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.


Blogger Enola said...

wow wow wow

I'm going to have to come back and decipher this one. I'm going to run immediately and post a link to this post on my survivors blog. We've been wrestling with this topic for weeks and you just summed it up beautifully. Thank you for writing this.

(you may see my own comment to this on my blog in the next few days)

7:10 AM  
Blogger Enola said...

I was going to leave a comment here - but it got to be WAY too long. So I posted it on my blog. I hope you don't mind. I wanted to link people here so they could read all your posts. I've found them so encouraging.

Keep writing and thank you so much for sharing. You are indeed a blessing to all survivors everywhere.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Al Johnson said...

I was going to leave a comment here - but it got to be WAY too long. So I posted it on my blog. I hope you don't mind.

I don't mind at all. It's helpful that you wrote what you did here so visitors here can go to your blog to read your longer comment.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Marj aka Thriver said...

Peace and joy. Yes. These are more abiding than a transient "feel good." Thanks for this post.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Marj aka Thriver said...

Me again. Tag! I hereby award you the Caring Blogger Award. Thanks for making me care and keep my heart open, Al!

11:03 AM  
Blogger Enola said...

Marj is doing the Carnival against Child Abuse. I think your post here would be a perfect addition to the Carnival. I'd love to see you submit it. Details are on her blog and submission forms are here -

8:32 AM  
Blogger Patricia Singleton said...

Al, I think being content with my life as it is today is a very good thing. Yes, recovery from sexual abuse can be a very long journey. Learning to love myself gave me the ability to love others. Learning to trust myself gave me the ability to trust others. Creating a safe place for myself has given me a place to grow and heal the broken parts of myself. Happy is fleeting. It comes and goes. Being joyful and at peace with myself is the best of places to be. It is possible. I look forward to reading more of your articles. I have written a few articles about my recovery from incest that you might want to check out on my blog.

7:37 PM  

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