Writing Group Topic: Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety isn’t something I tend to think of as being a problem for me. That is to say: I am sober of emotions, period. However, I would argue that this isn’t altogether a good thing!

To what degree that is simply a stoic personality and to what degree I am suppressing or just not receiving emotions, I don’t know – but it’s definitely a mix of both. I’m certainly an overall stable personality, not going through heights and valleys all the time. I always have been “level-headed and determined”, and I suppose these things mean that I can get very focused on outcomes, at the total expense of emotion along the way. In others as well, not just myself. I have a desired outcome; whatever my emotions along the way I either ignore or they just don’t exist (I don’t know) – but I have to consciously remind myself of the emotions of others. It would be easy for me to walk all over people; not doing it is a choice and I am very conscious of it. I have the capacity for incredible callousness – compassion is not in my nature – but I make that choice all the time, from the head rather than the heart.

So, emotional sobriety: check. However, there’s obviously a flip side to that coin, and that is, I don’t get close to people because I cannot connect on an emotional level with them. I connect through the mind, but that only gives a certain depth… so I’m aware of a lack in that area. I’m happy (not ecstatic; just comfortable) and have nothing to complain about, but mentally I’m also aware that I am probably missing out on positives.

Where does it come from on the “nurture” side? As I said, personality is part of it, but upbringing certainly is another part. My aunt, where I lived after my mother’s death while I was age 15-18 (then my aunt died), was emotionally abusive. In German the word for it could be literally translated as “psychological terror”. She knew what hurt, in terms of emotional pain, and used it with laser-sharp accuracy and relentless repetition. I believe that treatment on a daily basis taught me to live emotion-free, because if I had them, she would know and use them to hurt me. So I just learned not to care.

For example, after my mother’s death my aunt would use the guilt I felt about it (I was my mother’s primary caregiver during her illness and sometimes just absconded without telling her where I was – staying for a night at a friend’s house, for example – which made my mother’s illness worse because it was a psychosomatic disease which was worsened by distress. In effect, my behaviour killed her sooner than she would otherwise have died.) My aunt would use this, bring it up and discuss it like a bulldog with a bone for hours on end, over and over again, and the effect was that after a while I just learned not to feel pain about it. Today I can truly say I don’t care because it didn’t matter, she would have died anyway and the shorter her suffering the better it actually was for her (it’s an incurable, always fatal disease). Although I’m still sorry I caused her distress, of course.

There are many other examples – basically, whenever I had an emotion, or became attached to a person or thing (started to care), that would be used against me. After my mother’s death I used to go to a local horse stables, riding and helping with the horses, for several hours every day. I loved it, I loved the people, everything. It was an obvious target for my aunt. Over the course of months, she clipped my time there for various reasons, it was the standard punishment for anything I did wrong time at the stables was cut. The twist here is that it was cut permanently, not just for that day or that week. So gradually, my time at the stables was whittled down to something like an hour per week, at which point I said forget it and just quit it. So she didn’t have that leverage any more (nevermind, she moved on to the next thing I cared about).

Sorry to go on for this long… I’m finding things out as I write about them. I don’t know if any of those emotions are resurrect-able, as they have certainly been killed off very efficiently during my formative years. Plus, of course, it’s partly my personality as well. I guess more will be revealed as I remain abstinent…

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