Dealing with emotions in sobriety can be one of the most challenging things you’ll face in early drug and alcohol recovery. Not being able to deal with life on life’s terms, which includes actually feeling our feelings, is one of the primary reasons why addicts drink, use, or engage in other compulsive behaviors.
Men in particular are often taught from an early age that expressing their emotions makes them weak, which sometimes can make this phenomenon even more challenging for the male population. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to have suffered domestic violence and emotional abuse, among other things – this type of trauma can lead to PTSD, generalized anxiety, and suppressed emotions. These are just statistical generalizations – neither population is immune to any or all of the above. On the flip side, not all addicts have experienced abuse or been taught to suppress their emotions. Sometimes just the plain old day-to-day stuff we all face can lead to emotional escapism in any male or female who’s prone to addiction, despite a healthy upbringing.
So, just how do we break the addictive cycle of anesthetizing? There’s no quick fix, but it can be done, and those of us who’ve maintained a successful drug and alcohol recovery program can attest to the fact that it does get easier if we’re willing to put in the work. Something worth noting is that anyone who’s experienced severe emotional and physical trauma should seek outside help from a professional, but getting sober is a good place to start.
Here are some useful tips for working through negative emotions. Keep in mind that these are meant to supplement your drug and alcohol recovery program but not act as a substitute for it:
Observe your emotions in a non-judgemental way. Before you can change how you react to your emotions, it’s important to understand them. A good practice is to start to pay attention to your emotions as they begin to arise or change. It may seem challenging initially, but try slowing down your thoughts and imagining yourself as a neutral third-person observer. With practice, you’ll find that it gets easier to stop judging your feelings as good or bad. Once you accomplish this, you can then label your emotions – a practice that can help you maintain an awareness of and separation from your emotions.
Practice mindfulness. Having a mindfulness practice allows you to get completely present with your emotions. Having already observed them in a non-judgemental way will help you to achieve this state of mindfulness. Get quiet, sit with your emotions, and observe how they pass (again, without judgement). We doubt there’s a single living human on the planet who possesses unyielding emotions. This is because our emotions change, similar to the way that pain and pleasure are passing sensations. Realizing this through mindfulness will help you to maintain an awareness that feelings are not facts – whatever emotion you’re currently experience with will pass.
Pick up the phone and call someone who can understand what you’re going through. Connecting with another addict can be a great place to start. If you’re in a drug and alcohol recovery program, then you may already have a network of addicts that you can call. If, on the other hand, you’re still actively drinking or using, or you’ve recently ditched substance but you don’t yet have a program, there are many resources available. Reaching out to a drug and alcohol counselor, calling a 12-step hotline (AA, for example, has central offices in cities across the globe), or phoning up a rehab can be great places to start.
Write a gratitude list. This one might seem simple, but studies have shown that practicing gratitude can actually change the neural pathways in our brains. And yes, it is just as simple as it sounds. If you’d like to test this theory out, try putting pen to paper and writing out a list of ten things that you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a complicated list, but do try to point out the reasons why you’re grateful. For example, “I woke up healthy today. I’m grateful for this healthy body because it allows me to stay active, I always feel good, and I’m capable of moving around freely to engage in activities I love.”
These are just a handful of suggestions – there are plenty of other ways to switch gears when negative emotions take over and cause us to want to drink or use. Check out our post on ways you can boost your dopamine (the brain chemical that makes ya happy) levels naturally. The primary takeaway here is that feelings aren’t facts. Remember this. If you’re newly sober or if you really want to get clean, but facing your difficult emotions without a crutch scares you, try to just focus on one little emotion at a time. And don’t worry about tomorrow – keep your focus on staying sober for today, and then you can start fresh tomorrow. By putting down the drugs and alcohol (or giving up other addictive behaviors) and starting to really work through your emotions, you’ll find that they become much easier to deal with over time.
Once you stop running from your emotions, you’re no longer giving them power over your life. There’s a lot of freedom in this, and you’re opening up your head and your heart space to allow for new experiences, pleasant emotions, and beautiful relationships to enter. And guess what? It’s so worth it.
Kembali Recovery Center is here to help…
Are you finding it challenging to break an addictive cycle for fear of facing difficult emotions? Kembali Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us today to learn about our four-week drug and alcohol recovery program. It could very well change (or save) your life.