One of the biggest lies about new-age spirituality and places that practice them (like some Social Media communities and some 12-step programs) is that we’re going to feel better just by engaging in practices meant to “elevate” us. We’re so often told to stop hanging onto the past, and not to worry about tomorrow, to sit in the present moment, and enjoy it for what it is. Quit all this suffering already! Get spiritual! Meditate! Feel better!
But what if you can’t? What if no matter how hard you try you don’t feel those cozy, warm rays of God’s love or feel that inner peace that’s supposed to be brought on by your sobriety and mindfulness? Why can’t you be serene? Everybody else seems to be. Chances are you might get even more distressed about… being distressed. Next, you’ll feel shame and inadequacy. You’ll wonder what is wrong with you that you just cannot “get it”—this will only further batter your already fragile ego. So in the most paradoxical way, spirituality, meditation—all those things intended to make you all better might actually do some damage if they don’t resonate with you.
In my own recovery journey through and out of spirituality, and into relational connections, I’ve experienced all those feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy… I thought I belonged (in the 12-step program) but it was turning out I didn’t belong all that much. I lived in fear that I would be exposed as a fraud—someone who’s doing the program wrong, someone who was beyond saving. I was sober, but I’ve felt desperate and stressed. Today, I know that having great common sense is what helped me to not relapse over those feelings, or get so down on myself that I wouldn’t be able to function. My belief in reality and my self-compassion has carried me through the sometimes-toxic spirituality of 12 Step groups. Yes, spirituality works for some people and it’s extremely beneficial for them, but we cannot apply one-size-fits-all when it comes to inner work.
This is why I think that it’s okay to feel down and it’s ok to not jive with everybody else’s happy vibes. It’s far better to sit with difficult feelings than trying to pretend they don’t exist. Force-feeding yourself false Positivity is never going to work, because in recovery we must be authentic. When we’re not authentic, we’re in cognitive dissonance—“a state where we hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, or participate in an action that goes against one of these three, and experience psychological stress because of that.” That kind of state is what leads to denial, which leads to break from reality.
So, allow yourself to be true to yourself as you stay in your feelings and honor them. And find someone you feel safe with and trust so that you can talk about those feelings. And no feeling lasts forever, so you will get to a better place eventually and authentically, without shame.
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