Monday, October 17, 2016

Evil Genius Assignment #18: A World Without Feelings

When I went to treatment the first time, I was all about setting goals and achieving them. I did very well, and felt like I was thriving.

Then I had a relapse. And darn if it wasn't for exactly the same reasons I always drank. More about that in a different post.

In the second round of recovery, I am learning a new way to thrive: I am resting in the care of experts. I am not trying to know it all or control the path of recovery. I am not manically busy in the pursuit of the goal of sobriety. I am not objecting to a single suggestion. Still, I am actively participating.

See. It's like this: recovery is not one-size fits all. There aren't any shortcuts. It's painful and messy and horrible. And I have complete faith that on the other side, there is something beautiful. I am living in that beauty more and more of each day.

I likened it once to my peers as the equivalent of buying bras. You go to a store, let some perky young'n "fit" you, and try on a seemingly endless array of styles until settling for the least obnoxious version. Then you pay way too much money and head on your way, hoping it was the right choice.

That's recovery. You go to groups and listen to people talk about their recovery. You go to therapy and share your journey so the evil geniuses can craft assignments to aid your recovery. And you talk to others on the same path and learn about what works for each of them. Then you try on all the different things until you find what feels like the right fit. And then you find out that the fit only has to work TODAY because tomorrow you may choose a new fit. 

Both bra shopping and recovery are horribly exhausting.

I had a plan for my recovery. One of the only questions I asked, in fact, was how long people were typically in the first phase of recovery (4-days intensive out patient group). "We generally expect the first phase to last at least thirty days." Cool. I was going to do phase one for 30 days and then step down and do phase two for another 30. I'd be done, then, in four months.

Five months later, I am still in phase two. And I am perfectly aceepting that being in phase two is exactly where I need to be.

I have been assigned some very intense homework. Much of it is painful, and may never be shared. But I feel compelled to share this assignment. It was revelatory.

The directive was to write a paper to present to my peers. My directive was to write about a world in which there were no feelings.  

That was the only directive too. No word count. No criteria. No thesis.

I set about my task like I do. First, I think about it. Second, I research what everyone else has to say. Third, I craft my response using the best of what everyone else has to say. Fourth, I get an eh.

This was so different. SOOOOOOOOoooooooooooo different.

In fact, I was nervous about presenting my work for what could be the first time ever.

And I find myself entirely pleased with the outcome.

I read it to my peers. I am relieved and gratified by their responses. 

What matters more is I learned something pricelss about myself.

I am free to express what is in my heart.

That's brand new. 

Knowing that means that I'm not actually still waiting to get to the other side of all this recovery in order to find my way to something beautiful.

I've already found it.

And that is what I think Christ means when he says, "I am the peace the world cannot give."

The world can steal our peace if we let it.  And I did. 

I won't let that happen again.


I really love crayons. Always have.

I remember going to on the annual school shopping expedition and looking at those perfect boxes of fresh, sharp crayons.

I longed for the box with the sharpener so badly, I could feel the saliva pooling in my mouth.

That same longing strikes me anew every August when I pass the school supply aisle.

And, man. Those boxes have grown.

I always felt so sad for the kids who only got 8 crayons.  What kind of parent only buys 8 when they can get the big box and have a sharpener too?

Then I became one of those parents who only buys 8 crayons.

Oddly, it was all my boys wanted. They did not love coloring. They would have been happy with one crayon, if they had to have any.

I’d tried to instill a love of coloring in my boys. I’d decided early on that my boys were going to embody the best of the masculine and the feminine, and that they wouldn’t be victims of my Nurture. In fact, my Nurture was going to overcome Nature, if it had to.

We worked hard on coloring. My friends with daughters told me of hours spent coloring the Princesses and having to buy extra pink crayons. No matter what I did, my boys wouldn’t use the red. Or the purple. They ignored the orange, green, and yellow too. They pretty much liked black and brown with a smattering of blue. 

They didn’t care about lines or elements of design.

They mostly grabbed their crayons and scribbled color across the pages as fast as they could before proudly showing me their latest masterpieces.

Taking them by hands one day, I led them on a field trip across the golf course behind our house.
Along the way, I pointed out all the colors, from the rich green of the leaves to the bright yellow sun, and the deep orange and purple of the flowers. “See, boys!” I enthused. “God made the world a colorful place.”

They climbed over logs and splashed through streams during our outing, enthusiastically participating in finding more color. I really thought they “got it” and we returned home where I sent them to finish new, more colorful masterpieces while I made dinner. The new “rule” was that they each had to use 6 of their 8 colors.

I heard them giggling amid much thumping and clattering. See, despite all my Nurture, my boys still acted like bear cubs at all times, and any task was completed in some oddball event resembling a NASCAR-themed wrestling match.

They appeared with bright smiles, masterpieces in hands.

I don’t know what I expected, but what they presented was not it.

While they certainly used many more colors, demonstrating an endearing effort to please me, the crumpled and somewhat tattered pages weren’t what I’d imagined hanging on the fridge. 

No longer merely black and blue scribbles, they were clouds of scribbled color – exactly 6 colors on each masterpiece. 

Their masterpieces resembled what I sort of considered ugly chaos, almost as if they’d violently vomited rainbows on the paper.

With a pair of deep brown eyes staring at me over one, and smiling green eyes over the other, I found myself falling deeply in love with their depiction of the world despite myself and my sense of artistry.

That day what they taught me was that some sort of brilliantly messy and wildly unexpected work of art is waiting to be discovered wherever we bother to look for it.

When I came to treatment, I had an assortment of feelings I was comfortable with, that I understood and could identify.  It was my own 8-crayon box, in a sense.  The “safe” emotions, the ones I understood, were Happy and Sad, Grateful and Hurt.  I had a few shades of shame too.

Opening the orientation packet, the first thing I saw was a Feeling Wheel.  It was something like that huge box of crayons, the one with the sharpener. And the contents of The Wheel felt as foreign to me as that big crayon box would have felt to my boys.

In the first weeks, when The Wheel was passed around the group, I looked at it like the obedient student I’ve always been, but I really refused to see it. I didn’t want to use or acknowledge all those vibrant, messy emotions, and I sure didn’t want to think I was going to find myself actually feeling or understanding them.  For certain, I wasn’t going to like it.

But I do like it.

Feelings are how we color ourselves. Without them, we would be nothing more than robots, lacking the ability to care for, or connect with others.

And the world, in a sense, would be colorless.



PS: I don't publish comments at this time, but I do appreciate what you have to say. Thank you for taking the time to read and thoughtfully reply!

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