When it Feels Good to Feel Bad

woman
Art by Terry Montimore

On Saturday morning, my husband Dave and his son Neil took off in our pop-top camper for an overnight adventure. I was happy to see them go, thrilled to be left alone. I thought I’d get a lot of work done, or maybe have some fun hiking with friends.

Instead, I sank into a swampy sadness that’s been stalking me for a week.

Does that ever happen to you? Nothing’s wrong. Really. But nothing’s right, either. You think of numerous things you could do to lift your spirits. But some small, hard ball of rebellion in your chest resists the idea of trying to feel better.

So on Saturday, here’s what I did. I watched HGTV Design Star on Comcast. All day long and into the evening, I hardly moved from my couch. When the most recent episodes ran out, I watched the entire previous season.

Oh, and I ate. And I ate. I stuffed my face with bananas dipped in chocolate, nachos drowned in cheese, frostbitten popsicles, and these gross Weight Watcher’s caramels.

Once, in-between episodes, I got up off the couch and stepped outside and noticed how nice the air was. I could already hear myself saying to Dave—“Yeah, I spent some time on Saturday enjoying the beautiful day.”

But then I turned around and went back inside.

Around 11p.m., I learned who won Season 7 of HGTV Design Star. I don’t recall her name now. But I do remember that just before I went to bed, I gorged on sweet potato chips.

I woke up Sunday morning thinking, Okay, are you done now?

But I knew that I wasn’t. Not by a mile. So I didn’t go to church or to the recovery meeting we usually attend, either one of which could have threatened to ruin my bad mood.

Same with God. I didn’t think he’d approve of my having a pity party without a real problem. So he wasn’t invited.

This is what a relapse looks like for me, minus the alcohol.

It’s a dangerous place to be if you’re in recovery, since these kinds of behaviors—numbing, isolating, over-indulging, and cutting off God—are often precursors to a full-blown relapse.

But it’s a human place to be, too. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t catch an emotional flu on occasion. Sometimes, there’s little you can do but wait for it to pass.

In the meantime, you remind yourself that you know better than to believe your own thoughts. That what you want to do is probably not what you need to do. That your feelings, though important and real, are not the same as facts.

If your funk goes from bad to worse, or you sense you’re on the verge of a relapse, it’s time to go against your own will and reach out for help. Call a safe friend, or if you have one, your sponsor. And if you think you might be seriously depressed, go see your doctor.

As you might have gathered, I’m feeling so much better today. I woke up this morning ready to leave the swamp, ready to let go of enjoying feeling bad. I got on my knees and I told God I’m really sorry and please help me, I’m such an idiot and I don’t know why.

He suggested I take a bubble bath.

Author: Heather Kopp at SoberBoots.com

Heather Kopp is an author and blogger who writes about the intersection of addiction and faith. Her memoir about her recovery, Sober Mercies, was published by Jericho, a new imprint of HBG (Hachette Book Group) in Spring 2013.

50 thoughts on “When it Feels Good to Feel Bad”

  1. Pingback: granite stone
  2. Hahahahaha this is sooooo familiar 🙂 I lay around in bed, actually, and I watch Doom’s Day Preppers or Extreme Hoarders. They make me feel less horrible about myself, because I tell myself I’ll never be that kind of a fruitcake. Or am I?
    My fiance relapsed a few days ago, and instead of breathing and being strong, I let myself get sucked in completely. I let myself remain there, close, comforting, supportive. I shouldn’t have.
    Thanks for the reminder!

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  3. I’m a little late to this party 🙂 But am so very happy to learn I’m not the only one who descends into the swamp. Was it the Slough of Despond in P’s Progress? And point for point I’m with y’all – all day TV or movies, Baby Ruth bite sized, microwave popcorn, chips and buttermilk ranch, and on and on.
    What a relief – I’m not alone.

