Chase The Happy, Lose The Sappy


"I missed the rinse cylce again! Oh those stubborn grease stains will never come out!!"

“I missed the rinse cycle again! Oh those stubborn tomato sauce stains will never come out!! We’ll never be popular, Ted!!”

Oh the Drama.  With a capital D.

Well, not the Guiding Light or Real Housewives of Tagg Flats, Oklahoma (or whatever) kind of drama.  No sissy fights or paying off hired killers in leisure suits or wearing white after labor day kind of drama.  I mean the kind of drama that comes with being an active alcoholic.  The kind of drama that slinks its way into the lives of those who surround themselves around the alcoholic, and acts as a ligature against the skin of common sense and emotional stability.  The kind of drama that only we could only create out of almost nothing, a mess of jangled feelings splattered onto loved ones just like Gallagher and his watermelons onto nearby audience members.  And the catalysts for my drama were perceptions and my reactions to those perceptions.

Look, I never sought out drama.  I always saw myself as a cool cat who just let things slide, Daddy-O  I stayed out of the spotlight, tried to slip under the radar, played dead when the bears of conflict came sniffing around.  I pictured my role in this world as the Grand Observer – a man from an unnamed planet whose daytime gig was to make notes about you Earthlings and send them to the Cosmic Imperial Poobah in return for bottles of Jack Daniels and some beef jerky to snack on.  I was the antithesis of drama.  I wasn’t some hysterical pollyanna or chicken little.  I wasn’t about sitting around and gossiping about the neighbours or putting on a show for others.  I was just so absent  of drama that I was a dud of a dude.  Or so I thought.

"I ought to stick your mouth in the light socket."  That's real drama, baby.

“I ought to stick your mouth in the light socket.” That’s real drama, baby.

I used to produce drama at a Jerry Bruckheimer-like pace and consistency.  And the basis for this was how I reacted and responded to others.  Being the selfish boozer that I was, egocentric and living a mantra of “Me Me Me Now Now Now”, I often overreacted to the smallest of actions and words by others.  I would somehow find a tiny thread of something you said or did and turn it into something it wasn’t.  I’d blow up any tiny morsel of perceived negativity or criticism and bombard you or any victim bystander with a barrage of just how hard it is to be me soliloquies.  I took even the kindest words and twisted them into something that wasn’t there and not only make you feel like a piece of something I stepped in at the park, but made sure everyone could see the bottom of my shoe.  In full Techni-Color.  And the funny thing is this was how I operated, without me being aware I operated like this.  This was the button on “default”. It was how I could interact with the world, as I never felt I was truly part of it.  I couldn’t see any other way of being with others.  And clearly I couldn’t be subtle about it, so might as well have gone with a little pizzazz.  Putting on the Ritz a bit.  A little cheese with that w(h)ine and cracker.

My greatest method of creating drama was in my overreacting to situations.  This happened both when drinking and when I was stark raving sober.  Oh, and perhaps in between – hungover or on the outs of a hangover.  In other words, I had a fairly reasonable chance of going a little over the top when there wasn’t even a top required in any given situation.  You know what it’s like – you’ve had few too many Mint Juleps and all of a sudden the volume on our voice goes up a few decibels.   Every emotion gets amped up to sometimes ridiculous levels.   We don’t get a little nostalgic – we get downright sappy.  We don’t experience something as simply amusing, – we find that it is the funniest thing we have ever heard ever in the history of ever.  We don’t see something as a little bit sad, but we see something in the shade of utterly and completely tragic and life destroying.  And boy do we have to let others know about this too.  Immediately.  With volume and all the tact and discretion of a Joan Rivers on the Oscar red carpet.   And I am not just talking about when I have overdone it with the booze (what, moi?) – this was the sort of way I would react even when not intoxicated.  I may have found different ways of expressing these overwrought emotions, but they got expressed one way or another.  I didn’t know how to deal with emotions, so I either clammed up or I went big.  Barnum and Bailey big.

Subtle.  I like subtle.

Subtle. I like subtle…like this.

