The Prequel: Feeling the Way to Freedom

A guest post by Brenda Viola

OK, SPELers, this is where our relationship goes Emeril.  BAM - yes, kicking it up a notch - and not without some butterflies.

My prior guest posts were "Here's my latest aha moment!  Why not try it on fo

r size?" The tales were told wrapped around a travel adventure or the latest photo of my handsome husband doing something goofy to add a little levity.  Which is quite fine.  My recent submission (thanks for the invite, Cindy) teased of a prequel and a sequel to my most recent enlightenment.  (Reader's Digest version:  It's not too late for me, acting upon dreams, looking at my last will and testament and choosing to not wait until death to express my love fully to people.)


The sequel would be much more fun to write.  But the prequel is one that has taken almost 30 years to admit, and even now, doesn't come easily.  See how I am wasting four paragraphs to just ATTEMPT to get to it?


Deep breath.


I had my last drink on November 10, 2013.  On November 11th, I started to live in a way I didn't know was possible for me. I didn't start to like it until about mid-January-ish and since about May I have fallen in love with sobriety.  So much so that it is June and I am finally able to fully share it with you.


To paint a picture for you, I have had an affair with alcohol all of my adult life.  Since college, when dormitory suite-mates bonded over beer pong and best friends were born over drunken walks home from the Rathskeller, libations were as necessary to my social life as sky-high hair and Jordache jeans were to my 80's persona.  Because I delivered straight A's (though attending more than one class inebriated) and because in college "everyone was doing it" I never considered I had a problem.


When I graduated and still maintained a robust drinking life, it occurred to me (on occasion) that I liked drinking more than other people did.  A nearly-missed telephone pole at 22 and a DUI at 26 served to upset me and even cause me to swear off the stuff...for a while.


To explain the decade of my 30's to you would take a book, so let’s just say that alcohol took a back seat to another form of intoxication.


I never realized until I wrote that word that it contains within it the word "toxic."  In a sense, I traded one vice for another - not a drink or a drug, but certainly a means to escape reality.  The inflated sense of self-confidence that had previously come from the third drink was replaced with a heady preoccupation with spiritual superiority.



"When you feel in yourself an addictive stand

between the two worlds of your lesser self and your full self.

(Your full self) demands of you the way

of the enlightened spirit.  Conscious life."


Gary Zukav, Seat of the Soul



Then, ten years ago, the basket into which I had put all of my eggs smashed to smithereens.  My identity, my faith, my friendships - my very purpose in life became unhinged.


For about the first five years that followed, alcohol crept back in, but upon reflection there was a "grace space" for it.  When that window began to close, the repercussions escalated, as did my drinking.  There were many morning afters when I asked friends whether they thought I had a problem.  I took the comfort their protestations provided as leeway to continue, but truth can't be suppressed indefinitely.


Was it the time that I fell down a dozen cement steps, nearly losing an eye and yet with no memory of the event, save for the bruises?  Was it the numerous fights I subjected my dear husband to; the blackouts and apologies for unfiltered, outrageous behavior that ultimately caused me to face the harsh truth?


What was striking to me about my path to sobriety was that there were flashing red sirens and near-death experiences over the course of the last ten years that should have stopped me in my tracks, but they didn't.  It was two seemingly small things that shattered me.  One was the realization that I couldn't wait to get home from work each day, not to play catch with my puppy or to kiss my husband - but to hear the pop of the cork and the glub glub of the red liquid pouring into the balloon glass.  The other was that I diminished someone at a party with an off-handed comment that I would never have made if sober.


I didn't like me anymore.


For the first few weeks of sobriety, I was unmoored; jittery.  At the first big gathering, Thanksgiving, I was literally in tears at the thought of remaining true to my resolve not to drink.  What will I tell people?


Turns out, nobody asked.  I've learned that the only people that have difficulty with my new life on the wagon are those that question their own relationship with alcohol.  And with each milestone occasion that came and went without a drink, I was strengthened.  At the beginning, it was just about saying no to alcohol.  Gradually, I turned a corner to realize it was about saying yes to a clear life; a new level of being fully present and truly living.


