Friday, September 25, 2009

Emotional Integrity

The past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about "feeling feelings", and recognizing them in myself. For over 30 years, my MO has been to deny any negative or "unacceptable" feelings that I had, usually before I was even aware that I had it. The reason for this was simple: it was what I learned from my parents, and it was how I survived.

What qualified a feeling to be "unacceptable?" If it would prompt a response from me that would make the other person upset or angry, it was unacceptable. If it would force me to look at a situation honestly that I didn't feel strong enough or ready to look at honestly, it was unacceptable. If it revealed me to be anything other than stalwart, serene, and implacable, it was unacceptable.

My mother is a master of hiding her emotions. There is so much discordance between her demeanor and what is obviously going on around her that it makes the observer uncomfortable. When I was an adolescent. she would spill her guts to me about her emotions and the situations in her life that caused her turmoil--hating her job, hating her body, the strain of having affairs and her unhappiness in her marriage, for starters. But other than these periodic soul-baring sessions (I'll probably post on boundaries and enmeshment at another point), she always had a surface that could not be ruffled, and constant turmoil beneath. I was taught, implicitly and explicitly, that it was unacceptable to do otherwise, especially for women.

Now I am in recovery, years later, and I am learning how this "skill" of showing a game face at all times and portraying an outer image of calm and poise has worked against me. I have begun to think of emotions as a kind of integrity. I always considered myself to be a person of integrity, and in many ways I always have been. But in a very basic way I wasn't, because my emotions didn't match what I showed others or even myself. I have been thinking of this as internal and external. I need a certain level of internal integrity with myself, an acknowledgment of my own feelings rather than denial. And I need external emotional integrity, so that in my dealings with other people what I express matches what I am feeling. In being true to myself by owning how certain situations make me feel, I am also allowing others to see who I really am, which is a kind of integrity.

I don't feel that in order to be a person of integrity, I must wear my heart on my sleeve at all times. For once, this isn't about how others see me so much as me living who I really am. It's not always comfortable to change my old ways; in fact, every time I have to own one of those unacceptable emotions, it makes me want to deflect and deny, as I always have before. But I'm only harming myself by doing this. Integrity is about consistency: "...consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcome," according to Wikipedia.

Without an internal dissonance between who I am and who I portray to the world, I can spend the energy I save on improving my relations with others further. This is a gift of recovery.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Daily Life in Recovery

For the first time in months, hubby and I are reestablishing a social life. We are both at a point in our recoveries that we feel like making the effort to socialize with friends regularly, if possible. Life doesn't always allow this as much as we would like, but we are trying. We had a nice weekend out of town reconnecting with friends of mine that I haven't seen in years, and hubby got to meet them. We all had a pretty enjoyable time. I now approach friendships with the same kind of eyes I've developed for the rest of my life, trying my best to see things "as they are" and not "as I wish they were." People have their problems and issues, but it is now much more important to me to spend time with people who don't feel the imperative to pretend their lives are perfect. That's not to say that everyone I spend time with is 100% honest about who they are and what goes on all the time, but at least I can be with people who try to keep it real and try to break through the denial as much as possible.

I feel like our life is a bit more solid now than in the beginning of the year. Things are definitely still not easy--school, rebuilding trust in our marriage, trying to work a recovery program, dealing with multiple difficulties with family--but honesty is improving, and right intention and commitment to one another is clearly there. We have a spiritual life that is fulfilling and fruitful. We don't have all the answers, and certainly there are days that I feel defeated and less than hopeful, but they are getting fewer and further between. Meanwhile, I have a little more patience with life, and am trying to be a little more honest and a little less controlling every day. It really isn't any more complicated than that.