Feelings Aren’t Facts

by Bill P.

a late bloomer. Yet I was out of the house and independent enough to own my own dog before I even had my first drink. Chauncey dog and I stuck to each other as only a needy budding alcoholic and a little wiener dog could.

He was my buddy for seventeen years. If he could talk, he would be able to tell stories I can’t remember myself. Of course, he cannot talk, nor does he have any legal standing in the state of California to make any accusations against me. Nor would he ever betray me over anything not food-related. He is a dog, after all.

That only an emergency vet would know what to do was also a fact

As of a week ago he is also dead. So there is that. In Atlanta where I got sober, people would often say that feelings aren’t facts. I guess they say that here, too. I’ve heard people say before that this saying is absurd: feelings aren’t real? That’s nuts. That’s not what it says, though. It says that they are distinct from each other. They don’t have to be in agreement: knowing the facts won’t tell you how you feel, and knowing how you feel won’t tell you the facts. We ignore either at our peril. 

Last Saturday, I returned from lunch to find that Chauncey had failed to recover from a seizure he had that morning. His right arm and leg no longer worked. He had no bladder control. I wrapped him in the same blanket he came home in when he was a puppy and called a friend: can you give me a ride to the emergency vet? Chauncey and I had been to the emergency vet many times before, but I knew there was a chance that he wouldn’t come home this time. And then I held him and tried to comfort him as the vet sedated and killed him, and he didn’t come back after that. I got home and looked around and said aloud, “Where’s Chauncey? Where’s Chauncey?” I cried and cried. 

I can tell you what happened. I can tell you what I did. I don’t think I can show you how I felt here, though. Maybe what I write here makes you feel something, too, but those are your feelings. Mine are my own. The next day I went to a sober function and saw a friend of mine. I told him about Chauncey, and he gave me a hug.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like I want to crawl into a hole and die.”

Facts tell me if I drink, a lot of bad things I don’t want to happen are going to come along for the ride

Those are feelings. Feelings are being miserable, being sad. Feeling like a failure, like a loser. Feeling like the king of the world, or like a piece of shit. “Feelings aren’t facts” tells me that those feelings are real, but they aren’t reality. If I feel I am something, that doesn’t mean that’s what I am. If I feel I should do something, that doesn’t mean that’s what I should do. It just means I feel that way. They seem a lot more real than that, because feelings inspire action. If I feel like I want to crawl into a hole and die, I will want to sit at home and eat ice cream and play video games. In the moment, that seems like the right thing to do. Leave me alone, I’m not happy and I don’t want to be around anyone.

Facts, of course, aren’t like that. When Chauncey was paralyzed on his right side, that was a fact. That only an emergency vet would know what to do was also a fact. If I feel like I want to crawl into a hole and die, I have to consider the facts as well as the feelings.

If I only consider the feelings, then drinking looks like a great option. It will change that feeling, for one thing, and nothing else I do is guaranteed to do that. But the facts tell me that if I drink, a lot of bad things I don’t want to happen are going to come along for the ride. And if I only ever deal with the feelings, the facts that made me feel the way I feel are never going to change. I can drink and feel “better.” Chauncey will still be dead, though. I can order a print of Chauncey from Shutterfly, though. I can give his poop bags to the neighbors. They’re little things, but at least my apartment will reflect reality after I do them.

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

It may hurt, but I can look at these actions and say, “This would be the right thing to do,” even if my feelings are crying out at me as I’m doing them. Respecting the facts won’t always lead to happy feelings, and that’s okay. But still: what to do with the feelings? I can’t change them. I can’t ignore them. How can I bear them?

I share them. As best I can, I never experience a strong feeling alone. Ideally, I talk about that feeling with someone it’s relevant to. So when Chauncey died, I wasn’t alone. I had a lot of reasons I thought I should be alone: I don’t want to burden someone else with this, I’m not close enough to anyone to share this moment with them. But I learned from my first sponsor not to do anything alone if I don’t have to. So I had a friend with me.

When I came home after putting Chauncey down, I let people who knew him know. I talked to them over the phone (not just text!). Hell, I even called up an ex. No one was going to feel like I did, and I wasn’t going to be happy, exactly, but calling them and talking about what happened and how I was feeling meant that I didn’t have to carry the burden of those feelings by myself. 

Oftentimes I use meetings to share that burden: I take what I’ve got, and I just talk about it. I don’t know why, but I didn’t need meetings to help handle Chauncey’s death. My sponsor, on the other hand, I did talk to about it, because he’s my accountability partner. I don’t experience any strong feelings without telling him, because if I don’t, odds are good that I’ll slip into dishonesty. The same goes for my home group: I brought it up there, because they need to know what’s going on with me.

I learned from my first sponsor not to do anything alone if I don’t have to

Last Saturday, I got rid of a lot of Chauncey’s stuff. I threw away his leash and harness. I put his crate, the crate I bought on the way home from picking Chauncey up at a Shoney’s parking lot in Commerce, Georgia all those years ago, out on the curb by my apartment in the city. After I put the crate out, I walked to the grocery store. I thought about that crate. The feeling of loss overwhelmed me again. I had to collect myself. I sat down for a moment before continuing on. When I went to church the next morning, I remember seeing that the crate wasn’t there anymore. Someone had taken it and would presumably get some use out of it. A small blessing not to have to see it anymore. When I came home that afternoon, the crate somehow was there again. Not only that, but Chauncey’s leash and harness were laying on top of it, like I had set them out to put them all in the car for a road trip. 

What happened? Did I not actually see the crate gone? Did someone take it and then return it? How did the leash get there? Did a scavenger find it in my trash and decide to put it there? What does this whole thing mean? Is it a sign from my higher power? Do I need to unpack this and understand it? The crate and harness stayed on the curb after that. Nobody took them. When the garbage collectors came later that week, they threw it all out.

Like I said: feelings aren’t facts. I may not have all the facts, but I’ll always have feelings. And I’m grateful to the program for showing me that I never have to bear them alone.

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