I learned how to shut down at a very young age. Twelve to be exact and as I got older, it got easier. I lived in a world where I didn’t show feelings, I felt that showing feelings meant I was weak and WEAK was something I would never allow myself to be. It was a world that I built around myself where I was in charge and nobody could hurt me. The ONLY feelings I had absolutely no problem showing was agitation and anger. For many years I lived in a very dark place only I didn’t see it that way at the time. All those nights of sniffing lines and drinking excessively. Bar after bar, club after club, after hour after after hour, night after night. That was my life. Sleep all day, party all night. Feelings of self loathing that the bottle helped me hide. Living in a world of denial. I was completely broken long before I realized it.
It was a world of false escape. Of course as I got older, I had Jack Daniels, Jose Cuervo, Rumplemintz, Red Hot, Sambucca, Bacardi, Cisco, Mad dog 20/20, Vodka, Jim Beam, Coors Light and a whole lot of other pals to help me forget what I was running from and help me they did! (Not all at the same time…LMAO) It took me over twenty some odd years to figure out that I was trying to run away from myself and that’s something you just can’t do. I was full of resentment, anger, pain and self loathing. As self confidant as I made the world think I was, inside I was nothing more than a scared, self hating child. I couldn’t pull off that illusion without the help of the drugs and the bottle though. They became a constant part of my life. I got so good at pretending that suddenly I couldn’t see the difference between what was real and what wasn’t. I actually believed my own shit.
When I got sober and the walls that I’d built started to come down I was terrified. I’d spent so many years not wanting to feel that the mere thought of it made me wanna shut down which is how I ended up in that dark hole to begin with. Nobody told me that there was more to getting sober than just not drinking. Nobody told me that not only was I gonna hafta deal with “Emotional” Sobriety which meant that after twenty-eight years of NOT feeling, now suddenly I gotta feel! My first reaction to this was “Oh HELL NO!!!” My sponsor reminded me that by shoving everything in which lead me to the drugs and the
bottle in the first place and if I didn’t want to go back there, I had no choice but to not only “feel” but I had to learn how to DEAL with them. Now THIS was something I was NOT ready for!!! The first few months of sobriety was an emotional roller coaster for me. Twenty-eight years of not feeling seemed to come out and hit me out of nowhere. One minute I was just fine, the next minute I was a blubbering idiot who couldn’t control my emotions if I tried. It was like they unstuck my “on switch and disabled my “Off switch”
By the end of my first year, things got better and I didn’t feel like a basket case any more. I’m still not completely comfortable with having to feel actual feelings, but I have learned how to deal with them without having to pick up a bottle. I no longer explode over the littlest of things and most importantly, day by day I’m finding out who the real me is. The one I locked up all those years ago. For me, emotional sobriety was a lot harder to deal with than physical sobriety but I knew if I gave up, I’d go right back to being the person I was and THAT is NOT an option for me.
Most people who suffer from some kind of addiction are running away from something. Those would be the “underlining” things that one must deal with in order to truly get sober. It’s about facing your demons, dealing with things you tried to shove way down deep and not being afraid to feel. When you shut yourself off to that extent, you’re not living live, you’re merely existing in it. Is this a scarey process? Most definitely. But in the end, it is so worth it. I have gone through things in my sobriety that normally would have pushed me over the edge and get totally trashed. I’ve dealt with the death of my daughter, the death of THREE friends who died as a direct result of this disease, and extremely stressful trip back home for the first time in almost six years and the first time sober. None of it wasn’t easy, but I got through it all completely sober. Why? Because of the tools that I have been given, the knowledge that I have about my disease and knowing what just one drink will lead to.
I still struggle with the whole “feeling thing” from time to time after all, I didn’t really do it for twenty-eight years but it is easier now than it ever was and I know that if I ever find my “off” switch again, it’ll seal my doom. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if I ever go back to drinking, I will surely die. I value my life today and having to deal with my feelings is a small price to pay keep it.
I’m not afraid any more. Not afraid of yesterday, not afraid of tomorrow, not afraid of people and more importantly, I’m not afraid of myself any more. Fear used to control me. It controlled my feelings, it kept me from joining the human race. I thought that by not feeling, it made me invincible. In reality, not feeling made me less than human and turned me into a monster at the hands of a bottle. That’s not my life anymore and trust me, that’s no way to live.
AJ Menendez, Master Male Illusionist
November 23, 2014