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  4. Wow, so beautiful, concise, and spot-on. It’s so hard to describe these swampy days, except in stories like the one you wrote! I was actually LOLing about your choice of zone-out TV. I prefer House Hunters! One weekend several years back, I spent an entire 48 hours watching America’s Next Top Model. Loved this. xxx

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  5. Loved this post. So much identification and practically described my last weekend. Thankfully I am meeting with my sponsor tomorrow and am ready to climb out of the mire. Thank you 🙂

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  6. Just finished your book “sober mercies”!! Also just finished treatment. I enjoyed and learned soooo much from both. I think your book should be right there next to the twelve and twelve in Alll the popcorn lounges!!!

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  7. I truly enjoy reading all your posts. You are so honest and real that it is very easy too relate to whatever you are writing about! I also loved your book, “Sober Mercies”, it is a book that needs to be read more than once. Thank you for sharing you life with others, it is a real blessing!!!

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  8. I had no idea others have these same tendencies. The more I read your blog – the more your words sound like they are coming out of my head – the more convinced I am that I should and will never take that first drink.

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  9. Oh. I also meant to say thanks to you and all who share on this blog. All the heartfelt comments let me know I am not alone. I have never even seen a blog until last month when I was searching for some answers to my many questions about recovery. Glad you are here.
    V-

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  10. Heather,
    I have not posted before but felt the need to comment on the issue of feeling “out of sorts” on some days. Jesus himself needed to get alone. He wept. He was angry. In our society it seems we are programmed to thinking that to feel bad is wrong. Take this pill and feel better. Buy this and feel better. Drink this and feel better. Put this on your face and look and feel better. Wash your hair with this and feel better. Eat this and be happy. The futile pursuit of feeling better is a fantasy. Sometimes we just need to feel bad. Sadness, grief, anger, disappointment, and being scared happen. All the noise around us suggests that something is wrong with us if we display these things. I think there is something wrong if we don’t feel these things. Yes, feel them and let it sink in. Then get back in the game when it is over. I have found that it is much easier to cry and feel them deep when I am alone. Many in this world never have the luxury of being really alone. Lord, let my husband go fishing today. Let him catch lots of fish and stay gone a really long time. Then let him come home after I have taken my bubble bath and have processed my strategy to navigate thru the next few days. Let me rediscover my joy in the Lord.
    V-

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  11. Wonder why this sentence made me laugh out loud, “But then I turned around and went back inside”? 🙂 I also smiled big at “I was ready to leave the swamp.” Not that I can relate or anything. I love your blog, Heather.

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  12. I know this so well. Your description is perfect. And yes, I have found similar advice to be helpful. Love, a grateful reader and fellow swamp dweller.

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  13. Oh Heather, I’m glad you left your funk behind. I’ve been living in a space like that that comes and goes for about three years now. It’s been a long road and my relationship with my HP has suffered since I’m doing all the things I should be doing to stay sober and reasonably sane. And yet it just hangs on. I’ve had some really interesting experiences with sponsors over the past three years. I am confronting and trying to heal from childhood trauma. That’s a difficult situation and IMO it scares people in the program when things aren’t fixed in a week. I’m not creating drama or making it worse (that I am aware of), I have a therapist and I do what she says. But it is exhausting to have to work so hard just to meet my daily life. Add to that the less than stellar support I got in the meetings I was attending. I now attend a different one. Yep, one. I’m not proud of that but it’s the best I can do right now. I was retraumatized by the reactions I got to my tears (they were nonstop) and I am afraid to go to a lot of meetings now. I jsut figure I’ll be hurt like I was before. On a good day I sometimes go to another meeting. I keep hoping things will change. And they have…just not fast enough for my liking. I’m working on my relationship with my HP too but I have some serious questions about what exactly He/She is doing!! And my HP is in no way no aware of them! I say it regularly.
    Anyway…thanks for *listening*!

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    1. It broke my heart to read that you got hurt at a meeting, but I know it happens. Darn it. Thank you for being willing to share so openly here and for being so honest in how you went about it. It moved me a lot. It sounds like you’re processing so much and so if one meeting is all you can make, that’s a lot. Seriously. I love that you have questions for your HP. That sounds healthy. I am always here to “listen,” M. Honored in fact.

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  14. The more I deepen in the relational knowing OF God (as opposed to the intellectual assent of knowing more about God), I’m experiencing less of what I refer to as the “uncomfortable silences”. The opposite is what we experience with people we know really well and are comfortable with each other when there is nothing to say, or you just don’t feel like it.

