A large part of active addiction involves avoiding emotions: Drinking or getting high when you are sad, angry, happy, frustrated, excited, nervous… and so on. In fact, no matter the emotion, it’s likely that you just feel more comfortable numb. In recovery from addiction, however, everyone who was once in active addiction finds that they have to confront their emotions. You’ll have to face and feel things that make you uncomfortable – and you’ll have to do so with the longing feeling to go back to the numbness; the drink or the drug. Emotions are a natural part of life. Emotional turmoil, however, can cause a tremendous amount of stress – challenging even your best intentions for your recovery. Self-destructive emotions can threaten the balance you need in your life and can threaten your sobriety. The good news? There are ways to manage these emotions and get back on track.
In almost every case of addiction, it’s likely that a lot has gone wrong. Whether your guilt stems from a specific incident or a continued pattern of behavior, feeling guilty is often a natural emotion that plays into recovery – especially early on. There’s nothing wrong with guilt, and in fact, feeling some form of remorse for your actions that may have caused pain to yourself or others can be a motivator for change. What you can do: Acknowledge your wrong-doings and work to make amends. While some friends or family members may choose not to forgive you, know that that is their choice – not yours, and you can’t control others’ reactions. If you feel as though your feelings of guilt are overwhelming, talk with a therapist or sponsor on how to work towards amends – and away from the guilt. Shame. Shame and guilt are often confused for one another. Shame, however, occurs when you believe there is something inherently wrong with you. Shame often leaves us with low self-value, low self-esteem and feelings of helplessness to improve your life. You may simply feel as though you are worthless and unable to accomplish anything in life. Shame will keep you from forming relationships, from seeking help – and trap you in an overwhelming belief that you deserve to feel this way. What you can do: Working through and overcoming shame usually requires the assistance of a therapist, counselor, sponsor or close friend in recovery – as well as support from loved ones. Keeping a journal of successes and positivity can also be a great tool. Ultimately, rebuilding your self-esteem is key to battling shame and taking on your goals of recovery.
Worry is one of my biggest weaknesses. I spend time worrying about what lies ahead, what I could have done better in my past and I’m not doing right now because I’m worrying. When you spend time worrying, it’s one of the most useless experiences: You put a lot of energy, time and effort into things you have zero control over. You may imagine scenarios that didn’t happen, visualize events that won’t ever happen and focus on possible disasters that surely aren’t possible. Life has unfolded a certain way for you so far, and the future will unfold as well – regardless of how much you worry about it. What you can do: The best way for me to overcome worry is by focusing on one day at a time – or in some instances, one hour or task at a time. Sticking close to others who are in recovery, as well as mentors, sponsors and supportive family and friends can help you remain focused on the present – instead of the past or future. Once you’re able to take hold of that energy, you’ll be able to put it towards changing the things that you can.
Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick: Hanging onto anger and bitterness towards another person is much more harmful to you than it is to them. While you’re spending time dwelling on the injustice, the hurt or the pain that another person has caused you, they’re more than likely just going about their usual business – not spending their time thinking about you. What you can do: Sometimes in life, people do us wrong. In some instances, some people can really hurt us and rattle us to the core. Holding onto your anger or hurt won’t do you any good – and in fact, it can trigger you to return to your drink or drug of choice. Working towards forgiveness doesn’t mean that you’ll sweep everything under the rug, but it will allow you to mentally move forward. In order to forgive, you don’t need to say a word to the other person – especially if you are not on speaking terms. By making the conscious decision to let go, you’ll regain time, energy and comfort.
The cycle of loneliness can be overwhelming when in active addiction – but it also can plague recovery. Those who are new to recovery may have realized they need to cut ties with old friends who still use, family members who trigger them, and completely revamp their lifestyle. Doing so can cause intense feelings of loneliness. Loneliness can make you more susceptible to triggers and urges – and keep your mind focused on the negativities in your life. In active addiction, your best friend may have been alcohol or pills or heroin – and you may be truly grieving that loss. What to do: We grow best when we are connected with others. As you begin to root yourself in your recovery, it is important to make connections with friends who are in recovery or supportive of your recovery. Going to a 12-step group meeting and serving others at a local soup kitchen are just two ideas to get you out of your rut. It does take time to erase those feelings of loneliness. Know that you may have to give yourself time to truly heal. Being active and surrounding yourself with support will help keep you on track in your recovery.