Ask anyone who has abused alcohol or drugs why they drink or use drugs, and they can give you an unending list: troubled marriage, problem children, work-related stress, financial troubles, loss of job. The basic underlying truth of all these excuses is that they don’t want to feel their feelings. They feel lonely, so they drown it with alcohol. They feel insecure, so they gather some security by popping some pills. They feel sad, so they drink for a pick-me-up. Alcohol and drug abusers do not like to feel their feelings; therefore, it is inevitable that those feelings will surface once recovery begins and substance abuse is no longer part of the equation.
A currently popular Internet meme defines normal as “just a setting on the dryer,” and even though the word may cover a broad range, it is normal in recovery to experience intense feelings that bounce from high to low in a seeming matter of seconds. Feelings and emotions are new to recovering addicts, and they don’t know how to cope. A sudden burst of rage that seems to come out of nowhere or an agonizing fear that has little basis in reality can feel overwhelming without the customary soothing agent of alcohol or drugs. In recovery, drug addicts and alcoholics need to learn coping skills to deal with feelings they had anesthetized.
Even though feelings can seem overwhelming, recovering addicts and alcoholics do have tools at their disposal to help them cope.
· Finding support
Successful recovery is not a do-it-yourself project. People with long-lasting sobriety have learned that they need to work with others who are learning to live without drugs or alcohol. Finding a support network is important.
· Watch for red flags
Crowds of former friends, favorite bars and restaurants, and family celebrations are examples of slippery slopes. Avoiding situations that used to be part of drinking and using drugs is an important part of the process.
· Taking responsibility
Even though blaming others for the strong feelings that one experiences in early recovery may seem logical, it is not going to help in the recovery process. Owning one’s feelings and working through them is the key to sober living.
· Medical problems
Sometimes the intensity of feelings goes away on its own. Other times, medical conditions might arise. Unusual or extreme symptoms need the attention of a physician.
Learning to actually feel your feelings is a new skill for people who have depended on chemicals to alter their perception. It not only is a skill that can be developed; it is an imperative one for full recovery.