Feelings Are Facts – Situations Are Not

Earlier this week I was involved in an exchange on Twitter with B2S2BgBkStpStdy, (I’m RecoveryToolBox):

B2S2BgBkStpStdy Feelings aren’t facts

RecoveryToolBox @B2S2BgBkStpStdy Feelings ARE a fact, addressing them is healthy. Minimizing myself/others is one of the triggers. Please clarify if you can

B2S2BgBkStpStdy @RecoveryToolBox how I feel is up 2me. I have a choice. Often we allow feelings2put us as hero/victim w/o whole story&thats not fact but ego

RecoveryToolBox @B2S2BgBkStpStdy I think we’re mixing up 2 separate things, too complex to explain in 140 letters. I’ll blog it & tweet a link instead 🙂

Here’s what I’m thinking. I don’t feel it’s accurate to say that my feelings aren’t a fact. My feelings *are* a fact. They are concrete. They are tied directly to my view of a situation. What’s not always a fact is my understanding of the situation. Sometimes it’s my view of the situation that’s limited. Sometimes I catch that right away, other times I have to share at a meeting to get feedback to point me in the right direction.

During my examination I may uncover additional facts, or get additional insight about how I’m looking at the situation (my attitude). This may lead me to change how I look at the situation – and that in turn, changes how I feel.

The fact that I have feelings still exists. I’ve not denied them, rather I’ve sought to expand my understanding of the situation that led to the feelings. It’s by taking my feelings as factual and addressing them in a healthy manner that leads me to the truth.

Emotions give me clues about what I need to pay attention to, almost like a road map. To me, denying my feelings as facts is like telling myself a road doesn’t exist. Without them where would I know where to look?

So I guess what I’m saying is that I feel B2S2BgBkStpStdy is confusing the cause and the effect here. The effects are real. The cause can be changed.

EDIT: I think I found the culprit. B2S2BgBkStpStdy said, “Often we allow feelings2put us as hero/victim” … that’s where my disagreement falls (regarding cause and effect). I don’t believe my feeling causes the misunderstanding. I feel it’s the opposite: my (mis-)understanding the situation causes feelings. When I correct my understanding of the situation my feelings adjust themselves accordingly. Either way I have to respect my feelings as the signposts they are – because sometimes my interpretation of a situation is right.

That’s what meetings are for – they’re a place I can share and get honest feedback about my interpretation of a situation. Friends and relatives might sugar-coat things and enable me to continue feeling justified. My friends in my group are more concerned with truly helping me long-term than they are with helping me feel good in the short-term.

Take What You Like, Leave the Rest

It’s a challenge to face life and look at the choices I’ve made – and more importantly, the choices I’m continuing to make. Looking at my past I may feel guilt or regret, but the saving grace is that those things are in the past – they can’t be changed. But the choices I make today and tomorrow … those can be changed, if I have the courage. Not everyone has the courage. Some people find one or two things about the tools or twelve-step programs that they disagree with and use them as reasons to turn their back on changing at all. You don’t have to do this.

If I start a new career I don’t expect to know how to use every tool in that field within the first week in the career. Some tools don’t make sense the first time you look at them; some might seem to be completely backwards. It can take years to become an expert. But that’s okay. Start out slow, use the ones you can, leave the rest. Come back and look at it again in six months and you may find another one makes sense now. As you keep coming back, you’ll find more and more things click. In the mean time don’t let that stop you from taking advantage of the tools you can use.

I came to my first twelve-step meeting because I wanted to change, but expecting to change 100% (or even 50% or 20%) overnight is unrealistic. The difference between life and death can be as small as a 1% change. I started with the 1% I could use and let the rest lay there until I found a use for them. I kept going to the meetings so I could continue to learn about the other tools – how they’re used, and when. Eventually I found other tools I could put to use, and I learned additional ways of applying the ones I already knew about.

Family of Origin, Family of Choice

We each have two families in life: the family we are born into, and the family we choose.

We can’t control what family we’re born into. Our family of origin might be full of nice people, full of mean people, or have a mixture of both. We learned many behaviors from our family of origin; these behaviors give us the ability to deal with the personalities in that family. When we get older and move out we start interacting with people who are not our relatives, who were raised in homes different from ours.

