A couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend on the phone. I met this woman when she reached out to me, confiding that she wants to stop drinking and needed a bit of advice. After just one conversation, I knew we were soul sisters – everything she’s experiencing now, newly sober, I experienced too. Naturally, talking to her always reminds me of certain things or feelings I’ve forgotten over time.
This time, we were talking about spending time with friends, specifically friends who drink.
“I have to be honest, there were a couple of times I wanted to drink,” she admitted.
I could tell by her voice that she didn’t feel great about that fact. After all, isn’t wanting to drink a terrible sign? Wanting to drink (and wanting it too often, or wanting too much of it) is what got us into our predicaments in the first place, after all.
But then I remembered something someone taught me years ago when I thought I was “failing” at recovery because, every once in awhile, I wished I could have a drink (or two).
“Your thoughts are just thoughts. Don’t be scared of them. Don’t push them away. Think them, and then move on.”
I could think, “I want to drink,” but that didn’t mean I would act on it. It also didn’t mean I needed to beat myself up about it, or decide that something was wrong with me because I wasn’t 100% fixed internally.
Don’t get me wrong… if I spent hours each day sitting at home, fixated on drinking, then I would need to get some help. Thinking, “Ugh, a drink would be nice,” while sitting at a restaurant, surrounded by pretty cocktails, does not signify failure. If anything, it signifies that I’m human. Yeah, a drink would be nice. That was a thought, and a brief feeling of missing out, and there is no action to follow – besides maybe ordering a fruity mocktail.
I started thinking a lot about this concept when I stopped drinking, but it goes way beyond just sobriety and recovery. I’ve noticed that, every time I feel a negative emotion, I’ve been conditioned to try and escape it in some way. Why? Why is it so hard to sit and feel your emotion, in all of its ugly glory? Be mad. Be lonely. Be frustrated. Be homesick. Just BE – why are we so afraid to feel this shitty feeling?
I stumbled upon a quote from my ultimate hero/goddess Elizabeth Gilbert, and it touched on this nicely. She writes,
“When I get lonely these days I think: So be lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”
Every thought that enters your mind doesn’t need to mean something, or warrant a response. You are not flawed because you feel lonely or out of place or sad. You are not a bad person because you miss or want something you cannot have, and you don’t need to act on those urges either. You certainly don’t need to repress your thoughts or mask your feelings, just because you’re afraid of them. Feel them, sit with them, breathe through them, and know that, just like everything else in the world, they’re temporary.