Individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol to addictive extremes become arrested at a stage of emotional development, using a substance as a coping mechanism to ward off unwanted feelings.
When an addict decides to quit using, they must focus on maintaining physical sobriety first: not picking up and giving the body time to adjust and begin healing.
Addictive behaviors cause brain changes which can sometimes take years to adjust, but the actual physical damage can, for the most part, heal within 30 days to six months’ time. This is a critical time in recovery because once an addict begins to physically feel better, they can become over-confidant about their ability to manage life again.
It is said in recovery that an addict’s substance of choice is only a symptom of the disease; the disease being not as much a physical condition but a spiritual or emotional malady, an arrested development.
Emotional sobriety is not an automatic progression from physical sobriety, it must be learned, the way we learn a new language.
If a recovering addict fails to enlarge this aspect of their sobriety, the risk for relapse is significant.
While an addict may heal physically; the triggers which caused addictive behavior still exist, and the need to strengthen resiliency, equanimity, and coping skills must be developed.
Having emotional maturity is not hiding emotions in order to portray strength, or indulging in them, but the ability to feel emotion without the need to mask it, expressing feelings appropriately and with moderation. Being open and honest is a good place to start, seeking help and direction wherever possible and being willing to change.
The practice of meditation can increase the mind’s ability to rise above emotional noise. Mediators clinically “show a decrease in sympathetic stimulation; even when stressed, meditators are not as reactive to that stress as are those who do not meditate.”
Each individual will find a unique set of coping skills and positive habits that work at balancing emotional and physical health, if they apply themselves to the task. Even if meditation is not for you, kickboxing, jogging or reading might provide the right outlet to channel emotional energies.
Recovery is an ongoing process; wisdom and serenity are found with practice. The important thing to remember is to be gentle, having time without a drink or drug is a huge accomplishment, emotional sobriety will follow if you are working toward it.