    This idea is extending into the type of situations you are describing today. Previously, my inclination was to subconsciously (or consciously) believe that God wasn’t comfortable with me when “I wasn’t on top of things” (in whatever way) or at least trying. Increasingly, I am comfortable with the notion that God is with me always (where did I think He had gone?) and I am free to go through anything together with Him, regardless of how “unlike His comfort zone” it might feel.

    It speaks to me of unconditionality (no such word, I know), and most importantly keeps me away from the temptation to move to living “in my own strength” – alone by deliberate exclusion of God when He was always comfortable, it was me that thought He wouldn’t want to hang……

    The only thing He finds disconcerting, is my not wanting Him around…..

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  15. ” I didn’t think He’d approve of my having a pity party without a real problem.. so He wasn’t invited” I too, love this entire post. But for me, self pity … even, and perhaps particularly when there IS a real problem is just a troublesome. We all have things in our lives, in our history, which objectively would qualify as very good reasons for others to feel sorry for us, or better, for us to latch on to as rationalizations for my “emotional flu” or worse. When I devolve into self pity, or solicit pity from others, I am on dangerous ground, seeking to fill my neediness. I find I don’t “invite” God when I’m feeling this way. I so appreciate your sharing this.

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    1. I couldn’t agree more that self-pity is a dangerous path. And you’re so right–if it’s hard to resist when we’re not even having a big problem, it’s twice as hard when we are. I agree with your line about latching onto rationalizations. Thanks for taking time to contribute here. You have a lot of wisdom. Hugs, H

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  16. LOVED this post. So glad I found you, as I totally relate to what you have to say. I am “celebrating” 3 years of sobriety (June 16). I put the quotation marks in there because you can never be sure how the pendulum is swinging. Amazing how I can go from the “pink cloud” high to the “sad swamp” in no time. Thanks for the reminder that this is a sign of relapse. Feeling great today, and you just made the “great” even greater!

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    1. Shawn, thanks so much! Congrats on 3 Years!! Wow! I do relate to the pendulum swinging, though. Boy do some of us have to watch out for that. Especially since a bad day was a good reason to drink and a good day was, too. But there’s wonders to be found in the ordinary, every day of life and that’s kind of what recovery is about, I suppose. Rediscovering that mundane life is filled with meaning. Appreciate your note a lot.

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  17. Hi Heather,

    Man, your post really spoke to me this morning. I have been on a major food binge since Mother’s Day. You know my drug of choice is food and always has been. So, backsliding into it is relatively easy because every meal, every bite is an invitation to indulge, and I just gave up fighting. I have been using as an excuse the dreadful, awful crop of students I had last semester, my dad’s worsening congestive heart failure, the tragic deaths of my foster son and my nephew within two months of each other – almost to the day, and the devastating deaths of our family’s dogs in a train accident. Yeah, I had a lot of reasons and I went for it as I was simply unwilling to feel the pain, and would much rather just feel sorry for myself. Bottom line results – 18 pounds gained in about 6 weeks.

    I am back with the program today, and I not only have to take it one day at a time, I have to take it one meal at a time. I have de-sugarized the house. Gone is the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, gone are the double chocolate muffins, the apple turnovers, the cherry pie, and the fried everythings. The only comfort I have is knowing that I can always start over and God accepts me as I am and is always with me even when I am holding a pity party for one.

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    1. Nancy, I”m sorry to hear about the binge. I so get it. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have food be the addiction issue. I absolutely loved this honest response and I’m so glad you’re back to program and trying to get on track again. Your last line is precious. You’re in my prayers, friend.

