How Do I Feel?

By Roger C.

When I went to rehab in 2010 it didn’t feel like I walked through the doors at the main entrance.

It felt like I crawled under those doors.

I didn’t know what I was doing there. I didn’t know what had happened. But I knew I had somehow committed myself to staying for three weeks. I didn’t understand that, either.

I got used to the routines. Nothing too complicated. Every morning at 6:30 a.m. we would all trundle down to the gym and do some exercises while listening to loud music. Then we would go outside and walk for a mile or so. After a while, I enjoyed starting my day that way. After the walk, we would have to check in.

There was a lot of checking in. We would have to stop everything and get together with our group and “check in” with a counsellor three times a day.

One of the questions asked at check-in was “How do you feel”?

Three times a day, “How do you feel”?

I found the question a bit odd, to say the least. And there were rules about how you could answer the question. You weren’t allowed to say, for example, “fine.” Apparently that meant something like “Effed-up Interior, Nice Exterior.” Once I learned what it meant, I always wanted to answer, “fine.” I thought it described me pretty well. At least the interior part.

There was even a sheet that they handed out that had a list of ways a person could feel, and could answer the question. A list of thirty or forty possible feelings! Can you imagine? With emoticons, or whatever they’re called. When asked “How do you feel?” the answer had to be one of these, and never, ever, the word “fine.”

So I dealt with this for about a week. Twenty times or so, they asked me how I felt.

Finally, I was in my group in the middle of the afternoon and a counselor asked me the dreaded question. I had had enough.

I let her rip, shouting at the top of my lungs: “Feelings? Feelings? Haven’t you people been listening? Haven’t you heard my story? I’ve been drinking for forty years. I don’t have feelings!”

For a few seconds, there was a stunned silence. Then my roommate, Daniel, started laughing. And then others joined in. Finally, everybody was laughing, roaring really, including the counsellor. I looked at these people around me, people I had gotten to know at least a little since entering rehab, and I did something I hadn’t yet at Homewood:

I smiled.

The next few weeks went by pretty quickly. Mostly the counsellors would smile when they asked how I felt, and I would smile back. Sometimes I would answer by picking a feeling from the list on the sheet, but every time I was asked, I would stop to think about it.

“How do I feel?” I would ask myself.

In recovery, I have learned to look at my feelings. To feel my feelings. To understand that I have them, to recognize and acknowledge them.

And I have learned that it is okay to have nice feelings, even to nurture them. I can have good feelings about myself, and about others. Imagine! I wasn’t too good about caring for others before but I have been giving it a try over the last few years and it is amazing to me how just that – trying to care about others and sometimes succeeding – has changed how I live, day to day, moment to moment.

How do I feel?

I may have crawled under the doors to get into rehab but if someone had asked me how I felt as I walked out after completing my rehab, I would have answered, truthfully, “I feel hope.”

And so it has been ever since.


About the Author, Roger C.

Roger C. is a member of Beyond Belief, the first agnostic AA group in Canada. In 2011 the group was booted off of the official AA meeting list by the local Intergroup. Roger was part of starting the website AA Toronto Agnostics which eventually became AA Agnostica. He has managed that site for the past four years and four months, posting on a regular weekly schedule 300 articles written by atheists and agnostics in AA from all over the world.  That seriously cut into Roger’s time for his two favourite sports: golf in the summer and squash in the winter.

He looks forward to the day when AA drops its antiquated religiosity and becomes a true refuge for all those suffering from alcoholism. He also hopes to see the next WAAFT convention in 2018 held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, one of the proud centres of the secular AA universe.

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Fred S
Fred S

Thanks for sharing with us, Roger.  I have a few pat answers to the question: “Arrite” – sometimes rendered as “ah-ight” – intended to convey the message, “Okay, we’ve dispensed with the obligatory niceties.  Let’s get on with the business at hand.” “Tolerable” – my most truthful response, which could be expressed verbosely as “I’ve been better and worse.”  This one seems to often take people by surprise.  I guess they were expecting “arrite”. “Better than ever” – used when I happen to be in a really good state of mind, in hopes of pleasantly surprising the asker with a… Read more »

John S

Thanks Roger. That was really a nice honest account of your early days in recovery and I can sure relate. I didn’t get to go to treatment. Sometimes I wish I had that experience, but it was the legal system who dealt with me. Part of my sentence was to attend the Community Addictions Program for six months. I hated that place and I was always miserable. One exercise they gave us was to list like ten positive things about ourselves. I just made crap up. Then one day, I walked in the door with a big smile on my face… Read more »

Kit G
Kit G

Thanks for this, Roger. A baffling question indeed for an emotionally handicapped like me (thank you, Joe). Hope is a good feeling to have especially now that I’ve found this tribe of heretics.

bob k
bob k

“Ahh you’ve gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely But you know you only used to get juiced in it. Nobody’s ever taught you how to live out on the street and now you’re gonna have to get used to it. You say you never compromise. With the mystery tramp, but now you realize he’s not selling any alibis. As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes and say do you want to make a deal? How does it feel, how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home. A complete unknown, like a… Read more »

Jeb B

For me, a better question is “What am I feeling?”  An honest (moral) self-examination by relating to words and ideas on pages 60-63 has always been a good beginning. That is where Step 4 really begins. (Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.)

Then, Bill only looks at resentment, the “number one” offender, later moving on to fear. For most of us however, that is a good start in identifying and valuing our feelings.

So, that’s how it works! ?