grievously wronged and needed to do something drastic to put things right–cut someone out of my life or scream or painstakingly explain why people had things all wrong. I thought a racing mind meant I had to act, now. I thought burning shame meant I was the one who did wrong. All those feelings had to mean something. They couldn’t be for nothing, right?

Wrong. If there is anything I’ve learned from therapy and meditation and working the steps, it’s this: my feelings are not to be trusted. They change, for one thing. Like, all the time. For another, as often as not, they are a product of fucked-up, dysfunctional thinking. Frankly, I don’t see the value in giving them any time or attention at all. And I certainly don’t see the harm in throwing myself into a good book or a long run or a new project or a box of cookies of it makes it all a little less painful. Fuck my feelings.

Maybe I’m not enlightened. Maybe I’m in denial. Maybe all this repression is going to blow up in my face in a year or ten. Maybe I’m not sober, just “dry.” Or maybe this is what it means to be human.

5 thoughts on “Who Needs Feelings?

  1. I had to read this a few times. To me meetings are semi good, but mostly pointless. I am recovering alcoholic and next month will be 6 yrs.

    I’m part of online group, but that too has issues for me. I read and get a sense of what’s being said, but I don’t get into pity parties.

    That doesn’t make me better, but I can’t do it. It feels like I get caught up in sliding down the pole. I climb at my pace, but I don’t need the weight of people feeling sorry for themselves.

    Yes, I too made my share of mistakes, but I own them. Thankfully , I have an amazing job that allows me to explore the world and sleep at night knowing that our health is covered. My life would get out of whack if I stepped back into the pit of alcohol. If I drank I’m basically choosing death. That’s not on my list.

    One of the online gals told me I need to work on step 4 to understand the “whys.” I know why it all came down. Perhaps I’m ignorant. I’ll accept that, but I don’t feel like step work is really going to “define” me.

    Thanks for the meeting. 🙃


    Sent from my iPad



    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Alli. Almost six years is amazing! I go to meetings too and mostly love them. It is useful for me to hear people talk about their problems and how they deal with them in sobriety. I feel less alone and I learn about different ways to live life on life’s terms. I just find that I have little patience for talk about feelings right now. My emotions ruled my life for so long and it feels healthy to get some distance from them. Step 4 was a big step in helping me to see not just why I drank (which I don’t care so much about) but why I act in ways that cause me problems to this day. Step 4 revealed some of the roots of my dysfunctional thinking. I wouldn’t have done that step on my own–I did it with my sponsor and I so glad I did. Getting some distance from my emotions also keeps me from picking up a drink. I love drinking but, like you, I don’t want to blow up the beautiful life I have now, so it’s just not an option. It is a luxury to be solid enough in not drinking that I can intellectualize things I hear at meetings while knowing at the same time that sobriety is the path for me.


  2. Thank you so much for this post. You really have a gift of explaining this disease and progression into the light. “My emotions ruled my life for so long and it feels healthy to get some distance from them.”, Wow. Great read!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s