At some point we may realize the behaviors we learned in our family of origin don’t seem to work as well with other people, or they don’t work at all. Even after years of frustration some people refuse to accept that their way of dealing with life isn’t the right way, or the best way, or maybe even the only way. People who won’t accept this are trapped in playing the same card game over and over again, with the same results, regardless of who’s sitting at the table. Even though someone might get up from the table and walk away they seem to be replaced by someone who plays the hand the same way.

I have a friend who had a terrible relationship with her mother. Neither had spoken to the other in years, but within the last year the mother mentioned to other family members that she’d like my friend to call. My friend refused to do so, not even to yell at her. She explained that in her family the person making the call was seen as breaking down and accepting the guilt. She saw her refusal to make contact as a sign that she was taking the moral high ground, and though she didn’t like that other family members were being put in the middle she did like that her mother was talking to other relatives about it – she felt this was a sign that it was bothering her mother. She hoped that if she stuck to her guns long enough her mother would be the one to give in and make the call. Meanwhile, they were both interacting with other family members normally… just not each other. I said, “So you’re all sitting there at the table, still playing the same game, but in silence?” She nodded and said, “Pretty much.” I suggested when she’s ready maybe she‘ll get up and walk away from the table completely.

There’s another family we all have: our Family of Choice. The friend I mentioned above had a large group of friends. She was always going out to restaurants, nightclubs, the beach, for exercise, for brunch … they were friends from school, from work, friends of friends. These were the people she chose to surround herself with daily. They were her Family of Choice. The nice thing is that unlike our Family of Origin, we get to choose our Family of Choice. If there’s someone we don’t like, we don’t hang out with that person. If there’s someone who treats us disrespectfully or is always putting us down, we don’t have to associate with that person. If the entire group of people I think of as my friends turns out to not really be very friendly then I can choose to get up and leave, and find an entirely new group of friends who does treat me with acceptance and respect.

Some people that have come into my group have shared that they never had a Family of Choice before coming to the group. Some people have more than one Family of Choice. I’ve known the people in my group for almost ten years – some are like family to me now. I also have a group of friends from school and work that are separate – not because I try to keep them separate, but just because I recognize that many of my friends have no interest in anything related to twelve-step groups (which is fine, that’s their right). The tools I’ve learned in my counseling and twelve-step group have helped me have healthier and happier relationships with both my Family of Origin and my Family of Choice.

Typically people find themselves in a group because of something going on in their relationships – either something has changed drastically, or needs to. What needs to change may be in our family of origin, our family of choice, or in us. More often than not, all three need to change in some way, because a change in one affects the other two. In dealing with these changes we uncover either fears or desires (or both) that we might not have known we had – if we did know about them, we may be surprised how deep they run. These programs teach us tools and help us learn to use them. In the process we take inventory of our relationships with ourselves, with our family of origin, our family of choice, and everyone else in the world. With these tools we learn to forge healthier relationships from here on out.

Specifically, the title of this tool is used to remind us that the pain in our life caused by a relationship with a specific person or group is not the entire world. We have friends, an extended family we can turn to for help, and if we don’t have another family then we can make one. There’s a difference between a house and a home, namely the presence of love. If we don’t find the love we want in our Family of Origin then we can find it in our Family of Choice. If we don’t find the love we want in our Family of Choice that’s okay too – because it’s a family of choice.  That means they’re part of our lives because we choose for them to be, and if we decide we no longer want them in our lives we can choose that too. We can’t change who makes up our Family of Origin, but we can decide whom we consider our Family of Choice.


Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Don’t go shopping for food when you’re hungry.” If not, the wisdom behind the saying is that if you go food shopping when you’re hungry you may put more food in your cart than you really need, you may buy food that looks delicious but is bad for you, or you may throw so many things in the cart that you get to the register and find you can’t afford it all. This tool expands on this idea.

As an acronym, H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. The word halt means to stop. The idea is that when you’re experiencing any of those four things, STOP. Otherwise you’ll find your ability to make rational choices is affected. The more strongly you’re experiencing those four things the more it affects your decision-making.

I know this from personal experience. I know when I need to eat, and if I’m not able to I start to get cranky. The more time passes the crankier I get, and if I continue to go without food at some point I turn into a complete asshole. At that point I don’t want to hear anything, I don’t want to know anything. I don’t care about you, I don’t even care about myself. I’ll give you permission to do whatever the hell you want, just get me to a place where I can eat. My ability to be rational is diminished. If I’m faced with an important decision the best thing I can do is to put it off until after I’ve dealt with my hunger.