Not knowing how to deal with emotions, like an adult, was terrifying and embarrassing.  I didn’t have the wherewithal to understand, process and respond to other people’s emotions or mine in an appropriate way.  I remember going up to someone after a meeting and thanking them for their talk, telling them how I could relate to some things and how she did a great job, and she just stared at me and laughed.  No words.  Just laughed at me.  And walked away.  What a madwoman, I thought.  But I realized that I used to do the same kind of thing.  I would laugh when I should have been comforting and warm.  I cried when I should have just smiled politely.  I deflected when I should have accepted.  I screamed when I should have held somebody.  I wailed when I should have reflected or just shut my mouth and listen.  My response to things and the thing were a mismatched pair of socks.  One plaid, one striped.  Utterly ridiculous, but still kept me warm.  Still did the job – for me.  And that’s because that was all I knew.  That was all that my mind and my sometimes drunken behaviour would only have space for.  Lunacy.

This soup pot I called my inner landscape – a pound of female teenage hormones, a cup of toddler tantrum-cy, a dash of Sammy Maudlin, a sprig of man-boy Mork – was what I relied on, sadly, to navigate my way through adult situations.  And how was it that I got stuck with this Motley crew of inadequate emotional children?  Well, I was still a child, to be honest.  They say that drinking stunts our emotional growth.  I started drinking at 15.  Not alcoholically – that took a scant few years to kick in.  But I could easily compare my emotional state at 40 years old to be that of a 15 year old boy.  An unhealthy 15 year old boy.  A teenager who still had large self-esteem and self-worth issues.  Whose idea of torture was talking to others, or connecting with others.  Or looking in the mirror. A young man who hadn’t learned to navigate the muddy waters of relationships with others, who was still trying and failing, trying and succeeding.  But mostly failing.  So now add booze and freeze frame this.  Keep it vac-packed like instant coffee.  Add hot water (and this alcoholic often got into hot water) and hazzah – a bitter brew, weak and ultimately unsatisfying.

At least I looked good on the outside.  I'm the one with the skinny pants.

At least I looked good on the outside. I’m the one with the skinny pants.

Getting sober didn’t make my jumbled gumbo of ooey gooey emotions normalize immediately.  At all.  They were still there.  I still didn’t know how to be.  It took me about three months to stabilize my emotional life.  It took me 90 days to get off that roller coaster.  Sometimes I just wanted to hug everyone on the streetcar.  Or I wanted to strangle them all.  Usually both within 30 seconds of each other.  It was like all the wires in my feeling brain were hot wired to the “crazy” setting.  I could cry one moment and then do cartwheels the next.  Insanity.  But this is common when we get sober.  Our emotional state is stabilizing.  Just like our bodies are healing, our minds and spirits are too.  It’s like dismantling an engine before rebuilding it. And this is what I felt like when I was going through this uninvited turmoil and jackhammer like instability.   What a bumpy ride it was.

The good news is that it did slow down. I started to grow up emotionally.  Through a program of recovery and actually paying attention to other people’s cues and parroting what other (“normal”) people did in other situations, I learned to deal with things as they cropped up.  I learned what a somewhat normal or appropriate reaction to something was.  I learned that what I felt didn’t have to translate to how I acted or spoke.  I learned that I was a work in progress, and to be kind to myself.  To see myself as that 15 year old boy, and allowing him to grow up at the speed he needed to grow up.  I looked to certain people to show me the way, to guide me, to mentor me.  I still do. Sometimes it was just about being quiet, sitting in reflection, and seeking the answer that way.  I recall having a conversation with my sponsor about this a long while back, and he beamed at me while he declared proudly “Paul, I feel like I’m 21 years old now!”  He too had been going through his own emotional growth and was starting to feel a shift in his way he approached the world and himself.  As I have.  And continue to do so.

Taking self love a little too far.  But nice effort.  Too much rouge.

Taking self love a little too far. But nice effort. Too much rouge.