This new chapter has unleashed creativity, freedom, miracles and a daily expectation that good is headed my way.  Let me be clear (now that I am clear):  I don't believe those benefits are a reward for my good behavior.  Rather, these blessings have always been there, but blocked by my self-defeating behavior; the "sin that so easily beset me."


Somewhere deep inside, I knew that if I continued down the path that was progressively consuming my life, I would die prematurely.  For too long, I subconsciously accepted that, preferring the numbness.


Now I am ready to live, and grateful to have the chance to do so.



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Afterword by Cindy


We (by we, I mean me) seek to avoid discomfort. So we attempt to suppress or anesthetize painful emotion. Because it hurts. Or we think we shouldn’t be feeling that way. Or we fear we may be overindulgent.


We often judge, instead of allow, our emotions.


I’m not an expert; I’m a student & here’s what I’ve learned: painful emotions don’t just disappear. Like all piles of unfinished business, our life’s energy goes into the low-grade anxiety of managing unresolved feelings trapped in our bodies.


Here’s how veteran life coach & author Martha Beck weighs in on the subject: "...avoidance usually increases the hurt it is meant to eliminate. When we run from our feelings, they follow us. Everywhere. What happens when we’re willing to feel bad is that, sure enough, we often feel bad—but without the stress of futile avoidance.


Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests, and falls in a series of waves. Each wave washes parts of us away and deposits treasures we never imagined. No one would call it easy, but the rhythm of emotional pain that we learn to tolerate is natural, constructive, & expansive. It’s different from unwilling suffering the way the sting of disinfectant is different from the sting of decay; the pain leaves you healthier than it found you.”


I had to learn to accept discomfort – to be willing to be present for (not resistant to) negative emotions – in pursuit of happiness. Now I’m not suggesting an emotional tailspin. There is, of course, a difference between feeling our emotions & wallowing in our emotions, but validating pain is the first step to healing.


The fastest way to move through pain is to feel it.  Instead of retreat, to engage with life in real & raw moments. (It hurts so good.)


Because whether we numb with drugs or booze or food or perfection or approval or busyness or shopping or TV or the internet or any other of life's painkillers, instead of saving us, they suck the life out of us.


Suppressing our emotions only entangles us further in them & transforms them into something even more traumatic. Addiction, at best, keeps us in a holding pattern, limiting us from thriving in all our power & experiencing our fullest potential. To the degree that we are disconnected from our emotions is the degree to which we are disconnected from the pulse of  life.


Avoid avoidance. Bust out of purgatory. Resistance to pain is far worse than the pain itself.



Life’s gonna hurt, but it’s meant to be felt.


India Arie



I discovered that if I let the pain hurt, I’d eventually outlast it.


I like the case author Glennon Melton makes for staying with, rather than fleeing from, painful emotion: “…it’s like recovering from frostbite. The process of defrosting is excruciatingly painful. You have been so numb for so long. And as feeling comes back to your soul, you start to tingle, and it’s uncomfortable & strange.


But then the tingles start feeling like daggers. Sadness, loss, fear, anger, all of these things that you have been numbing. . . you start to FEEL them for the first time. And it’s horrific at first, to tell you the damn truth. But feeling the pain, refusing to escape from it, is the only way to recovery.


You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, you have to go through it. And if you allow the defrosting process to take place, if you trust that it will work, if you can stand the pain, one day you will get your soul back.”


We grow an inner strength from willingly allowing discomfort to pass through us rather than ignoring it; a confidence that assures, “Whatever I face, I’ll be okay.”


We are bigger than our pain. We can feel it & not be shattered. Our hearts are strong & resilient enough.


So, love your fullness. Love your emptiness. Love it all.


If you want to heal, show up for yourself by acknowledging & honoring your emotions with uncommon kindness & compassion. Be still & present long enough to feel whatever arises, without filling the space with something else, until your feelings are duly processed & you are fully free.


Feel it to free it – a rule to thrive by for a stronger & more vibrantly alive you.


Like my beautiful friend, Brenda.

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