Sobriety, Sensation, and Ecstatic Emotion


I haven’t had a drink of alcohol, or a mind or mood altering drug in 30 years.

l learned quite young that drinking alcohol had unpredictable results for me. My system is sensitive to substances, I know this about myself.  I’ve had idiosyncratic responses to dramamine, nyquil, even sodium pentathol at the dentist’s office, in addition to unpredictable nights drinking.

Even now, I’m very careful what I “take.”  I even need to be mindful about drinking coffee, for instance.  

When I drank, I had odd responses to drinking.  Some of these were physiological.  Some however, pointed to deeper things in my psyche that I have long had a deep curiosity about.

Stopping drinking, and looking underneath the drinking took me places in my life where other people were doing the same, and I’ve been doing that and hanging out with those folks for nearly 30 years now (it took me a few months to find my way to them.) I've had the tremendous privilege to learn from both the everyday experiences of my fellow travelers, and some pretty remarkable and amazing teachers along the way.

When I drank, I hurried myself to into a blackout state.  I did this for several reasons. One of the primary ones was because of what emerged from me when I drank.  Disinhibited, I would cry, I would “love you guys," I would express my sexuality (women’s sexuality and drinking - that’s another blog post for another day - coming soon!)  I would express neediness, fear, excitement, love, grief — all sorts of things, many of which I was embarrassed about the next day.

Under sodium pentathol to have wisdom teeth removed at age 18, I screamed in post-op for over 20 minutes in incomprehensible emotional pain. Apparently it was quite a scene. When I came to my senses the nurses and my boyfriend were all staring at me, looking stunned and frightened.  This college boyfriend never could bring himself to really describe the content of the screaming (and my mouth was full of gauze from the surgery, so perhaps I was fairly unintelligible.)   Walking through the waiting room to exit, the looks on peoples faces were indescribable. I was clearly audible all the way out there, and who knows what I expressed that was experienced by the poor souls simply waiting for their dental appointments.

This morning as I embarked on a busy day, I indulged in a cup of coffee, a fairly infrequent occurrence for me.

Saturday mornings are busy times in my house, and this weekend is a particularly busy one.  As I was bustling about hurrying people off to various places, setting up for major projects that need to be accomplished ASAP, and coordinating all the little details of family life, I noticed how fast I was moving. I noticed a lifted up and out quality to my energy, and raised shoulders to match. Sometimes when things are busy and I feel like this, I get snippy and tense. This morning though I felt expansiveness.  After everyone was hustled off to their various destinations, I took a few breaths and settled more deeply into the core of my body.  As soon as I did this I felt waves of teary heart opening love come through me.  I even felt it when thinking of people who usually annoy me (Okay, yes, I tested it.)  Since this experience felt somewhat precious and unique, I went ahead and sent love to those folks, and then I stepped back and witnessed the experience coming through me. 

Clearly an extra cup of coffee first thing in the morning amplified what was already underneath. In the same way that drinking brought forth all sorts of an expressed and un-felt things in my earlier years.  This morning, for me, that cup of coffee – and the practice of sitting with what is underneath the surface in my body/mind — had allowed these waves of feeling and sensation to arise.  Not at all very different from the things that arose when I was drinking.  Perhaps less pressurized, less urgent, and gentler — since we are dealing with a cup of coffee here after all, and not a few shots of gin drunk straight from the bottle in my father's bar cabinet - it was certainly overall a more subtle experience. 

But the question remains, for many of us, what is under there? 

It's easy to habitually resist whatever is arising.  Even the sensations of expansive love that I experienced this morning would have been easily pushed aside in the busyness of a hectic family routine.  In my teen years those desperate urgent feelings that needed to emerge were only able to push themselves forward with the disinhibiting effects of alcohol.  

There is a layered set of skills and experiences here that I've been dipping into since those teen years of drinking. The ability to notice my state, the ability to tune in to the physical sensations mostly free of the stories that attach themselves to it, and then to allow it to come through - to experience it as shivers or waves of sensation/emotion and then allowing it to alchemize – to transform.

The beauty, and the promise, of my personal practice — the beauty of the flower essence formulations and the work I do with clients —is that we have the opportunity not only to allow things to emerge gently, slowly, manageably and even easily — but also and most importantly joyfully — even ecstatically.  Sitting with the deepest emotions has given me the gift of experiencing arising sensation and emotion, even the negative ones, as a blissful experience of this feeling flowing through my body.  What I once experienced as embarrassing, painful, to be both avoided at all cost, and at the same time a Siren's Song that irresistibly drew me to places and situations where I could make the subterranean journey to feel and express things regardless of the consequences, has become an experience of arising sensation and emotion that I welcome, that I relish, and that paradoxically flows through and passes quite quickly.  Consistently tending to any backlog or back-up of experiences or emotions that need to be processed definitely makes this easier, and makes the benefits more palpable. 

One of the tremendous benefits of this is that it creates an emotional flexibility, a nimbleness of response, and an ability to hold a wider space of compassion when I show up for the trials and tribulations of life.  We all have moments of frustration or where we  are triggered or irritated or an irruption within us threatens to blow. This relationship to feelings and to the physical sensation of these feelings when they arise creates this agility. This ability allows me to sidestep situations that would lead me down the road to old repetitive arguments, with others or just simply the ones in my head.  It allows me greater levels of presence. Remarkably so.  The experience of living inside myself that I always wanted has been the gift of this experience of emotion, sensation, and presence. 

The freedom to choose my responses is a direct correlate to the care and maintenance of my inner experience. This is not a vigilant watch for potential for missteps or mistakes. It is not maintaining my spiritual condition so as to be "better" "acceptable" "good" or even "good enough."   It is at its most basic, a sort of emotional hygiene.  One that I experience as more of a luxurious bath or a shower of just-right temperature water than scrubbing myself clean of impurity.  

How's that for a promise?