Lately, I’ve been crying. Not a lot. Just here and there. Something will remind me of Brenna, and I’ll cry a little bit. A story on the news will make me angry, and I’ll cry over it. A TV show rerun that I’ve seen a dozen times will suddenly strike a chord so heavenly I cannot help but to weep.
The point is, something will stir a deep emotion in me, and tears will spring to my eyes.
I don’t like it. Not one bit. But this is, apparently, part of getting sober.
You see, I’m learning to feel again. All those emotions that I’ve drowned in alcohol and drugs are coming back to life. It is at once invigorating and terrifying.
I was at the gym the other day, in tears at the joy of motion – overwhelmed by the idea that I could stretch and exercise and push my body.
I’m sitting here on the couch now with tears in my eyes because a cat (a new addition to our household) is curled up beside me, and he is becoming such a wonderful companion. He loves with such abandon and expects no less in return.
It’s hard to feel so much emotion all the time. There’s a part of me that wants a break! I crave that numbness I used to feel when I was drinking.
Part of this is my bipolar. I recognize that I feel everything more deeply than the average person. Let’s face it. The average person does not cry because of an average workout or because they are the chosen napping spot for a cat.
But I am bipolar, and I am sober. And everything is either wonderful or terrible. So let’s explore how to manage extreme emotions.
Feel all the things!
Above all else, don’t stuff the feelings. Think to yourself, I’m feeling sad right now. Or, I’m feeling overwhelmed with joy. Name the feeling and let it happen. Picture it like a wave washing over you and then receding back into the ocean. Because, as you’ll read in my next point, emotions don’t last forever.
Emotions only last 90 seconds!
A difficult rule that I am trying to learn is that emotions only last 90 seconds. It is certainly true that I can make them last much longer, but they do not need to last any longer than 90 seconds.
Emotions are chemical reactions in our bodies – physiological reactions to the world around us. They do not need to last any longer than they are meant to. Alex Myles at The Elephant Journal writes:
Taylor describes the 90-second rule as, “Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.”
I do not need to stay angry or sad or even happy after the initial 90 seconds of emotion. Anything after that 90 seconds is a choice I am making to continue feeling that emotion. Which leads me to my next thought.
Move a muscle – change a thought!
I feel like I’ve made this point before, but it should be said again. Don’t dwell in a feeling if it doesn’t feel good. There’s no need to stew in anger, bitterness, and resentment. Get up and move! Do a little light cleaning. Go for a run! Or, in my case, move the laptop to a different room in the house…
Avoid triggering situations!
Maybe there’s that one person that always gets on your nerves. Or maybe you just can’t stand sitting in traffic. Or maybe you know you’re going to cry at that one movie and you just don’t know if you can take it.
Well, don’t go. Avoid that person. Leave early or take a different route. There are ways around situations that make us angry or sad, and we need to be willing to set boundaries for ourselves.
Practice emotion regulation!
When all else fails and I find myself overcome with emotion, I fall back on the skills I learned in DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) group. Emotion regulation involves meditation, mindfulness, and stress management. It’s not about stopping the emotion, it’s about managing the emotion – feeling it as it happens, not judging it or criticizing it, and letting it pass by without holding onto it.
For example, a few nights ago I was in the kitchen fixing dinner. For no reason at all a crushing wave of sadness washed over me. I didn’t have time to prepare for it or find out where it was coming from. It was simply there. And my first impulse was to cut myself.
Instead of reaching for the knife, I practiced mindfulness. I named the emotion. And I started counting my breaths. I pictured the ocean in my mind, mentally watching the waves crash onto the shore and then recede. And within a few minutes the sadness passed.
I’m hopeful that the longer I stay sober, the less extreme my emotions will become. Right now, I’m grateful to have the tools I need to manage my emotions. So grateful, I’m actually crying a little bit about it.
Emotions, after all, are a part of a healthy life, and a healthy, fulfilled life is what I am working towards.