Handling your emotions in recovery from drugs or alcohol is a completely new experience. For a long time, you used your addiction to mask your true feelings and numb out things that were uncomfortable to you. Anything from a bad day at work to a traumatic situation would be handled by indulging in your substance of choice, and forgetting that it even happened. While numbing the pain, as they call it, might work for a little while, it always comes back and affects you even worse than if you had faced the issue head on to begin with. This is something you will learn about your emotions in recovery. This way, you can learn how to manage them without the crutch of drugs or alcohol.
Furthermore, dealing with emotions that were numbed with alcohol and drugs during active addiction can be dangerous. This is due to the fact that they can stimulate a drug or alcohol relapse. Because relapse is so dangerous and those who experience it may never continue with recovery, it’s incredibly important to know how to deal with unwanted emotions when they arise. This way, you can protect your sobriety and recovery efforts thus far.
No matter how long your struggle with addiction was, you conditioned yourself to reach for a substance the moment times got tough. On the other hand, you probably would get high or drink when times were good in order to celebrate too! Your life circled around getting messed up and using your drug of choice as a crutch to get you through anything. Now that you can’t reach for your drug of choice, these emotions can send you on a whirlwind of feelings you may not be prepared for.
When you deal with your emotions in recovery, getting high or drunk is no longer an option for coping. End of story. Especially in the beginning, however, it is sure to cross your mind because it is the only way you have learned to deal. A big thing that you’ll learn in treatment is that going through emotions is ok, and riding out the waves of sadness, anxiety, and fear is a part of life. Before you know it, the cravings you experience as a result of negative emotions will begin to subside. And, you’ll learn to live with these emotions without feeling the need to numb them.
Humans are meant to experience emotion and work through feelings so healing can take place. But, it’s common for people not to want to experience the pain that these feelings may bring. When you mask your emotions by bottling things up, they eventually explode. In your case, during active addiction, you used drugs or alcohol to cover emotions so that you wouldn’t have to experience them. The first time you took a drug or drank alcohol to numb your feelings, it worked. So, you kept doing it until you couldn’t even function without it. This is how addiction quickly spirals out of control.
There are ways to deal with your emotions in recovery without the aid of drugs and alcohol. The first step is realizing that having feelings is ok. We are human and meant to go through the whole spectrum of emotions, from happiness and elation to fear and sadness. All of us experience these emotions and there is no shame in feeling any emotion humans experience. In treatment, you’ll learn to ride out your emotions, acknowledge them, and use tools to put things in the past once you have been able to process your thoughts and feelings around them. Upsetting things that happened in your past certainly don’t need to define your future.
Many in treatment for drugs and alcohol realize, through therapy, that dealing with negative emotions may have been the underlying cause of their addiction. Traumatic experiences like sexual abuse, being the victim of a crime, or experiencing natural disaster can lead to immeasurable amounts of pain and internal sadness. So, these people may begin to use substances as a way to self-medicate the symptoms of trauma. Fortunately, even if trauma has played a role in the development of your addiction, there are methods of dealing with past trauma like behavioral and cognitive therapies. Even the worst of human emotions don’t require addictive substances. You can heal regardless of what you’ve been through.
Over time, the urge to numb your feelings will get smaller and smaller. With some practice, you’ll be able to realize when you’re feeling down and consciously decide to deal with these emotions in another way. There are a thousand things you can do to distract your mind from unpleasant emotions, it is just a matter of finding what works for you. Many people find that believing in some kind of higher power is an important part of dealing with their emotions in recovery. This does not have to be a religious thing, just the belief that there is something bigger and stronger out there in the universe. This helps to better understand that emotions are a part of the human experience. And, that they’re important for our overall experience on earth.
Having healthy outlets is an essential part of recovery also. This allows you to better manage your negative emotions, as they will certainly arise eventually. Make sure to surround yourself with positive, uplifting people who have your best interest in mind. Ideally, these should be people who have more than a year sober and have been through many of the things you are going through. Talking about your problems is extremely beneficial, especially when the person you are talking to understands and can give you solid advice and feedback.
Hobbies and activities are another hugely important part of managing your emotions. You may find that a steady yoga practice helps you to calm down after a stressful day at work. Or, if things are getting overwhelming at home, go for a run. You may also find that drawing helps you focus on the present moment and forget about anything else going on. Or, perhaps it is playing music or writing.
You don’t need to drown your sorrows and celebrate your achievements by altering your mood. By doing this, you are missing out on some of the biggest parts of life. Find healthy ways to handle your emotions in recovery and you will soon put getting high or drunk in the past for good.
Are you looking for help with managing emotions on your path to a better life, free from alcohol or drug addiction? Here at Willow Place for Women, we equip individuals with the skill sets they need to become successful in their recovery journey. This includes preparing women to experience, accept, and manage their emotions without having to use an addictive substance. If you’d like to learn more about our program or how we can help, contact us today.
**Originally posted on December 14, 2017. Updated on June 26, 2019.