Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life

~ 2012 Form ~


Emotional Pain

All addicts have familiarity with pain. Whether it is emotional, physical, social, intellectual, mental, or spiritual pain, there is no form of pain that we do not come to know on intimate terms. We shake when we recall past pain and are in absolute terror over future pain. We hate pain so much, that when we learn that we are creating our pain, it is hard to believe. It seems crazy that we would actually do things knowingly that predictably result in extreme agony.

For us, it takes a special form of courage to continue our efforts toward improvement after the initial terrors have passed. We would rather forget it and put it out of our minds. We got used to awful pressures in our addictive addiction. Recovery requires us to become more sensitive to the signals from the world around us. If we are used to people yelling when they want something, we may have to learn to listen to someone who seems to be whispering. We learn to re-evaluate our impressions of the world around us. By doing this, we realize a major portion of the freedom that we seek.

In active addiction, we developed a ritualistic, unconscious and reactionary style of living. Often, we didn't do things until we had to. Our addiction tells us that we have to look good, cover up our feelings, deny fault, and never accept responsibility even in trivial matters. These life styles hardly seem ‘liberated.’ Such freedom has a price: honesty. We have to get honest if we are going to be free. One of the problems that many of us face in early recovery happens when we begin to deal with life on life's terms. Emotional honesty takes courage and courage takes hope.

After a few months - or years - clean, we begin to run out of problems. We don’t know what to do. People may call us ‘crisis Queen’ or label us a habitual worrier. We find ourselves sharing about something that feels like an immediate crisis but is still months in the future. Upon closer examination, we find that the problem may not even be possible. Confused, we wonder what have we been doing? We call this ‘borrowing problems from the future’, despair on the time plan.

An addict shared: "I remember the day when I first became aware of the fact that I really didn't have any major problems. It was weird because my disease quickly told me that I needed to keep inventing crises to share in meetings. After all, you're only here to hear about ‘my problems.’ At least that's what I heard out of one of the readings and it took me a long time to share about this in meetings. I finally, after a peaceful week, shared that it had been wonderful. You would have thought that I had dropped a bomb and killed everyone. The response was ‘dead silence’ but I felt better because I had loosened addiction's stranglehold just enough to catch my breath."

Sometimes, we need to think through what actually happened and compare it to the version that we have in our mind. Our confused feelings can lie to us or distort what are really seeing or hearing. This is especially helpful to know when we feel like we are getting resentments towards someone. We no longer need to over react to hearsay. In other words, we need to look at the facts rather than letting our emotions cloud our judgment. Otherwise, we may say and do things that we can not take back. Prayer, meditation and close contact with clean addicts help us find our way. As we grow in recovery, we learn to think through what is really happening as it happens. One mark of our growth is the ability to tolerate 'real emotional pain.' We know all too well that the chemical buffers are no longer an option. Our emotions tell us to do things and this is good if what they tell us is true. If someone we love and care about is suffering, we should feel some pain and healthy concern. It is part of caring and motivates us to help.

If current circumstances stimulate our strong disapproval, we feel somewhat angry. If we have enjoyed successes, we have every right to feel good. If we feel overwhelming ecstasy, complete despair or unfocused hatred, it is a clear indication that our emotions have taken control of us. We must remember that addiction is planning our next usage. Intense 'good' or 'bad' feelings are a danger sign. We make a special effort to share with those we have come to know in recovery. We can take hope from the fact that we will settle down after a while. Our body may not know we are clean yet!

Being clean does not mean that we will not have to face some major tragedies. The sudden death of a loved one, the illness of a family member or a close friend can bring up strong emotions of concern. This is a part of loving someone. Feelings are healthy. They register what is happening in the world around us or the world within us. If they are inaccurate, we may start doing things that have nothing to do with reality. Our disease tells us that we are wrong to feel so strongly and makes us misinterpret and label these feelings as unworthy or defective rather than the mark of a caring, healthy human being. At some point, we must allow ourselves the right to grieve. We are not made of stone and our reactionary pain at the apparent unfairness of life gets to us sometimes. Maybe God does have a master plan for everything. Maybe there is an afterlife. Still, we are unable to see how some things are right or justified. We may not know where God is going with this. Maybe we wake up somewhere, maybe there is nothing. Staying true to our recovery is most important here!

