All I ever needed to know I learned in recovery…

Ayn Rand didn’t deny feelings but she didn’t major in them, by any stretch. Reason and the intellect were her guide to life and behavior.
I’m recovering. I can’t say I’m through it yet, but I’m in a process. What they don’t tell you about recovery is that it gets a whole lot worse before it gets better. Using an analogy from Glennon Doyle Melton, dealing with all of my dysfunctions is like recovering from frostbite. It’s all of those feelings that you’ve numbed for so long that now are there, present with you.  At first, it just feels kind of tingly and uncomfortable, but then the emotions start to pierce like daggers. The pain, the loss, the guilt, the same: all piled on top of you with nowhere to run. But what I learned during that time is that, sitting with the pain and the joy of being a human being, while refusing to run for any exits, is the only way to become a real human being.

These days, I’m not a superhero and I’m not a perfect human being, but I am fully human. Life is beautiful and brutal. I’m still the same person today as I was before recovery. A key difference is that, now, instead of numbing my feelings and hiding, now I feel my feelings and I share.

Ayn Rand and Feelings

Ayn Rand was not that big on feelings. She didn’t deny feelings but she didn’t major in them, by any stretch. Reason and the intellect were her guide to life and behavior. That’s one reason why I think I have had such difficulty with emotions: identifying my own emotions, facing up to them, expressing them, and dealing with the emotions of others.

From The Soul of Atlas

Ayn Rand’s universe, on the other hand, is predominantly impersonal. Emotions exist, but they need to be harnessed to serve the higher faculty of the individual’s reason. Personal relationships serve the same purpose: to celebrate the heroic creation of value that sustains and enhances the life of the individual. On a cosmic scale, the Objectivist sees an impersonal world. (23)

Beyond my Randian Education

It wasn’t just my informal schooling in Objectivism that led me to bypass deep emotions in daily practice.

Growing up, I learned that emotions are unnecessary at best, and uncomfortable and unmanageable at worst. When my parents fought, it was terrifying to me. These people who were responsible for me—the ones who kept me safe and took care of me—were fighting. As they were pushing each other away (sometimes literally), they were breaking me apart emo-tionally. Emotions, I learned, are dangerous. They must be contained. (7)

What do you think is the most balanced way to deal with your emotions?

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9 thoughts on “All I ever needed to know I learned in recovery…

  1. Your latest blog post is soul-searingly honest and resonates strongly with me. I continue to recover, fantastically and falteringly, everyday. I am a "friend" of Bill W, and find much comfort, strength, and inspiration from his teachings. From a Buddhist perspective, taking at least a few minutes DAILY, to reflect on the blessings and miracles I have received and witnessed, helps me acknowledge my humanity and the interdependence we humans all share. For me, acknowledging my feelings honestly allows me to let them pass without impulsively acting upon them. At the end of a stressful day, I take time to meditate on any negative feelings of anger or resentment I acquired. I reflect on them in all of their rawness and insanity, concentrating on the emotions without judgement, and decide whether a particular feeling can be resolved or remedied by action. If not, I pray for acceptance and much of the suffering subsides.

  2. Yes, As a highly sensitive person, I identify with her and fight many of the same demons she fights. Also, trying to recover from a physical trauma (serious head injury; bleeding to the brain), I grapple with the frustration and anxiety of not being able to "perform" as well. Because I have lost some capabilities of balance, speech, and short-term memory, I sometimes feel anger that I do not know how to diffuse. In Buddhism, it is said that all suffering arises from one's ego, one's sense of being separate from other beings. I believe that this is true for me: when I am compassionate to myself, let myself screw up, move on, and "keep coming back," I feel more present to what is happening and how I can be more useful to others.

  3. This quote by Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, is a great way to confront one's emotions…"We use our emotions. We use them. In their essence, they are simply part of the goodness of being alive, but instead of letting them be, we take them and use them to regain our ground. We use them to try to deny that in fact no one has ever known or will ever know what's happening. We use them to try to make everything secure and predictable and real again, to fool ourselves about what's really true. We could just sit with the emotional energy and let it pass. There's no particular need to spread blame and self-justification. Instead, we throw kerosene on the emotion so it will feel more real."

    Excerpted from "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult", page 70

  4. This is such great stuff. If God can express the fullest range of emotions, shouldn’t we? And if we don’t, what are the consequences?

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