What Feelings Are For (a post about your kids and drugs) – Heather Kopp

A couple months back, I wrote a post about how Just Say No is just not enough. Not when it comes to our kids and drug abuse. I promised to tell you what I thought would work better—and then I sort of defaulted.

The problem was simple. Every point of advice I came up with either sounded too much like the basics of good parenting or seemed unrealistic to implement.

Lately, I’ve realized that if I could give just a single piece of advice to parents of teens it would be this: See if you can wake them up.

What I mean is most of us sleepwalk through our lives in reaction mode. Convinced that our thoughts are true and our emotions inevitable, we operate like this: We have a thought, it evokes a feeling, and we act accordingly.

Put another way, most of us live unconsciously. We don’t step back and process our emotions on purpose, particularly those that we don’t like. Instead, we try to change or escape them by the quickest means possible, which is a set up for using drugs, alcohol, or other mood-altering activities.

No wonder we have an epidemic of addiction in our society. And teens are especially vulnerable. Who experiences a greater storm of confusing or unwanted emotions than hormone-charged adolescents?

A bong or a six pack offers welcome relief and flashes of peace—at least at first. But what we all seem to forget is that feelings we refuse to feel don’t actually go away. They gather at our backs and invisibly drive our choices in ways we don’t understand.

No wonder feelings are the topic of so many recovery meetings. For the newly sober, raw emotions tend to come as a shock. Personally, I felt like the Grand Canyon had opened up inside my chest, magnifying every feeling. No wonder I drank! I thought. Un-muffled reality sucks!

Of course, I eventually learned that embracing my feelings, staying present, and experiencing reality—getting to feel joy, as well as pain—was a much richer way to live. In one sense, it’s the only way to live if you want to stay awake and be truly alive.

Which begs the question: Why do we wait for people to become addicts who need recovery before we teach them how to identify, honor, and work through—instead of around—their feelings?

If my own grown kids were teens now, I’d work hard to teach them this priceless skill. Your thoughts are not you, I’d tell them. Neither are your feelings. You are having them, which means you have choices.

Since thinking leads to feeling, I’d show my kids how to step back, notice a train of thought, and ask if it’s true or helpful. If it’s neither, we’d talk about how to reframe the situation in their mind.

Same with feelings. What are your feelings trying to tell you? I’d ask. Then we’d talk about how to honor your feelings without letting them you…and run your life into the ditch.

If all that sounds too complicated or woo woo, I promise you it’s not. I’m reminded of St. Paul’s encouragement to rejoice in times of trial and his own determination to “take every thought captive.”

Even young children can grasp these ideas. And it can all happen in short conversations. You might  begin with questions like, “What are you feeling right now? Where in your body do you feel this? What thoughts in your head go along with this feeling? What does it make you want to do?  What would happen after if you did that?”

I think it’s also wise, not to mention compassionate, to assure your kids that strong emotions like anger, grief, and discontent aren’t wrong or bad unless we act them out in hurtful ways. Better yet, you can model what I’ve been talking about.

For me, this means that when I strongly dislike the way I feel, I take time to meet with myself for at least five minutes in my morning chair—or if I’m not home, some quiet corner. I take deep breaths, quiet my mind, invite God’s Spirit to be present, and ask myself what I’m feeling and why.

How I wish my kids had even once stumbled upon me in such repose and inquired, “What are you doing, Mom?”

Imagine how my answer—“I’m letting myself feel sad right now,” or “I’m asking God why I feel so irritable and bored” might have made a difference in their lives.

I hope I’ve said something here you find helpful, especially if you’re one of those worried parents. I’ve been where you are. The fact that you care is huge. And it’s never too late to for an entire family to wake up and feel their feelings.

Maybe waking us up is what our feelings are for.

P.S. I wrote two other posts  

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