We find ourselves reviewing our belief as our need for assurance increases. Making a written list of the things that are going right for us might help to counterbalance the feelings of distress or hostility. Avoiding confrontations may be the correct action in one situation and in another very similar case, confrontation may be the only way to resolve things. We find ourselves hiding our pain under the assumption that others do not really care. Our disease tells us that even if they did care, they could not possibly have workable answers for our problems. This is one way that the disease works to reassert itself into our lives and it happens whether we stay clean or not. It seems that our awareness grows in recovery to include these previously invisible areas. Our demand for personal honesty grows.

As addicts, we may ignore the good things in our life and focus entirely on a painful event. We become obsessed with the negative to the exclusion of all the goodness in our life. We then justify proceeding as if any hope of betterment is foolish. At this point, our disease will make us do something dumb to cover up how much we care. Pain is the common denominator amongst addicts. Going about our business and keeping to our meetings can help us get through a tough time when a major upset occurs. We have to keep thinking, "What should I be doing right now?" We persevere and try to manage as much of this as we can. If we have taken time off from work, eventually we have to return to our jobs and resume our life. If we take too long, we may create other problems that do not have to happen.

If we do an honest examination of exactly what we are giving, we are better able to evaluate the results we are getting. Recognizing pain as merely an indicator that something needs correction, we get results. Before we act, we pray. If we want dignity, peace and creative action, we can have it. We can go, see, and do like never before. We can also choose to remain stuck in our ruts and make believe we are trapped and without choices. We tend to run from and avoid problems as our addiction progresses. In recovery, we tend to find ourselves in more agreeable surroundings and our need to be agreeable increases proportionally. We see where we were creating problems that were invisible to us before. Recovery teaches us that we choose our reality. We never hung around long enough to see this; we changed our surroundings before it got too bad. We may cry out when someone harms us but later we see where we put ourselves in harm's way. We learn not to ask for trouble. We begin to pay attention to the stages that make up having a happy life. We work diligently to root out contradictions from our thinking, speech and actions. We learn to focus on the good things in life, allowing them to become more important than the negativity has been. We spend time doing charitable works and we no longer feel complacent about the pain and suffering in the world.

We make ourselves part of the solution. Just as we crossed an invisible line as our disease progressed, we will cross another invisible line towards recovery. When we have gone as far with recovery as we went with our disease, our progress really takes off. We become more caring, nurturing, and competent. We are slower to anger and quicker to help. Humor becomes a habit. Those of us who regress into personal self-obsession are like prisoners trapped inside a wall. We climb, reach the top of the wall and fall back into enslavement again. We must continue to remind ourselves of the ways to deal with our feelings today. We can step out, look around and establish directions. This disease can be beat but it does not want us to know.


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Reprinted from the 
Narcotics Anonymous Way of Life, 
Traditions War: a pathway to peace,
The Spirit of NA 
or NA Twenty Plus

being edited on this site.

Copyright © December 1998
Victor Hugo Sewell, Jr.

NA Foundation Group
6685 Bobby John Road Atlanta, GA 30349 USA


All rights reserved. This draft may be copied by members of Narcotics Anonymous for the purpose of writing input for future drafts, enhancing the recovery of NA members and for the general welfare of the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship as a whole. The use of an individual name is simply a registration requirement of the Library of Congress and not a departure from the spirit or letter of the Pledge, Preface or Introduction of this book. Any reproduction by individuals or organizations outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous is prohibited. Any reproduction of this document for personal or corporate monetary gain is prohibited.