The Dance of Pagan Recovery: Feeling the Feelings

The Dance of Pagan Recovery: Feeling the Feelings February 11, 2014
Some rights reserved (CC BY-SA 2.0) by John Levanen


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks


Feelings!  How I love thee!  Birthplace of Possibility and Creativity!  Seat of Power and Transformation!    You are fickle and difficult and painful and rich.  You show us where pain lives so we can seek healing.  Blessed be my heart-guests!

I used to think that being angry, sad, frustrated, shy or uncomfortable meant that there was something wrong with me.  Luckily, I had a perfect way to not feel any of those things, at least as far as I could tell.

I first fell in love with alcohol because with it, I could ignore the parts of my life that weren’t working (or were ‘boring’!)  I could turn myself “on”, show up to any party, interact with any person, be on any stage and be funny, sexy, powerful. That was true for a while.  Maybe.

Later in my drinking career, when I’d gotten to the stage of blacking out every night, someone said to me, “Man, you sure get mean when you’re drunk.”  I replied, “What are you talking about?  I’m a fun drunk!”  Their answer: “That’s what you think…”

I was informed and came to agree that all the demons (AKA “feelings”) I pushed down in the daytime came out to play at night.  All my hurting, all my loneliness just waited in me, knowing that, sooner or later I would be intellectually (but unfortunately not physically) un-conscious and it would sneak into the light.  I was mean, cruel and hateful.  All those bad things that the world had done to me, I did right back at whoever happened to be in front of me at the time.

My skeleton closet contained every time I’d been picked on, every time I forced myself not to cry in front of my bullies, every time I abandoned my Self to please someone else.  Those voices had to get themselves heard somehow.

And all that broken-ness was within its rights to speak up.  As we say, “You don’t clean up the puke on the carpet by pretending that it’s a lovely new pattern.”

One of the hardest and best tasks as addicts in recovery is the ‘uncovery’ of our own inner worlds.  We go exploring.  “It is what it is” is a good mantra for this phase, because we are likely to see some seriously nasty stuff in there.  But mixed in with the damaged goods, there is going to be some beauty, I guarantee it.  Some of the essential pieces of our deep truth, which lead to our Divine Will, are hidden in there and we must unearth them.

Many years ago a wise priest of my acquaintance talked of being “naked in our rites” as an expression of our willingness to stand before our kin and gods with nothing on or in us that wasn’t ours at birth.  Naked, as in on a cellular level, sans alcohol and drugs, specifically.

from Bride of the Gorilla, 1951

Naked in our rites means being willing to be as we truly are:  broken and beautiful and f*ed up and wise.  First, willing to see ourselves, we become willing to let others see us.  (Sometimes we have to pray for the willingness to be willing, or even the willingness to be willing to be…you get the picture.)  Choosing to be unaware is a trip down our favorite river:  De-Nile.  The world is a mirror and it takes courage to look into it.  (Spoiler alert:  other people are a big part of the mirror, showing us our beauty and ugliness).

Seeing those reflections and recognizing them as such brings us into a new relationship with all things.  We begin to see how our internal experience moves into the shared reality and recognizing our power, we can consciously shape what we want.  We all have our gifts to give to the world and no one else can give these same things.  So how do we become courageous enough to offer them?

We can look for the place we belong.  In a 12 step meeting, a teaching circle, a coven, we can look for those who are like us and who can hold space for our growth.  But most importantly, we can try to accept that our primary place of belonging is within our own hearts, our souls, our practice.   The first mirror is the one that reflects our own face, our own truth back at us.  Being at peace within gives us the courage to seek peace without.

Releasing our drug of choice can feel just like being butt naked in math class.  It’s not easy and it’s not always pretty.  It’s helpful to practice in front of others who have also walked these ways.  We want to go where the agreement among the drunks, druggies, perverts, what-have-yous, is that we won’t denigrate or mock each other, though we might do that to ourselves.  We agree to help each other see the places where, yeah, we could use a little work, or a lot.

And we get okay with being seen.  We learn to take criticism.  To keep our mouth shut and ears open.  We learn to admit when we’re wrong and seek forgiveness, our own or others’.  We become a ‘fellow among fellows’, revealing to and witnessing for our compatriots on the path.  We lose our fear of feeling.

All of our feelings:  anger, sadness, frustration, boredom.  We greet them with serenity, courage, wisdom and hear their stories, heal where we can.

Blessed be our feelings!  Strong and ugly and full of life!

The Dance of Pagan Recovery is published on alternate Tuesdays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

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