Before I start, as is said in the meetings there are no experts in AA. I am just speaking from my own personal experience and how it relates to my recovery. My experience is unique, but experiences can also be shared as well as commonalities of thought. My hope is that others can identify and I am not alone in these thoughts. If you can’t, that is ok as well, we all have our own paths in recovery. However your feedback is always appreciated and similar or differing views can create a conversation.
This past weekend I went to a convention down at LACC. It was absolutely huge with over 49,000 unique visitors and over 130,000 over the 4-day convention. Now this blog post is not so much about the convention as it is the energy and feeling of being in a large mass of people and being completely comfortable.
Normally in sobriety, I have a ton of anxiety just being around a small group of people I don’t know well. So one would think I would have exponentially higher levels of anxiety even panic attacks in a crowd so large. Surprisingly I was completely fine, even happy! Now why would that be? Usually when living with anxiety, I am constantly looking for the exit, the closest and quickest way out if I am feeling uncomfortable. My palms will get sweaty, breath becomes shallow, and muscles tense up, and I become stuck in the prison of my own head.
With the crowds at LACC it would take about 30 minutes to get from one side to the other. Traffic lanes were filled with people taking impromptu pictures or sitting and taking a break clogging up the flow of people. The exhibition hall was so packed full at some booths you could barely breathe. I love my comfort zone and I have a large bubble of personal space but here I was as relaxed as if I was laying down in bed drifting off to sleep. I was completely in the zone along for the ride as if the crowd was a wave to a surfer.
Everyone was there for the same thing, for fun and to be a part of his or her favorite shows and characters. It was really amazing to be participating in something bigger than myself, a part of a larger organism.
If you like music maybe you can relate it to being at a concert or music festival. Being a part of a packed crowd on a summer day at an outdoor venue. It’s swelteringly hot and uncomfortable. People are crammed together tightly bumping up against each other. You squeeze by and fight through the throngs of people to get closer to the stage. Then you hear it, the first notes from a guitar as your favorite band comes on. The crowd roars with a cheer and applause. They start to play that favorite song from that one album you held so dearly. You know the one that was played on repeat so many times it drove your parents or roommates crazy? Maybe it was the one you first heard on the radio in the car with a significant other, or your best friend in high school showed you the group years before. The crowd surges with energy as that song starts and all of you fall into it. Each person in the crowd connecting with their own memory of a moment, or some creating a new one hearing it for the first time. You become a part of something bigger than just you. Synced with this collective of people, energy, emotion, memories, and the creative outlet of music. It becomes a part of you and you of it as you start to dance and jump with the crowd almost melding into this amorphous singular blob. That is how I can best describe my experience there. This concept of being a part of something more than me, is an aspect of my higher power and how I connect to spirituality.
Of course, people are all different and it’s important to not lose your individuality. I am talking about the feeling of becoming a part of something greater than you. Just like cells in a body with each a specific job to do, some like to stand out and soak up attention by dressing up in a costume as their favorite character, others behind a camera photographing the event, or some collecting as much information from the event as possible. I went for the first time completely on my own, unsure of what to expect, but it was not a big deal at all. I branched out; talked to people I didn’t know, complemented people on their costumes, empathized with a sigh and a complaint about why the line is taking so long, or how the panel is late. I met strangers that became new friends and totally got out of my reserved and shy comfort zone.
So why does this not translate to everyday life for me as easily? Well in sobriety I no longer have the crutch of drugs and alcohol. My anxiety tends to get the better of me especially at large social meetings. I clam up and worry about what so and so thinks of me, or if I said something stupid 5 minutes ago. I am not in the moment at all and when my mind wanders off I may miss a question or a comment because I am stuck in my own head. At the convention I was absolutely in the moment, completely wanting to absorb every experience I could.
This being in the moment idea brings me to emotional sobriety:
“What is emotional sobriety? Some might think that it means being “happy, joyous, and free,” a common adage in 12-Step meetings, taken from AA literature. Of course, people like this definition. It means that if they work a good program, they will achieve physical sobriety (abstinence) and become happy in the process.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this definition puts a lot of recovering people in a tough spot. For example, what does it say about a person’s emotional sobriety if they are having a hard time? What if they are afraid, anxious, sad, angry, confused … the list can go on and on. Does this mean that they aren’t emotionally sober?
I believe that emotional sobriety is less about the quality of the feeling (“good” or “bad”) and more about the general ability to feel one’s feelings. Being restored to sanity isn’t about getting the brass ring—or cash and prizes—or being “happy, joyous, and free” all the time, but it is about being in the present moment, whatever it happens to look like. What are you experiencing right now? And how about now? Can you be present to all of your feelings without any one of them defining you? Sometimes emotional sobriety is about tolerating what you are feeling. It is about staying sober no matter what you are feeling. It means that you don’t have to blame yourself or your program because life can be challenging. It means that you don’t necessarily need to do something to make the feeling go away.” — Psychology Today
I subscribe to the belief of this quote. To me, what I am feeling, positive or negative is not a barometer of my sobriety. It is said, when meditating, to not focus on any particular thought or feeling just let them float by like clouds in the sky. Stay in the exact moment you are in, not one second in the past or in the future.
Unfortunately I do not have all the answers. My belief and what has worked for me, is to seek out the things that make me feel a part of and that connection to my higher power. Anything else that makes me feel excluded, be it people, places, or things, I know I cannot control and to simply walk away from. It is my sobriety and I have the freedom to choose what it looks like to me. Healthy emotional sobriety is also important to me. I am not my thoughts and my thoughts and emotions are not an indicator of how well or poorly I am doing in sobriety. Anxiety, though as much as I would like to reduce it, is a part of me. It always has been. Wishing it away won’t do anything and just ends up making me feel different, or broken. Being in the moment is tough but I am getting better at it, meditation certainly helps.
Feeling a part of is important in sobriety. You need to find the meetings, activities, and friends that make you feel a part of and included. How do you feel a part of? What activities outside of AA do you seek out to feel a part of? What are your thoughts on emotional sobriety or how you stay in the moment? Feedback is always appreciated and your comments are welcomed.
C.S. Bridger is an LA based writer and photographer trying to make sense of recovery