Some people can go all day without eating, but hunger’s only one of the four items listed. If being very angry, lonely, or tired affects you, first take care of that need. When you’ve done this you’ll find your mind clears and you’ll feel healthy and rational again. Then go back to your decision and make your choice.

Obtaining Permission to Reprint

EDIT: It looks like this blog page is getting all kinds of visitors looking for The Feeling Wheel.  I’m happy to see people looking for it, and happy to provide links to it.  While you’re here please also check out the other topics I blog about here.  There’s a lot more here to discover than just The Feeling Wheel! 🙂

Hi all,

As promised, here’s information on the items I’d like to include in my book that I need help tracking down information on.  These short writings were so helpful to me that I’d like to put them in an Appendix at the back of my book so readers can have them handy instead of having to track them down.

First is Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, which can be read here: www.panhala.net/Archive/Autobiography.html

According to the Wikipedia page about Portia Nelson this short item was included in her book There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery which was reissued by Beyond Words Publishing in 1993.  I’ve emailed Beyond Words Publishing and left messages on their voice mail trying to find out how to obtain permission to reprint (or if they’re even the people I need to obtain permission from), but no one has gotten back to me.  If anyone has further information on who I need to contact, please post a comment below. (I’ve heard back from them, see my update below.)

The next item is what’s known as The Feelings Wheel, which can be seen here: Dr. Gloria Willcox’s Feeling Wheel

That version is attributed to one Dr. Gloria Willcox, with an address listed in St. Petersburg FL.  I sent her a letter two months ago but received no response.  Interestingly, while researching this post I came across another version of the same wheel, attributed to someone else, located here: Mr. Christopher Cobb’s Feeling Wheel

Using Google I found this page  for Mr. Cobb, but I’m not sure it’s the same person.  I’ll email him after I post this blog entry.  Again, if anyone out there has more concrete information on this item, please leave a comment below.

And lastly, I would like to include a transcript of a portion of an interview given by poet Robert Bly.  He was being interviewed by Bill Moyers in a video titled A Gathering of Men, distributed by Mystic Fire Videos.  I’ve found three phone numbers for Mystic Fire Videos, two are disconnected, and one was a wrong number.  Robert Bly has his own website (www.robertbly.com), but there’s no contact information listed.  Most websites have a default email address for the webmaster, usually in the format webmaster@website.com and I’ve sent an email there, but no response as of yet.  Again, if anyone can help me find out who I need to contact please leave a comment below.

Thanks in advance 🙂

UPDATE: 06/18/2011

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters: I heard back from Beyond Words Publishing and have received permission to reprint in the US and Canada, working on getting international reprint rights.

The Feeling Wheel: I heard back from Christopher Cobb who explained that his webmaster had posted the Feeling Wheel erroneously attributed to him.  It was taken down when they caught the mistake but copies of it are still floating around the internet.  He believed it was created by someone in Florida – which would back up the info I found on Gloria Wilcox – but I haven’t had any luck finding more contact info for her.  There are a ton of women with the same name, and I can’t even say for sure that she still lives in Florida.  So I still could use help getting info on who to contact regarding the Feeling Wheel.

Robert Bly: It appears the default webmaster account for his website is disabled, as my email came back rejected.  Google didn’t have any helpful results when I searched for “Robert Bly’s agent”.  I emailed www.poetryfoundation.org to ask if they had any contact info for either Mr. Bly or his agent.  On their page for Mr. Bly they mentioned some of his recent work, I’ll try tracking down who published those works.  If nothing else I figure they ought to have recent contact information for Mr. Bly or his agent.

UPDATE: 07/10/2011

I managed to get in touch with someone at Harper Collins who gave me the phone number for Mr. Bly’s literary agent.  Still no response from Dr. Wilcox, so I used an online search tool to track down a possible phone number for her.  I’ll try calling them both on Monday.

UPDATE: 07/16/2011

I got some GREAT news! I heard back from the Beyond Words Publishing and they granted me permission to add Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in Five Short Chapters to my book’s Appendix.  One step closer to my goal.

