If a recovering alcoholic isn’t taught how to appropriately manage her emotions or given better tools to express herself, she will be seen as having unsolvable problems. In a recent conversation with a person in recovery I was able to point out some very simple facts. This person had shared that she walks around with a feeling of anxiety in the pit of her stomach most of the time. As we spoke about this feeling more, she recognized that when she experienced major changes in her life the feeling is more pronounced. Sometimes she is aware of the change taking place; like getting married, becoming pregnant, changing jobs, or moving and sometimes she doesn’t see the transformation until much later. Either way, what she wants when experiencing these emotions is understanding, validation, and (most importantly) love. She walks around with the unrealistic expectation that if she feels a certain way that something must be wrong. I compared this to recovery from alcoholism. I asked her a series of questions:
- Do you believe you are an alcoholic? She responded “yes.”
- Do you think this is a permanent condition? “Yes, of course it is. I cannot imagine ever being able to drink normally.”
- Every once and a while are your alcoholic thoughts or fantasies more difficult to deal with than at other times? She answered, “Of course.”
- So there are times that you are more drawn to alcohol, that the lifestyle seems more attractive, that you just want to get into trouble, or drown your sorrows or celebrate your successes with a drink? “Yes.”
- Can you always pinpoint why you are thinking this way “No, sometimes it just pops up for no reason.”
- But this doesn’t scare you because you know how to deal with your alcoholism, right? “Exactly. If my head is running I know exactly what to do. Call someone, go to a meeting, write, pray or all of the above!”
- Would you agree that these are spiritual tools? “Yes. God as I understand Him can restore me to sanity every time.”
- Since you found these solutions to your alcoholism, have they ever failed? “No, never.”
- Why do you see your other emotional problems as being significantly different? Why do you think that if you ever feel anxiety that it must be because of something you are doing wrong? “I don’t know, I guess I have always believed that if I have intense fear or anxiety that there must be something wrong with me.”
- If you have thoughts about wanting to drink does that guarantee that you will get drunk? “No, that’s ridiculous.”
- Does it mean that you are doing something wrong? “Not necessarily. Obviously if I am not taking care of myself, my alcoholic insanities will be stronger but sometimes the thoughts just come up.”
- So if you have some simple tools to deal with alcoholism that you know work and you realize that your alcoholism will probably always be with you, why wouldn’t the same tools work with your anxiety?
My point is that spiritual tools will work. In this simple conversation this person was able to clearly see that the feeling in the pit of her stomach that sometimes comes up with no warning does not indicate that she is somehow broken. She recognizes that this may be something that surfaces from time to time. But if she is able to distinguish between the feeling and the reality she will find peace of mind. The feeling may be attached to nothing. It may because of a significant event. Either way if she is able to talk about it, pray about it, and go about her business she will be able to let it go. Not only that, she will be able to provide validation to others who may feel crazy. The more people are convinced that thoughts or feelings of discomfort indicate that they are somehow flawed, the more hopeless our world will become. Most of what every person works through on an emotional level have been issues for many years. That is not the problem. The problem is when people aren’t given solutions that allow real change.