The mixed blessing of sobriety (and why I woke up the other day at 3 a.m. crying…)

A few days ago I shot this out to twitter…

I favorite my own posts to keep track of them. Don’t hate.

I have not written about recovery for a while so I decided instead of leaving this as a vague truism out on the internet, I would vulnerable and put some flesh onto this saying.

This was posted in response to the fact that I had woken up that morning crying at 3 a.m. This was not a time where I woke up, and then started crying. I was crying in my sleep and it actually woke me up.  This has happened a few times.

Now overall the last couple weeks have been good.  My antidepressants have kicked in, life has calmed down a bit, and things with my family are much better. However, these last couple of weeks have also been punctuated by an erratic staccato rhythm of intense sadness, such as this 3 a.m. one, that have at times been perplexing to me.

To deal with this I have been using one of the tools I have picked up in my recovery journey:  “Check-in’s.” Check-in’s meaning checking in with yourself.  You ask yourself what you are feeling and experiencing, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

This is important because addicts are rather notoriously out of touch with their emotions and I fit this stereotype perfectly. I have spent most of my life running from my emotions and feelings, seeking to numb them out and escape them whenever and however possible, no matter how self-destructive.  This has resulted in a situation where I often cannot articulate what I am feeling, if I am even aware of what I am feeling at all. Having “bad feelings” and “good feelings” is for the most part how nuanced my emotional world has been. Technically this problem is called alexythmia but I prefer David Brainerd’s estimation of Native American addicts when he referred to them as, “strangers to their own heart.”

Check-in’s help people like me, people who are strangers to their own hearts, become grounded in what the heck is actually going on with us instead of reflexively and instinctively turning to our addiction to escape the “bad feelings.”

I have learned that paying attention to my emotional state is an important part of recovery and relapse prevention, so I could not simply ignore waking up crying at 3 a.m. as if nothing happened. Later in the day I did a check in and the result was rather revealing.

The reason I was crying at 3 a.m. had a lot to do with loneliness.

Like just about every human being on the planet I would like to be in a relationship.  I do not mean a friendship or a family relationship, but a relationship relationship.  I am not talking about going on dates with someone for fun or even finding someone who is willing to have sex with you.  That is easy and that’s not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is wanting to be with someone that you truly love and who truly loves you in return.  I want to have someone in my life I could be fully committed to, have a family with, and grow old with.

Growing up, the average expectation in my community was to be married sometime in one’s twenties.  Many of my friends did get married during this time, and many of my peers have even started their families.

This has quite simply not happened for me.  I never thought I would be here but right now the phrase, “Always the groomsman never the groom” would apply to how I feel. It is perhaps more cliché for women to complain about this but I think men get lonely too. At least I do.

My loneliness is palpable and because I refuse to mask this feeling with the emotional Tylenol of my addiction I have to sit with it now like an unwelcome visitor in my heart. Sometimes I feel it more, especially when I see happy couples, sometimes I feel it less, but it is always there.

The simple healthy solution would be for me to deal with my own stuff, put myself out there and find someone to be with.  I have advocated for this simple approach and I believe it is good wisdom for just about anyone who is feeling this way.

However, there are two problems with this that have left me feeling stuck in this place. First, I know that I will be leaving the area within a year, so starting a relationship now seems like a futile endeavor. This means at least another year, probably more, of feeling the ache of loneliness.

Second, and much more importantly, as I pondered what was going on with me in my check-in I realized I am deathly afraid of getting hurt like I was in my last relationship. I have written about that relationship extensively elsewhere, but the short version is I was convinced I had found the person I was going to marry, I truly loved her, and it did not work out.

What I am realizing now is that no matter how much I have thought about it, no matter how much I have made peace with what happened, no matter how much I realize we were never going to get married, no matter how much I have worked towards a place of forgiveness with my Ex, what happened happened and what happened broke my heart in ways that I still do not understand. While I have not played out, “What if…” scenarios in a long time, I still think about what happened even though it has been almost three years.

Now that experience taught me that I could survive my worst fear and even if it happened again I would make it through. However, that experience also made me aware of just how bad it can hurt to love someone and have them fall out of love with you. I can handle rejection but having this happen again is what I truly fear. It also forever shattered the illusion that dating, romance and marriage would “just happen for me,” that success in these arenas are promised by God, are guaranteed in any way shape or form, or are easy or safe.

The desire for a relationship and the fear of being hurt have left my heart and my actions divided.  It is also partly the reason why the nine women that I have pursued since my Ex have never materialized into anything substantial. In a couple situations when I got close to a real relationship, which I want, I ran to feel safe, which is what I also want. Currently some days the fear of being hurt again is stronger and I tell myself I should just give up and make peace with feeling this ache of loneliness for the rest of my life.  Other days the fear of being alone forever and my desire for a healthy loving relationship are stronger and I manage to put myself out there a bit, even checking the dating profiles I have online.