The wonderful benefit of a more normalized inner life is that I can be present and sound in the moment.  I no longer have to manufacture drama to call attention to myself or to feel that I am part of something larger than myself.  I trust my instincts now and listen for the guidance I get from the Creator.  I can be wrong of course, a fumbling newborn foal,  but I find that it’s not as big a deal as it used to be when I am wrong.  I no longer need to overreact to situations, because I am content with where I am at and need not answer the call of being the center of attention. I am at a place now where I don’t throw hissy fits inside when things don’t go my way.  I can certainly feel them, but I can shut them down or quiet them down a bit (internal hissy fits are my specialty, by the way. Call me for special rates).  I don’t need to be on one side of the spectrum or the other.  It’s OK to just be OK with things.  I don’t have to be a hater to be liked, I don’t have to be a lover to be accepted.  I can just be.

And in this state of more well-ness (you didn’t think I was there yet, did ya?  Give your noggin’ a shake for thinking so), I find that I can open myself up for more of me.  To tune into that intuition that helps keep me on track, to do the right thing even when I don’t want to, and to keep an even keel about me, emotionally.  Meditation and contemplation have helped to keep the rabble rousing down to a nice dull roar and affords me a buffer for when I do allow ego and pride to take over and I act or speak inappropriately.  My Emotional Intelligence is now starting to hit the “Operable” part of the meter.  No longer in the red zone.  Not quite in “Bliss” mode either…but every now and again, the meter does brush up against it, and it’s a joyous thing.

I'm emotionally spent.  Gonna listen the Beiber's first album.

I’m emotionally spent. Gonna listen to the Bieber’s first album.  He’s good for recharging the inner tomcat in me.

So if you’re new to this sober game, this recovery do-hickey, remember that it does get better.  You’re not a mad person.  You’re healing.  You’re going through what many of us have gone through in the beginning – a reset of sorts that requires time, patience and some self-love and self-forgiveness.  You are seeing things in a new light, a new perspective and are like a child – learning to grasp at life with new eyes, new hands, heart cracked open.  Your wants and desires will go a bit left and right, your feelings may seem to rule the roost, but rest assured you’re on the right path.  Find something that centers you and practice it.  Be consistent with it.  Talk to others, even about the smallest things.  Chase the happy…lose the sappy.

Blessings,

Paul

26 responses to “Chase The Happy, Lose The Sappy

  1. Oh holy hell if this ain’t the truth. Thing is…it took me a while to realize that I needed to learn how to behave. I honestly thought that my old self was fine before the alcohol totally took over. I thought I was bright and witty and “all put together”. In reality, I was a mess long before the alcohol came on board.

    But I love the way you stated that I’m still 21 (when I really started drinking) and no more emotionally grown than your average 21 year old and that I don’t have to relearn behavior so much as I have to LEARN the behavior for the very first time. That really helps me to keep it in perspective. I’m a 52 year old woman asking the emotional equivalent of a 21 year old to act her age. Wait…what?

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed!!!! No one more deserving. Your writing is brilliant.

    Sherry

    • Thanks Sherry for the kind words.

      And as for what you said, absolutely – I too thought that I was “OK” and acted appropriately. Sadly, that was far from the truth. And also, you state something important – I am not relearning something. That implies I knew it already. I am learning, period. Crazy…but it’s never too late 🙂

      Blessings and thanks for the comments,
      Paul

  2. I sent you a private query question …. this explains so very much of what I was trying to express. Serendipitous ? So glad you are *around Paul even if in reality that means several thousand air miles ….

  3. First, so true, it does get easier. Hang in there while the brain heals and resets!

    Second, I never ever was dramatic. Ever! Fiddle dee dee, Paul (in my best Scarlet O’Hara tone). I *was* however very talented in stirring up drama all around me to take the focus off of me and to give me something fun to look at, play with, and fix. I was like the eye of a hurricane. Except when I WAS the hurricane. Usually after I drank a few hurricanes. But that’s another story.

    PS– leave Britney alone!!! 😉

    • I like the hurricane double entendre 🙂

      Yes, I was going to mention the stirring the pot thing too. Some of us were good at that – add in a large dollop of gossip and it’s a wonderful thing. Ugh. It’s like fireworks – light the fuse, run far away and watch the explosions.

