by N. Truffles
The powers that be have decided that this issue’s theme, picked from Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, is going to be “sadness”.
This coincided very nicely with a particularly miserable few weeks for me, so I thought it pertinent to share my experiences with sadness in early recovery.
At the tender age of twenty-seven I find myself three and a half months out of a six month stint rehab for heroin and alcohol addiction, living in a dry-house, attempting a first stab at recovery. There is a dark, cold, winter approaching. Days are getting shorter and the initial buzz of leaving rehab; the “look mum/everyone I did it, I’m clean!” pink cloud is long gone. I launched myself back into society rushing around on an insane mission to prove to the world and to myself that I am up and off the canvas, have made the eight-count, looked the referee square in the eye, and was ready to take on real life for another flailing round.
My life in early recovery was a manic dash between meetings, gym, hospital visits to ailing recovery brethren, attempting to save relapsers, a slightly crooked relationship, and just trying desperately to be the polar opposite of the unmanageable and lethargic mess I was when I was using. That lasted for about two months. Someone, whose opinion I immediately discounted, as of course, I knew best, suggested to me that I was still using escapist tactics to avoid my feelings by simply being too busy to acknowledge them. It took an afternoon where my plans fell through and I was left with just myself, no plausible distraction, and a brain slowly trying to trick me into using to make me realise the truth in the aforementioned advice-givers opinion. This was compounded by getting shot down in flames by a girl I was quite into (you can go on dates sober – who knew?). I stumbled away from the smoking wreckage of said shootingdown, feeling rejected and humiliated, and my first thought was “you don’t have to feel this way – you can just have a drink or a hit to take the edge off and deal with it tomorrow”.
The safety-net of rehab, where of course I had faced difficult emotions, but in a controlled environment, had been removed and I was out in the big bad world with my big overwhelming feelings. After a decade of avoiding how I feel with some kind of chemical, I was entirely out of touch with how my own emotions and how to deal with them. I remember speaking to a non-addict about what they do when they feel sad and being genuinely perplexed/not computing when they said they “just feel it”. Talking to others, which was another completely alien concept to me, has really helped me cope with my feelings. In my active addiction, and, in all truth, for some time before,
I was an intensely private person. I was more than happy to hear about your problems, but the fear of ridicule, judgement, and not being perceived as “manly” kept me from expressing how I felt for most of my life. Real men only cry when their football team lose. This, coupled with the inherent secrecy addiction can require formed the perfect storm to help commit to this concept of myself as an emotional lone ranger who didn’t need anyone’s help, who would happily tell you through tears and feeling suicidal that “really, I’m alright”. One thing which has helped me accept sadness as a necessary part of life is that it is simply the other side of the coin to happiness, and one has to accept that this is just part of the deal. If one wasn’t able to feel sadness then one would have nothing to contrast against joy, and life would be a dull, monochrome existence.
Whereas before I viewed sadness as something to be ducked and weaved around chemically, I have to accept that this is simply not an option now, and the brief respite that using might give me will only compound the sadness I’m feeling. I have to realise that I’m just not the type to drink half a bottle of Jacobs Creek, have a little sob, and feel better the next day. I have no choice but to embrace how I feel, to realise that feelings transient and to try and make the most out of it. If i resume using, the best thing I could hope for would be to surface in a few years with even more depressing wreckage strewn around me, health complications, and fewer resources to manage these with.
I have to remain grateful as I could very easily not be alive today, and as such I have to attempt to learn to live a life which isn’t always on my terms. I often kid myself into hating sorrow, because quite often I have nothing else. I may well be on benefits, have various physical and mental quirks, live in a dry house in a less than glamorous part of town, and have no spare money, but I wouldn’t trade it to be the guy in the park drinking vodka at 7am, talking to the pigeons, because that’s, well, that’s sad!!