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  18. Holy smokes …this is a timely post ! I don’t know what happened and who cut in on me but within an hours time yesterday I spiraled way down and yes I wanted (want) to hunker down into this pity party. I think that is the problem ….I hit day 60 of sobriety and the 4th of July is coming and my birthday is next week and I know I am in an ugly breakup with “party” as I once knew it ! I know God is showing me new ways to do old things all the time and I will lean in to these hurdles and pray next year will not be as raw . Again … Heather.. Thank you very much for living your real life out loud . You are a blessing to me and my husband reading your book!!!
    M

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    1. Molly, Congrats on 60 days! That’s so huge. And yes, we give up the big drinking parties, and now then we stil have pity parties, but hopefully at some point we reach that place where we’re not trying to escape the ordinary rhythms of life. I loved your comment and I’m so grateful you took time to comment so honestly today.

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  19. Thank you for sharing. It is hard to tell others this. I struggle with depression and so this is very familiar to me, it is nice ( you know sort of ) to know I am not the only one. Most of the time I don’t tell anyone about it because if I do then I obviously am not growing in my walk with God . If I were I would be displaying fruits of the spirit and depression or sadness, and certainly not self-pity is one of those fruits. Or I need to be delivered and healed in Jesus name. Christians don’t get depressed and they only get sad if there is a life event that warrants sadness. I guess they don’t read much of the bible. Sometimes I have to wallow for a while before I can begin looking to God for help. Maybe sometimes He lets me wallow until I realize my inability to save myself and once again ask Him for help. The wonderful thing is that His hand is always extended to me when I am finally ready to be done with myself.

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    1. Ah, yes. It’s embarrassing to admit when we’re acting like moldy cheese. But I’m convinced these seemingly “dormant” times probably are part of growing. I can’t explain it, but as another commenter pointed out, maybe God understands. Given that he made us, I gotta believe it’s true. I love what you said about how great it is to know God will be there when we’re ready to reach out. Thanks for contributing here!

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  20. You’re so amazing. I’ve been knee-deep in a pity party lately due to some baffling and annoying stuff happening with my physical health. And the first thing to go has been my connection with my higher power. Which is ridiculous considering now is kind of when I need it the most. But several trusted sources have told me to go ahead and feel bad and slow down. As an addict whose disease was centered on the deception of “everything is fine”, just feeling my emotions and saying “No, I’m not okay” is powerful too.
    So thanks for being human and admitting you go through it too. It makes you even more amazing.
    xo, S.
    ps- I love Design Star too!

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    1. Sean, my fave recovery bro! Thanks so much for taking time to talk to me here and sharing where you’ve been at. And for saying such nice things. You’re the best. You inspire me so much, you really do. You’re brave and kind and so good. Keep on.

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  21. Thank you, Heather. I needed to hear this today…it’s exactly how I’m feeling. I am counting on the feeling passing, but I did call my sponsor and I will take a bubble bath. 🙂
    I love your blog as much as I loved your book.
    Thank you for all you do for the recovery community.
    Jami

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  22. Oh my God I have had many days like this….and you know its okay, I really think God understands. I am so very glad that the Lord says He gives us new mercies every morning because that first morning emotion/thought, when we get ready to open our eyes is when we need all the mercies God has for us just to make it through the day, good or bad. Thank God for recovery and because of recovery I celebrate!

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  23. Beautiful!

    It’s so important to stop sometimes. We fill each moment with “productive” activity, that we don’t stop to check our pulse. The pulse, that is, of our (emotional) sobriety. I highly recommend hitting the couch when the mood strikes. But I always make sure to take stock if there are any underlying issues going on in my life that I’m trying to escape from. And I also make sure I tell someone (sponsor-like) about what I’m doing. I have the ability to fool myself when I really want to, but good friends can’t be snowed easily.

    You have a way of bringing light to great topics. Thanks bunches, Heather.

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    1. Robin, this is great advice. Thanks so much for taking time to comment and I love your idea of telling someone what you’re doing!! Brilliant. I did that, too, without evening thinking about what I was doing. But what a great idea to be intentional about this.

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  24. I think this was the most helpful part:

    “… numbing, isolating, over-indulging, and cutting off God—are often precursors to a full-blown relapse…
    If your funk goes from bad to worse, or you sense you’re on the verge of a relapse, it’s time to go against your own will and reach out for help.”

    And in the middle of it all, thank you for admitting you eat frostbitten popsicles and watch too much TV when wallowing. Just plain thank you, Heather.

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