      Thanks for the insight, Christy…and yes, I will leave Britney alone. Good catch there 🙂

      Paul

  4. Man. Before recovery I would dive headfirst into drama. If none was to be had, I made some. I got entangled in other people’s lives just to find more drama.
    Now, I actually have days where it doesn’t overwhelm me! (today wasn’t one of those days, but in general) I used to be a person always looking for the NEXT BIG THING. Now, I genuinely crave normality. I love normality. You can keep your drama, thanks.
    I even spend considerable time keeping good boundaries in my life now so that I DON’T have drama. I didn’t even realize how different it had gotten until I met someone a few weeks ago who wasn’t in recovery and had the drama that I used to. Yikes. It wasn’t worth it to build that friendship; it was messing with my serenity! And that’s a big freaking deal nowadays.
    I’m definitely still growing, and the old tapes go off more often then not. But at least now I’m learning to stand back and observe instead of completely identifying and becoming my feelings.
    GREAT post! Thank you!!!

    • Wonderful comments and insight. I totally identify with much of what you said, and it’s funny how behaviours that I used to have in the past now mess with my serenity big time even if I approach those things. And yes, the old tapes do like to mess around sometimes…and so it’s just a matter of trying to shut them down. Been there, done that thank you!

      Great stuff – thanks for being here.

      Blessings,
      Paul

  5. The mix of real emotions having to deal with them sober as an adult… oh boy … still a fun issue at times.

    However I remember a classic incident a few months into sobriety I’m making a meal in the kitchen with my wife, a song comes on the radio and she turns it up. She said “I really like this song … actually it should be played at my funeral”. I listen to the lyrics, basically it is someone saying goodbye to the love of their life. So suddenly I realise that she is saying that is the message to me (well ok I’m presuming that bit but hopefully a correct assumption!). I’m suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of what I can only call “happiness” (trust me in those days all this shit was too new!) but then I realise she is talking about her funeral and so then I project that and feel sad… then happy … then sad… I make an excuse about needing to pop upstairs. I get in the bathroom and call a friend in AA (some may call him sponsor, I personally don’t like that term) and tell him about this and say “Is it normal to feel these two things at the same time. He gently sighs – “They are your emotions, who can deny them, you’re the only one feeling them”… “Oh … right then”…

    It gets better – they can still confuse me, like you my broken and stunted emotional growth means I sometimes look to my 23 year old son as a role model, as he is more mature at some stuff than I am.

    • I love that story there Graham. I can recall feeling like that too. A jumble of stuff going on, and trying to sort it out like sorting out groceries or something. Funny that we are very similar that way.

      I think you are a fine role model for your boy there, sir. If you weren’t, he wouldn’t be the wonderful young man he is now.

      Thanks for this, Graham. Made my day.

      Paul

  6. I am sure others before me warned of the emotional roller coaster in the first year plus of sobriety, but I was still shocked by my crazy mood swings and anger. Thank goodness it passed. Mostly. I still get on from time to time. Always did love a good roller coaster.

    • Ha ha…yeah, a real rollercoaster indeed. But like you said, you can be warned, but…yikes.

      And yes, I get back on that ride now and then too. Gets me a sick feeling to my stomach, like the real roller coasters do.

      Thanks for swinging by, BBB 🙂

      Paul

  7. Thanks for this post. It clears up a lot of behavior I see in a loved one with the same issue. I pray he sees the light too. (If there is a weird comment on here from me about a super clever 7- sorry. That was supposed to be on another blog for someone else. I’m on my phone and I don’t know what happened and I don’t know if it actually showing up on yours or hers. Oops)

    • Your comments seem to fit the posts…unless I read too much into them! lol

      Anyway, I just pray that your loved one sees the light too. That’s pretty much all we can do.

