Good Feelings Gone

There’s a scene in the film “Finding Nemo” that features two of the main characters, Marlin and Dory, following a single, faint light through the very dark deep sea. As Marlin swims, he talks to himself about how good he feels, basking in the glow of that tiny light, until it shines more fully on the hideous face of an anglerfish, who has lured the two smaller fish in for the kill. Marlin’s response gets right to the point: “Good feeling’s gone,” he says calmly, before screaming and swimming away as fast as he can.

I recently had a day like this, a day when I felt so good…and then I didn’t.

It started with a simple interaction with an acquaintance via the Internet. An interaction that might have meant nothing, or been a simple misunderstanding; it didn’t seem to be a big deal. But I am learning that the simplest things can act as an emotional trigger, especially using a medium that practically sends engraved invitations for miscommunication. All I’ve learned didn’t prepare me for my response.

It started with a slight sinking feeling in my belly, following by short, tight breaths in and out of my mouth. A lump formed in my throat. I began to panic. I reached out via phone to a trusted fellow traveler, but was unable to get the correct words past the lump in my throat, and I hung up. Frustration, pain, and fear spread from my throat to my chest. Tears spilled out of my eyes on to my shirt and my desk, and erratic sobs rose through my torso and came out of my open mouth.

In short…”Good feeling’s gone.”

How does this happen? How can I be having a good day (feeling confident, working hard, staying focused) and then take such a sharp turn into a painful abyss? When I recounted the event to a loved one, I kept repeating the same phrase over and over, “It just all happened so fast.” I became overwhelmed so quickly that my pain blotted out everything else, and I wasn’t able to do anything but grieve. And one thought rose above the feelings and thrust itself front and center in my brain: how can I love someone else when I hate myself?

It’s true. Sometimes I hate myself.

My self-hate is emotional, physical, and spiritual. It is cruel, judgmental self-talk that overwhelms my emotional balance until I can no longer discern what’s true and what’s in my head. It is the inability to forgive myself or anyone else. It is anxiety in my stomach and pain in my chest. It is a belief that I have been abandoned by God because I feel completely isolated and alone. My self-hate has destroyed relationships and ruined important events and I can’t seem to get out from under it.

Although I have struggled with this for as long as I can remember, I’ve reached a tipping point of sorts, a crossroads with one well-worn path leading toward the same behavior I’ve practiced for forty years, and a darker, overgrown path leading somewhere new. My desire to choose worthiness, to practice self-love, is immensely powerful, but my mind keeps placing obstacles in front of me. It’s not the world stopping me; it’s ME stopping me.

I’m told that this behavior is normal for where I am in my recovery. I would like to say this helps, but it doesn’t, at least not yet. I still think that I can somehow control myself into self-love. It reminds me of a story I heard from a co-worker about trying to get her rather large cat into a small cat carrier to make the trip to the vet. I feel like I’m trying to shove my unwilling self into a self-love suit that doesn’t fit, without the slightest clue how to make it work.

I have read that change in my 12 step program requires three things: willingness, prayer, and time.   I can feel the willingness gathering momentum, like an avalanche racing down a snowy hill, and I know the time is nearly here. I am willing to consider that I might be willing to consider that I am loveable and worthy. It’s the best I’ve got right now.

Prayer is still tricky, although I reach out to a power greater than myself more often than I used to, and it has been tremendously helpful. One practice involves simply talking aloud to my Higher Power in my car or at home. Another practice is just bowing my head and asking, “please,” or “help.” A third option that has come back into my life is the use of a “God Box,” an empty tissue box filled with little slips of paper, on which are my hopes, my fears, and anything I can’t control. It’s my way of physically “handing over” control to God.

The last instrument of change is the toughest: time. I am afraid of losing the people I love, because it is impossible for them to love me enough; it’s like pouring sand through a sieve.  I want to fix this, but I know I can’t fix it all today. I can’t turn on self-love like a light switch. I have to be patient. I have to have faith. I can remember that I am probably not the only one in the entire world who feels this way.

Then maybe, when the “good feeling’s gone,” I will have the inner love to keep me going until it comes back.

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