For an addict (I use this term to include alcoholic), feeling our feelings is a critical component to dealing with addiction and recovering from addiction. It is important to understand that someone who has been numbing their feelings for years is going to go through a phase in early recovery where they begin to feel feelings for the first time, and it’s typically a scary and unpleasant experience. I remember hitting about the four-month mark crying on the phone with a woman in the program telling her I would rather be trashed every day of my life then feel the way I did at that moment. Everything I had avoided dealing with was coming out of my cells, pains and struggles I had stuffed down for over 15 years.
Another important piece in understanding addiction is that the addict essentially stops growing emotionally around the time they first started using drugs and/or alcohol. For many of us the path started with pot or drugs as early as 12 or 13. This applies to anyone and everyone recovering from addiction whether 15 or 50. So recognize that now you have this person who has stopped the addictive behaviors but has started to have some uncomfortable feelings come up, who has the ability to deal with such issues on the same level as a teenager or preteen. This is why as many support systems as we can put in place are critical to the recovery process. Meetings, sober peers, therapists, recovery coaches, it doesn’t take one or two of these but ALL of these to increase the chances of success and long-term sobriety or the ability to bounce back quickly from a slip.
Even after a significant amount of time in recovery, having feelings come up is risky. The addict wants to instantly “fix” the feelings and have control over numbing them or making them go away. So aside from the initial support systems a person must develop the proper coping skills that work for him or her. This even applies to physical feelings… I know every time I got sick in early recovery I wanted to drink because in the end that was what I did to feel better. A person cannot simply be told what works for them, they have to learn to develop and understand these coping mechanisms as they see fit for themselves. The key to feeling negative feelings is not to sit in the pain to sulk and stay depressed; it is to process through these feelings until they have left us. Taking a line from the wonderful Pema Chodron: “ The best thing you can do is learn how to fail really well, to hold the pain of things happening that you really don’t want to be happening … to experience the rawness of vulnerability … and to know the experience of when something terrible happens it means an opportunity for you to evolve into a better place, a new experience”. In the end, life happens; we must all understand that moments and feelings pass, yes, both the bad and the good. The beauty of life in recovery is being able to recognize this, be in moment, and ride the wave.
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about the master coach
Danielle, the Founder & Master Coach of RealYou Revolution, is a woman in long term recovery with a passion for helping others overcome their own personal demons – whatever they may be.