For anyone who has gone through or is currently going through early addiction recovery, they can tell you that they all have one thing in common…they began to experience feelings again. Good, bad or other. They had anesthetized themselves for so long that feeling anything at all can be like a new experience for them. Therapy can help with this, as can support groups. One of the major benefits of group therapy is that we can learn to process these feelings socially.
Negative feelings are a common precursor to relapse. This would include feelings like shame, depression, loneliness, anger, or anxiety. It became like second nature to addicts to utilize a quick fix anytime any one of these feelings would pop up. That is why so many times an addict hasn’t developed any coping skills at all to deal with feelings. This becomes a dangerous thing in terms of relapse.
Because of the dependence that the brain acquired on these substances, it is impacted negatively once it is no longer receiving the substance. Even though a person is no longer in acute withdrawal it doesn’t mean that the withdrawal is over. A lot of times the brains neurotransmitters have been disrupted due to extended use of a substance. It takes time for those to heal. While that healing is going on a person could become emotionally hypersensitive. This is usually seen within the first six months of recovery.
What a recovering addict must realize is that any type of feeling that they are experiencing is “normal”. There are no right or wrong feelings. It’s only the fact that the feelings have been stuffed down for so long in the active addict that they consider feeling anything at all to be out of the norm. So now that you accept that you will have feelings and can no longer rely on your “quick fix” method for quieting these feelings…how do you cope with feelings?
We’ve already talked about negative feelings raising someone’s vulnerability for relapse so it is important to start and develop some coping skills to deal with feelings very early in recovery.
1. Just Go With It – Once you become aware of the feeling just let yourself sit with it for a little while. Remind yourself that you are safe, feelings will not cause any physical harm to you no matter how bad they feel. Also remind yourself that stuffing feelings are dangerous but feeling long denied emotions can help emotional healing to take place.
2. Just Keep Breathing – One thing to concentrate on is some deep breathing. Some slow, deep breaths can help to center yourself and calm you down.
3. Remember That Nothing Needs To Be Done About Your Feeling – You are free to just feel a feeling. You don’t have to act on anything immediately, or ever.
4. Reach Out – The key to getting through early addiction recovery is talking about what they are feeling with others. Talking about your feelings with supportive people helps to put things into perspective. An addict should use a supportive listener to help with feelings the same way that they relied on drugs to help with feelings.
5. Do Not Judge Feelings – Like I said before a person in addiction recovery must realize that if they are feeling a feeling then that is “normal”. There are no right or wrong feelings. It does not matter if anyone else validates your feelings, they are justified because you are feeling them.
6. Notice Negative Self Talk- Be on the look out for negative thoughts about yourself repeating over and over in your mind. Thoughts such as “you’re stupid”, “a jerk”, “worthless”. Thinking like this is essentially being verbally abusive to yourself. Once you realize you are doing this put a stop to it immediately and begin to sooth yourself. Maybe try picking up meditation practice.
7. Stay In The Here And Now – Negative emotions can stem from thoughts about a painful past or the fear of the unknown future. If this is the cause of your bad feelings you need to bring yourself back to the present. This will be a very conscious effort in the beginning but one that is so important to get in the habit of doing.
8. Reality Check – When you catch yourself negatively reacting to a situation you need to give yourself a reality check. Kind of put things in perspective…is this that bad? Is this what I am thinking it is? Things like that. There will be times that you find you are being hyper-sensitive and you will be able to deal with your negative feelings much better once you realize that.
9. Give It Time And It Will Pass – We have all heard of the saying “this too shall pass”. This couldn’t be more true of a statement for an addict that is in early recovery. No matter how uncomfortable a feeling may be, such as a craving to use, it will pass if you give it time. Just because you feel something this instant does not mean that you will always feel it.
10. Gradually You Will Feel What You Have Blocked – If you have been blocking your feelings since you have been pretty young you can’t expect emotional healing to happen all at once. You must expect that your feelings will come and go slowly. It will take time but you will get over your emotional numbness…but it can’t be rushed.
11. Take It Slow- This means that in early recovery it is recommended that you try to avoid situations that are guaranteed to elicit intense feelings. This is because so many feelings and emotions will pop up inside of you on your own, you don’t really need a push.
12. Use Your Feelings As Indicators – Negative feelings exist as a way of signaling that something needs some attention and possibly some action. You can think of it like a fever in your body indicating that something is sick and you need to rest.
13. Write It Down – One of the best coping skills you can develop for dealing with negative feelings is the ability to be able to express yourself on paper. Just by writing down negative feelings you can put them in perspective and start to heal.
14. Be Aware Of Relapse – Because negative feelings are one of the biggest precursors to relapse it is so very important to be aware of the connection between the two. Don’t be taken off guard by the fact that your negative feelings are making you want to use your substance of choice again. Be prepared for it.
15. Beware of Self-Pity – It is very possible to get stuck in a bad mood by wallowing in it unproductively. There are some reasons that a person might prolong a bad mood. Maybe they are receiving sympathy from others or even building up an excuse that will “rationalize” using again. You need to become aware of your mood to be able to move on.
16. Help Someone – If you are stuck in a negative feeling and it doesn’t seem to be going away, sometimes the best thing you can do is just get out of your own focus for a while. Helping someone else can be the best antidote to your own painful feelings. If you are concentrating on helping someone else you are no longer obsessing on your own problems
17. A Little Pain Is Not The End Of The World – Addicts consider pain as something that should be avoided at any cost. What is becoming clear is that it is the resistance to pain that is often most painful. An addiction to pain numbing substances is formed usually to avoid pain and look how much pain the addiction ends up causing us. What needs to be learned is how to deal with pain head on. Pain needs to be recognized and felt in order for us to grow in any beneficial way.
18.Pamper Yourself – You don’t always have to wait for someone else to be nice to you. A little nurturing of yourself is very healthy and very soothing.
These are just some of the ways that someone in early addiction recovery can cope with their new found feelings and emotions. As time goes on it will be the coping skills that kick in like second nature and no longer the urge to use their substance of choice. It all begins with simply identifying that you are feeling a feeling and that no matter what it makes you feel or how long it seems to be lasting that “this too shall pass”.