Thursday, September 27, 2007

Will I ever feel good?

Recovery can be difficult and long. Sometimes we may wonder, "Will I ever feel good?" A friend who is also in recovery just asked that question. Following is my answer based on what I've been experiencing since beginning therapy 18 years ago:

We Americans (and probably many other people, also) put a high priority on "feeling good." We try to get that feeling through all kinds of ways, nicer car, bigger house, changing spouses, changing jobs, taking drugs, etc. In some religious traditions the goal is not to feel good but to become more honest with oneself. In some religions the goal is even to suffer more, so that one can get closer to a better spiritual state. (I'm not so sure that we should look for suffering, but I do think that coping with suffering can be a special part of our spiritual journey.)

Suffering from abuse and neglect and abandonment is terrible. This kind of suffering should never happen, especially by those who are supposed to love and protect us. But it does happen. I think our goal in therapy is to become more open with ourselves about what happened, to face the reality, to feel the anger that we could not feel when it was happening, to grieve our loss, to try to learn to survive as an adult without what was lost. I'm not sure that our goal is to feel better. If it were, perhaps we should be taking tranquilizers, which is what many doctors used to prescribe and some still do. They can make us feel better. But they also numb out the bad feelings which will return when the tranquilizers wear off.

I don't know if we can ever stop grieving our losses. But I have heard that the pain lessens, that we can shift our focus to other things in life which are healthy for us and in service to others and to ourselves, giving ourselves time to love ourselves, to recharge, to relax, to be with people who are emotionally healthy. I think eventually when pain lessens we probably do feel some better, but I'm not sure that that is the goal. If it is, we may get impatient getting there and might not walk through all the steps needed so that our minds and bodies can learn new patterns of thinking, reacting, and behaving. I think it is a long slow process. And I'm not sure that the pain ever completely goes away. But I also think that the feeling of pain and loss is not the opposite of the kind of feeling we are searching for, even if we do not know exactly what we are searching for. I suspect that what we are really searching for is more like peace and joy, rather than feeling good.

Feeling good is a temporary emotion, often based on our circumstances, our life cycles, food we eat, how much sleep we get, etc. But there is, I think, an emotion something like feeling good (probably a combination of peace and joy, I'm guessing) which we can have at the same time as we feel some pain. I suspect that joy is something we experience more by choice and feeling good is something we experience more as our body's chemical reaction to our circumstances. That chemical reaction results in something our emotions interpret as feeling good.

I think I have begun to experience some of this more peaceful, relaxed feeling. I don't feel so driven as I used to be, an addictive drivenness which tried to cover up my pain and a fear of feeling bad as I could hear old tapes running through my brain, and feel bad about myself with the lies I learned when I was abused. I'm not on a high now. I've tried to have highs in the past, from work, from achievement, from meeting some goal. But I'm not on a low either. I'm more level. I think it's more of a normal feeling, a sense that I don't have to do something artificial to make myself feel better, to drive out the bad feelings. Am I still sad about what I lost in the past, about the loss of security, about feeling loved by my father and then, sometimes fairly soon, getting beaten and hollered at and ridiculed by him? Oh, yes. But it doesn't hold so much power over me as it used to. I have tried to face it, write about it, realize how it was negatively affecting my relationships with others and my attitude toward myself. And I am trying to move on.

I hope this is recovery. If better feelings come at times, that will be fine. But I realize that I already have plenty of opportunities even now for enjoying life, with the new, safer life I have, with my wife, good children, and their children, and some safe friends. It's better than it used to be. I can be content. I can continue trying to live in healthier ways, but I don't need to live saddled with so much guilt as I used to, not being perfect at recovery.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


My wife and I are back from two weeks away from home. The first week we spent with my parents. We helped them celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. I made them a nice photo album to celebrate their years together. They liked the album. They enjoyed the celebration we put on for them. I enjoyed seeing them happy.

But I also had many difficult times during that week. My father still speaks so negatively about people. He still criticizes my mother and controls her, part of his marriage-long abuse. Partway through the week I found myself sitting in their living room with my head down, my wife nearby. I looked at her with pain in my eyes, hoping she could understand how I was feeling. I felt grungy. I think I felt the most uncomfortable I ever have listening to Dad. I love him. But he has caused Mom and me, and in different ways my brothers, deep pain. It hurt listening to him being so negative, talking about others, criticizing people, not living joyfully. I think I felt it so deeply because I have been working at removing my own scar tissue for years now, scar tissue which grew to help protect me when I was younger and had no one else to protect me, scar tissue which kept me from having as good relationships with others as I craved. Now I feel more fully and sometimes it feels so good, like when I'm playing with our grandchildren, or when our children tell me, "Dad, I love you," at the end of a phone chat. And sometimes it feels bad, when there is something painful going on.

It was such a relief to leave. I told my wife partway through the week that I hoped I could make it to the end of our time with my parents. I did. I did well, actually. I drove them around. We took them to two restaurant meals. When we left I told them I loved them both.

But it still hurts. And it still feels good to get away from all that negativity, which is connected to the physical and verbal abuse which has been going on in that house for almost my entire lifetime. I think there may have been two or three years after I was born before it started.

Grungy is not a good feeling. Maybe I'm grieving the grunge.