It’s been a very busy week at work, completely forgot to call Mr. Bly’s agent, but I did call the number I found for Dr. Wilcox. It was a wrong number but the lady who answered (who has the same name) said that she moved into the area eight years ago and the people at her church knew of Dr. Wilcox.  The lady gave me the name and phone number of her church, I might get lucky and find out where she works now, etc.  Again, one step at a time.

UPDATE: 11/15/2011

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated the blog but quite a bit has happened. I got in touch with Mr. Bly’s agent who informed me that the rights to interviews are usually held by the interviewer, so I contacted Mr. Moyers’ organization and notified them. I finally worked out permission with Random House for Thich Nhat Hahn’s Hope As An Obstacle (from his book called Peace Is Every Step) – that was the most difficult process of any I’ve been through. Apparently Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata is now in the public domain, and I’ve run out of leads for The Feeling Wheel. I plan to include it in my book with a note asking readers to help me trace down the original author.

Next up: formatting the book for eReaders and getting it out there!

UPDATE: 03/05/2014

I haven’t updated this in a long time.  In December 2012 a reader commented below to share that Dr. Wilcox’s Feeling Wheel was published in her book “Feelings: Converting Negatives to Positives”.  In the spring of 2013 I tracked that book back to its publisher, Morris Publishing and they did give me a PO Box address for Dr. Wilcox.  Unfortunately I never got a response.  I also tried calling the church (mentioned above) but no one there seemed to know who she was.

Ironically, I’ve had two more people contact me about Dr. Wilcox in the last week after a year of silence on the matter. Someone who has a copy of my book believes she might be a member of their church and said they’d see if they could locate her for me.  I also got an email from another author seeking to reprint Dr. Wilcox’s Feeling Wheel.  More to come.

UPDATE: 03/22/2014

I’ve finally gotten in touch with Dr. Willcox!  I spoke to her for a few moments on the phone this morning, told her about my book and requested permission to reprint.  She gave me her email address and asked that I send a request there and she’d reply with permission.  I forgot to mention that other authors were seeking her contact info but I included that in my email and asked if I could share it with others.  I’ll update this when I hear back from her.

UPDATE: 07/1/2014

Dr. Willcox replied to me that I can share her email with anyone else trying to reach her.  If you’re interested in doing so, place a comment here or send me a message from the Contact Me page.

Hello world!

Wow.  Where do I start?

I’ve often been told that I have a knack for explaining things in ways that everyone can grasp, so for a few years now I’ve been thinking about writing a book to explain to other people the things I’ve learned from my recovery program.  It’s something I’d like to do to give back.

When I was laid off last year in October I decided I would take the rest of the year off, write my book, and start looking for work again come January.  I did just that, and since then I’ve made some slow progress towards getting the book published.  The title of the book will be A Guide To The Recovery Toolbox, and I hope to have it out in electronic format by the end of the year (if all goes well I’ll start work to make it a paperback after that).

That year-end goal may be optimistic though. First I need to get permission to reprint some things in my book that other people have written.  It’s been very difficult tracking down the people and organizations that hold the reprint rights, and that’s the #1 reason I’ve decided to work on building the internet presence for my book right now.  Aside from general updates about the publication process, I’m also going to post information on the works I want to reprint.  I’m hoping one of you out there will help me find out who I need to contact.

I’ll also be posting excerpts from the book so you can get a glimpse of what’s to come, and eventually I’d like to use this blog as a wider space to expand on topics touched on in the book.  The book itself isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, but more of an introduction for newcomers.  Maybe I’ll cull some of my writings from this blog and create them to publish another book picking up where A Guide To The Recovery Toolbox leaves off … but that’s far down the road.

For now I’d just like to say that A Guide To The Recovery Toolbox came back from the copy editor last week, and the needed changes have been made.  I’ve created this website and registered on Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter (clicking the links will open the page in new tab):

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/RecoveryToolBox

Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/recoverybookpress

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Recovery-Book-Press/202822993077561

Please add these pages if you’re involved with any of those sites.  Feel free to share this page on Facebook and/or Twitter.  Below this should be links to Twitter and Facebook, if you can’t see them you may have to click the link that says “Leave a Comment”.  Also feel free to suggest other social networking sites you think I should join.

My next steps are to track down the rights owners of the works I mentioned above, contact them, and obtain permission to reprint some of their material.  Tomorrow evening I’ll put up a post with information on those works.  I’ve spent the better part of a Saturday working on this stuff today, now it’s time to go do something relaxing.