So this is a pretty accurate picture of what’s going on with me right now and why I woke up at 3 a.m. crying…


This whole situation is both the blessing and curse of sobriety. This is what makes sobriety hard, especially early on. On the one hand because I am not engaging with my addiction I can actually enjoy the good times and I am not self-destructing and making my problems worse by temporarily masking them. On the other hand because I am not engaging with my addiction I have to deal with all of life, even the shitty parts.

Now maybe in two weeks I will not feel like this.  Maybe I will feel like this for the next ten years.  Maybe I’ll get into a healthy relationship or maybe I will make peace with being alone.  While I do not know the future, after checking in with my own heart, I know where I am at now and I am learning to accept messy places like this as a valid part of life. I am learning not to run from places like this and even, in my own way, to accept this as part of my story that is uniquely mine and no one else’s.

And all that, for me at least, is something.

About Speakfaithfully

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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5 Responses to The mixed blessing of sobriety (and why I woke up the other day at 3 a.m. crying…)

  1. Joseph Osse says:

    You are not alone Kevin. I also live with a broken heart. My Family makes it even worse with Indifference & ridicule. I honestly think they want me to kill myself. My strength is in the Lord.

  2. MattvNiftrik says:

    I relate to most of what you’ve written.
    Perhaps in relation to loneliness, but mostly the claws of addiction. “Strangers to their own heart”… My addictions have never felt unfamiliar. Old friends, that I’ve not been in touch with for a while. Ones I miss dearly.

  3. Hey Kev. I just wanted to say thanks.
    Weird way to comment a post, I know. But lately I have been struggling with similar emotions spurring from my own relationship/addiction issues and your post made me feel less alone. So again, thanks. Funny how that works. When you’re in your bubble of reality feeling your feels and dealing best you can, there is an overwhelming sense of isolation. . . sometimes it’s the only thing in that bubble with you. After reading your post I had the strangest thought: what if we aren’t “alone”?

    That’s purely an idiotic thought when I hear it outside my head, but follow my twisted logic for a sec :-] While you were feeling your feels I was feeling my feels and though our situations are uniquely our own, if there was a meme to describe my pain, you picked it perfectly. Then I wondered how many of us are out there. If you and I were twined in that moment, were there others? Could we all be considered a community of souls, anchoring each other with hope and understanding though we have no real knowledge of the other’s situation? If this is true, how then, could any one of us be alone? And doesn’t that make the possibility of us being alone forever (the alone we truly fear) impossible? Twisted logic, I know, but it works for me ^_^

    Sometimes all I can do is focus on the future I want to manifest because the now is so riddled with triggers and reminders. It’s like wading through a Korean minefield. The “what if’s” are as dangerous of a game as “how could you” which if not handled properly lead right to “just once would be okay.”

    You’re right, maybe in two weeks you won’t feel like this. Maybe in two weeks I won’t either. If I don’t because my situation has changed for the better then hurray! If I don’t because I have settled into a calm peace that strengthens me, that’s great too. Either way, I might be so lonely I could sneeze out a country music song every minute, but I’m not alone in this. Every day is not a day JUST for me to get better at dealing with being alone, it is also a day for me to choose what definition of alone I want to define myself as being. I might be the alone where I have yet to find the hand stretched out, reaching for me. But I am not ALONE because there is an ocean of energy around me, full of likeminded souls whose resolve some days I help strengthen, while other days they help strengthen mine.

    Thank you, Kevin. Truly.

  4. steve julian says:

    I am really glad to have found your blog. You do have a good way of sharing. Your thoughts are clear and meaningful. I can’t give you advice on how you feel. I remember when I did get “axed”, it was devastating. Losing someone is going to fill you with grief. You are right sobriety does not end all the problems, but you have the chance. I do hope you find some ease in your life.

  5. Jaret Ornelas says:

    Hey Kevin, I found your blog after your brother invited me to the Fundraiser for Pe’ Sla (Awesome idea by the way). I thought this was a really open and honest piece. Not a lot of people are willing to be vulnerable with the scars that life leaves us. But I think Lightfoot was onto something about how it is in our vulnerability that we can really reach out and impact others.

    When you mentioned being a stranger to your own heart and check-ins, I immediately thought of the Examen. It’s a prayer/reflection that Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, popularized. I’ve personally found it to be really helpful in centering myself and seeing God in my day to day life. I’m not trying to give you advice on how to fix anything; a) I don’t know you b) every person is the expert on their experience and advice can be harmful as easily as helpful. I’m just presenting a tool that may or may not be useful for you.

    It’s a 5 step prayer that is normally done at night before you fall asleep

    1) Take a bit of time to get yourself in a prayerfully centered state. Pray for illumination and guidance from God as you relfect on your day.

    2) Go through your day one step at a time with an attitude of gratitude, looking at where God was for you.

    3) Review all the emotions that the reflection on the day brought up, “good” or “bad”

    4) Choose one emotion or episode from the day and pray from it.

    5) Pray for tomorrow.

    Take care,

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