      Blessings,

      Paul

  8. Delightful and provocative, as always. Cock full o’ gemmed guffaws this one. Besides a fascinating topic.The strange emotional component of alcoholism. Nicely done. I swoosh my feathered cap before your buckled boots. Bow deeply at your masterful delivery of message.
    You know, Pauly, this insanity is chock full o’ ironies and paradoxes. Like “Hi, I’m a person who can’t handle feelings, so I’m going to drink something that will clobber me over the head with some gargantuan ones. And most of those, of the unpleasant variety!” Great plan. “You see, I’m inherently nervous about what people think of me, so I’ll get blind, and then display every raw and ugly emotion a human can muster. Put on a little demonstration. A show. See how that goes.”
    It’s unbelievable. And yes, now laughable. But let’s face it, it’s something only a crazy person would do. Not just once, but over and over again. Lick fire once and learn that it burns. But then keep sucking on it. See if it will still burn. Maybe not this time.
    I don’t blame normal people for not getting us. Even I don’t get us. And I’m as us as we get. But I sure as shit get you, Paul o’ mine. You’re not just a great example of recovery, you are a riotously fun version of it. Healthy and bat-chain insane. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
    I totally scored getting to meet you. However cyber-spaced. It just feels really good.
    Thank you for existing.
    Marius

    • You nailed it, sire. You just brilliantly condensed what took me 53,789 words to stumble through and put it into a bite sized morsel that even the Queen herself could chew on and get great value. Thank you for that. And you’re right – our twisted thinking is even confusing to someone like me, someone who gets it and yet has to shake his head at how that same head used to think…and sometimes still can if not careful.

      The bat chain insane – I can’t vouch where that came from, but it might have been something to do with touching the cracks in the pavement when I was a kid. It didn’t break my mama’s back, as the legend went, but it probably rewired something upstairs. Badly. Or maybe it was the combination meningitis / lightening strike of ’87. Only Kreskin can say.

      I am glad we’re wearing the same jerseys too.

      Hugs
      Paul

  9. Awesome. I knew this about my husband, but when HE finally understood his emotional growth stopped at 15, we really started working together. It’s still hard, being married to a 15 y/o (ok, maybe he’s 17 or 18 now) in a 45 year old man’s body and I swear sometimes I feel like a cradle robber, but knowing that’s our thing is half the battle right? Love that I came across your blog! You rock!

    • Thank you Angela – I just had a quick glance at your blog and look forward to taking the time to absorb it. I am glad that you and your husband are on your own journeys and hoping time will heal and bring things to where God needs them to be in your lives.

      cradle robber…lol. YOU rock 🙂

      Blessings,

      Paul

  10. This is a post that both alcoholics and drama-holics should read, because there are plenty of “normal drinking folk” that could work on this particular issue. I actually go out of my way to avoid such people these days, because I can too easily get sucked in to that old behavior, and I know now that there is a better way to live.

    Great post, as always Paul!

    • Drama-holics…lol. I believe Emotions Anonymous deals with this stuff. I have to look into it, but that is what my sponsor had mentioned one day to me.

      Thanks for the comments 🙂

      Paul

  11. PAUL!!!! I thought I was going mad at the beginning of my recovery! What triggered my drama abilities used to be alcohol, so I stopped drinking as much. But then, I was a drama queen (and still am) even without the alcohol or food, or binges of both. Thank you for reassuring that these reactions are part of the process. I don’t deal well with failure, or “no’s”, or many things yet but I’m getting there.
    I haven’t told you this but I really look up to you, Paul. I think you are wonderful both as a blogger, and as a recovering addict. Your posts make me realise how there are still men who work to be better, day in and day out. You are one of a kind, as we all are, but today I am grateful for your blog and your presence in my little blogging world. Lots of love, Paul!

    • Awww…thank you, Erika. You are one of a kind as well. We certainly like our little dramas…takes the attention off of us, yes? But we can lose the drama queen-ness of ourselves by checking our motives and seeing what is it that we are trying to gain in our dealings with others. I have had to do this recently.

      Anyway, you are a wonderful blogger and recovering addict – as I mentioned on your own blog, I am glad we fell into each other’s paths…it’s been a joy for me to have you in my recovery life 🙂

      Hugs,
      Paul

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