No matter how far along you are in your sobriety, sometimes something seemingly inconsequential hits you like a ton of bricks – bringing back all that self-doubt you thought you’d left behind. Wham!
Recently, that happened to me and it brought up an important topic and feeling that a lot of us addicts and alcoholics have – the feeling that we don’t belong. For me, it started at a really young age; I remember feeling that I wasn’t part of the popular crowd in first grade. LOL, is there really a popular “crowd” in first grade?
That feeling persisted throughout my life. We moved around often for my dad’s work so I had the title “new girl” often. At 9, my mom died, so then I earned the distinction of having no mom. We lived with my grandma sometimes, so different yet again. We moved overseas and I didn’t speak the language, so I felt like people talked about me right in front of me. You can see that this thinking really ruled my childhood.
In seventh grade, it seemed the worst ever; we lived in Switzerland and I went to an international school with a lot of very wealthy people. Most all the Americans I went to school with came from the East Coast and there, the book “The Preppie Handbook” reigned as king of the bestseller list. I started 7th grade and wouldn’t you know it, my California couture – Dittos and Ocean Pacific t-shirts (hey, it was 1979!) – were exactly the wrong clothes. So that year I found alcohol and wow…the feeling went away. Your brain remembers these things and files it away for later use, it remembers the sense of ease and comfort that came with that very first drink…ahhh.
From that moment until I got sober, I spent my entire drinking and using career (yep, a career – I took it seriously) as a method of coping with not feeling a part of something – the breakup with a boyfriend, not getting asked to the prom, not invited to parties, not getting that promotion, cheating boyfriend, even someone looking at me funny. You name it, big things and not so big things. Drinking and using drugs worked and it worked every time. Shut the feelings down from my head to my heart until the drugs and alcohol “wore off” and yep, those feelings remained just below the alcohol and drug fog, alive and kicking. Not a very effective coping mechanism.
Fast forward to the present. Happy and healthy with 15 years of sobriety under my belt. I know how to cope and I know how to cope well! I’ve worked my 12-steps – more than a few times. Character defects? I practice the opposite of them daily! Living in fear? I step outside my comfort zone often. Resentments? Don’t have many, work through them as they come up. Great relationship with my husband, a career I’m absolutely passionate about, good friends and an awesome, loving family. Sounds like a well-adjusted happy person that knows how to cope when something unpleasant happens right?
A few weeks ago, I got the news that I didn’t get chosen to give a presentation at an upcoming nutrition and fitness conference. I participated in the conference last year as a panelist and it was a great experience. I got to hobnob with the cream of the crop in the ancestral nutrition and fitness community. With our new business, I was so looking forward to this year’s conference. “Addiction isn’t trending,” I heard through the grapevine. Really? One in 10 Americans suffer from these afflictions and it’s not trending. Oh ok. Maybe I should have called it The 50 Shades of Grey’s Addiction! The subject matter didn’t get good reception last year as well and that’s why my presentation didn’t get picked. My topic of course focused on helping addicts and alcoholics with nutrition and lifestyle support. I felt like they not only said no to me, but to the millions of people trying to recover or having recovered from this insidious condition.
In one fell swoop, I time warped back to 7th grade and the “popular” people didn’t want me to be a part of their group. Wow it hit and it hit hard! My husband and I were driving through the beautiful California countryside on our way to hike in unseasonably warm conditions when the tears started. Then the thoughts of how to shut those feelings off began. With over 15 years of sobriety, the idea of drinking, using or smoking cigarettes to put the lid on feelings didn’t come to my mind. But the thought of eating junky processed carbohydrates sure did! Oh I wanted a gluten free pizza, ice cream, a brownie…anything to comfort me. Just make those feelings go away!! Boy did I want to wallow in it and eat!
I know comfort eating doesn’t work, just like the drugs and alcohol never did. I found the answer – I just let myself feel those feelings of disappointment, exclusion, of not being popular, of not being chosen for the team. Realizing where they came from was the start. Those feelings are my past, not my present, nor my future. Then I got into action.
I mentally reviewed situation, using the method I use to process resentments (1). Whether you’re new to sobriety, struggling with staying sober or have been around awhile, try this process as I find it invaluable:
- I am resentful at: I resented conference organizers,
- The cause: because they didn’t pick my presentation,
- This affects: my self-esteem and my personal ambitions
- My part in the situation: over-reacted and over personalized the circumstances, perhaps tried to fit a square peg (my presentation) into a round hole (the conference) or possibly I didn’t spend enough time preparing my submission.
- My character defects coming to light: selfish, self-centered, ungrateful and frightened. It was all about me! Now the action step – time to practice the opposite of these!
So we hiked instead – a wonderful, beautiful 3.5 mile hike on a 75 degree day in one of the most beautiful places in this country with the love of my life. A place I get to call home. Is anything better than that? Nothing like a little dose of gratitude to get me out of myself and my little pity party. No brownies needed!
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. I need to remind myself of this often. If this conference doesn’t want to hear what I have to say, I know that the millions of addicts and alcoholics out there want and need to hear my message. I just need to carry on, put one foot in front of the other, stay in the moment, do the work and trudge the happy path to my destiny.
In sobriety, I’ve learned that bad things happen and we are disappointed, there’s no way around it. The key is in how we manage our feelings and emotions surrounding these disappointments. How do you cope when real life shows up? I’d love to hear your strategies as I can always use more tools in my sobriety toolbox!
(1) Adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. 4th ed. New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001. 64-67. Print.