What the Drunk Learns
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Here is what the drunk learns. The drunk learns that when she or he feels something unpleasant - fear, frustration, anger, sadness, loneliness, boredom, guilt, shame, whatever - that getting drunk provides an all purpose solution to "the problem" of those feelings. Here is what the person from a healthy family has learned. When unpleasant feelings happen - and they happen to all of us - that she or he can turn to other people, to their spiritual connection, to creativity, to their own inner resources - to soothe and resolve those unpleasant feelings.
Drunks often come from families where they experienced more than average emotional pain and shaming at the hands and voices of immature caregivers who did not know how to nurture healthy children. That makes the problem worse. As adults, drunks feel more intense negative feelings that happen more often and last longer. Drunks - all addicts - have more unpleasant emotional experiences and fewer healthy and productive tools for dealing with those feelings than do people from healthy families. That sucks but it is true.
What the drunk learns to do to cope with icky feeling also prevents her or him from learning what people from healthy families learn. Each time you feel afraid or sad or whatever, you have the opportunity to use healthy coping. Each time you resort to drinking or masturbation or shopping to cope with that feeling you miss the opportunity to learn to cope differently in healthy and productive ways.
So, addicts remain immature in the way they cope with their feelings. They practice the same lesson of escape and avoidance again and again. They repeat the same set of actions that lead to some immediate relief (perhaps blended with some icky junk like shame and degradation) again and again. That essential immature pattern recites a childish monologue. It says, "I feel bad - I can't stand it - I must do something and do it now - I will do this sexual thing - I feel relieved. Now I feel like crap again."
When you get sober, you begin to have feelings that you have been avoiding or escaping for years. You may first think that you can't stand the feelings. This is why people slip - they slip into coping in the old way. But each time you allow yourself to be in your feelings without needing to change the feeling you grow more mature. Each time you talk honestly with another person about your feelings, you grow more mature. Each time to focus on your connection with your higher power, your grow more mature. Each time to look down and the truth and creativity and beauty within you, you grow more mature. A little bit at a time you come to realize that your unpleasant feelings will not kill you - that you can stand them - that you need not do anything at all except experience your feelings with compassion and empathy for yourself. As you do that, you recover just a bit more, become mature just a bit more, and heal, just a bit more.
I guess the graduality of that process is why we call it the path of recovery.
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