Sobriety, especially in the early days, brings an incredible sense of confusion. It’s as if life is coming at you from every direction, all at once. Mood swings are inevitable and should be expected. Transitioning from a life centered on drugs and alcohol to one of abstinence and recovery does a real number on the brain and the body. Everything seems confusing, scary and unfamiliar –and it should. For the first time in a long time, (maybe even in your entire adult life) you are facing reality.
Advice for Recovering Drug Addicts: It’s Okay to Feel Your Feelings
When the numbness caused by the use of drugs and alcohol wears off, the feelings you have been avoiding for so long come straight to the surface. Where you once didn’t care about how others perceived you, their sideways glances may have you preoccupied and even paranoid. When you look in the mirror, you may feel so disgusted with the person staring back; you’ll want to run for the hills. Extreme feelings of regret and remorse may feel as though they have taken up permanent residence in your soul. Any sense of boredom, anxiety, anger or sadness is amplified. These raw emotions don’t just feel uncomfortable, they can be downright unbearable. Yes, the ballad of yesteryear can begin to feel like your personal mantra: Feelings….nothing more than feelings…. and for now, they’re all over the place.
Feelings are very difficult for the recovering alcoholic or drug addicts to reconcile.
This is not only true for recovering drug addicts that are in early recovery –it is also true for those who have been clean for years. Many experts believe people with the disease of addiction are particularly sensitive to feelings, which is what causes us to use drugs and alcohol to begin with. While non-addicts experience a “normal” range of human emotions and naturally respond and react to them in an appropriate way, drug addicts and alcoholics have quite a different experience. Our emotions tend to manifest in extremes. They are so intense, they can become all-consuming. This is all fine and good when we feel joy and happiness, but when rage, grief or jealousy rear their ugly heads, it’s a whole other story.
Two things you should consider when recovering from alcohol abuse.
First: feelings aren’t facts. Just because you feel a certain way about a certain situation does not make it so. For example, if you feel inferior to a co-worker, it doesn’t mean you are. Just because you feel like you can’t stand your sadness one more second doesn’t mean you’re going to implode if it doesn’t pass right away. Just because you feel like the world is against you doesn’t mean it is. Just because you feel like getting loaded doesn’t mean you should. Make sense?
Here’s another thing to consider. The fact is that drug addicts and alcoholics respond to their own feelings in a negative way because we simply don’t know what to do with them. There is an insatiable need for us to react to feelings when we feel them. We think because we feel anger toward someone, we should act out and yell at them or even hit them. We think because we feel down in the dumps that we need to get a pick-me-up so we can immediately escape our feelings of depression. The reality is (which lends itself to the credo that feelings aren’t facts) is there is only one thing to do with your feelings: feel them! It may sound overly simplistic, but that is what feelings are there for –to be felt.
It is our emotions that make us human.
It is our ability to feel that allows us to experience life as it is meant to be experienced. Sadness is the appropriate response to losing a loved one. Laughter is the appropriate response to humor. Anger is the appropriate response to being betrayed. When we embrace our feelings, we embrace the very essence of what it means to be alive. It is okay to feel what we are feeling –no matter what it is or how uncomfortable it may seem. And, believe it or not, no matter how mush discomfort your feelings may cause, you can just sit in your feelings and not react to them.
Just for today, make a commitment to yourself to feel your feelings. The more you feel your feelings, instead of numbing them or running from them, the better you will become at managing them when they come. The better you learn how to feel your feelings, the less they rule you and run your life.