After years of wishing my intense feelings away, I realize that I do not have that power. I do, however, have power over how I react to them.
I was 30 years old and living in New Orleans the first time I quit drinking. I decided to quit for a year, mostly to prove to myself that I didn’t have a drinking problem. I didn’t get help as I was sure I was strong enough to do it myself. I took up baking and opted to stay home most nights while my friends and my husband were out and about.
A few months into being alcohol free, I reemerged to have dinner with friends. After a few bottles of wine had been consumed, (me sipping on soda water), one of them, we’ll call him Jackass, turned to me and said, “Still not drinking, huh?’
“No.” I replied
“That’s cool...but you know, the real way to prove that you can control yourself is to be able to go out and have a drink or two and then stop.” (What a Jackass.)
I walked away but thought to myself, "maybe he's right."
I ended up not drinking for 18 months when suddenly, at a new neighbor’s BBQ in Southern Oregon, I decided that Jackass was right, and I cracked open a beer.
I was 36 years old the second time I quit drinking. I did it differently and got help. I was having tea with a new friend, sober seven years to my seven months, and I was bitching about one thing or another. In short, someone had pissed me off…which was not hard to do at that point in my life.
Sober Friend turned to me and said, “Well what could you have done differently in that situation?”
Puzzled, I replied, “I guess I shouldn’t have let so-and-so make me angry. And then I shouldn’t have let her make me sad and unsure about myself.”
Sober Friend glared at me. “Let me ask you something…Who in the fuck do you think you are?”
Shocked, I fell silent, cheeks burning red, and started searching my brain for exactly what response I was supposed to give her.
“Are you God?” The stare she was giving was one of the most intense looks I have ever seen on a person. “You think you can control how you feel? You think you can just make yourself not angry, sad, or unsure?”
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but it ended with her sending me home and telling me I had a lot of work to do. I do know, that with those four questions, she blew me open, and I had an entirely different view of how I perceived myself.
I could no more help the feelings I had any more than I could help having a drinking problem.
I could no more help the feelings I had any more than I could help having a drinking problem. (Which at that point I knew I had when Sober Friend also told me that if I was unsure I had a drinking problem, to go out drinking. Recalling Jackass’ advice, and my neighbor’s BBQ, I knew I had already tried that experiment, and five years later was suicidal.)
What I had to learn was how to change my perspective on having those feelings. I could yell and stomp my feet like a child, or I could question why I was getting so fucking upset and simply talk about how I was feeling.
At the root of it, I think I had always been a little embarrassed about how much I FEEL, so to admit that in a rational way just sounded kind of humiliating. It was way easier to get pissed, act the victim, blame others and throw myself a pity party. (I was a ton of fun to be around during those days, let me tell you.)
About four years later, I had pretty much gotten a grip on how to handle my anger. It didn’t send me into a downward spiral, as it did when I was drinking and in the early years of quitting. But other feelings bubbled up…you know, the ones that I had tried to repress with alcohol from the time I was 13. I learned that I had chronic anxiety, an unhealthy fear of failure, and depression was common for me to slip into.
A friend of mine, we’ll call her Chill Jill, had come to visit and we were sitting in the back yard talking on a cool autumn night. I was complaining about feeling the way I did. Why did I have to be so sensitive? Why was I so scared all the time? Chill Jill said, “I don’t know…I feel like you should just give less fucks.”
At first, I was pissed. This seemed like completely dismissive advice. My feelings we actually a little hurt. But as time went on, I decide CJ was right. I should give less fucks! Why worry all the time? I actually did a good bit of writing on the topic and until this past week, I was even going to do a series of paintings about “Giving Less Fucks,” called Inappropriate Mantras and Affirmations.
Two months ago, or so, I began to fall apart again. I felt I had no control. Two weeks ago, I was anxious such that I had to go to my doctor to be reassured that I wasn’t having a heart attack. (I wasn’t.) I started meditating again, exercising daily, cut my coffee half with decaf, and started a new supplement protocol.
I realized that no matter how much progress I make, no matter how much I think I learn, there will be a next time when I fall to pieces once again.
This past Friday, I felt something lift, and I knew that the cycle had completed, but this time around, I realized that no matter how much progress I make, no matter how much I think I learn, there will be a next time when I fall to pieces once again. And I have to be ok with that.
Because the thing is, I do give a fuck. I give lots of fucks. I have so much care and empathy within my heart that sometimes I can’t separate myself from it. For myself. For others. It’s exhausting feeling quite this much, but I can’t help it. I’m sensitive and emotional, and like Sober Friend said, who do I think I am to not feel my feelings?
I think Chill Jill is lucky. It must be nice to give less fucks, and I would like to know how that feels, but burying them definitely doesn't work, and I’ve decided that I can’t disregard the fucks I give. If I gave less fucks, I wouldn’t make the art I make, feel music the way I do, or be able to share this writing with you. I realize that what I need to do is exactly what I did before when Sober Friend ripped me a new asshole, and change my perspective on the feelings that I have.
I can’t impress on you enough how much meditation helps me.
This past week, I watched a cool show on Netflix called, The Mind Explained. I skipped to episodes three, Anxiety, and four, Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the type of meditation that I practice and it interested me that they had put those two topics side by side. Turns out that one of the masters of mindfulness meditation suffered from crippling anxiety when he was a child.
He said something along the lines of, when he started meditating as a kid, he learned that he could just say hello to his anxiety, and be with it without freaking out. Not tell it to go away but to simply be with it, and to actually talk to it. “Hello, Anxiety. How are you?” he says with a grin.
I’m going to try this. I can’t impress on you enough how much meditation helps me. I’m not sure I would have felt the relief I did this past Friday if I hadn’t been doing it most mornings for about ten days, so I think the Master is onto something.
Maybe now instead of making a painting ordering me to “Give less fucks”, I’ll make a few that say, “Hello Fucks. How are you?” The thought of that actually makes me feel even better.
Can you think of a time that you felt crippled by your own feelings? In the comments, I’d love to hear one thing you do to bring you back to harmony.
By the way, my new series of Love Clubs (some of them, including the full size ones pictured above in progress) is almost done and I’m on target to open my sale online to the public next week on October 3rd. However, I do have a waitlist for those who want first dibs to the sale on October 1st. If you would like to be on that waitlist, CLICK HERE.
I am an artist and writer, living in Talent, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I use creativity to break through anxiety paralysis, I play in the ocean to stay strong and inspired, and I often visit my hometown of New Orleans, where the rhythm of my heartbeat is renewed. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I post stuff sometimes. To hear from me more regularly, join me on this crazy, beautiful Artventure.