Emotions are important. Without the ability to feel emotions, life would be devoid of all meaning. There can be no hot without cold, no light without dark, no up without down. In the same way, we can’t be happy unless we can be sad. We can’t be angry unless we can feel pity. We can’t love if we can’t hate.
However, the very existence of emotions can sometimes be the bane for certain people. When dealing with severe depression, for example, life seems like an endless downhill cascade – with not a single rising, rolling hill on the horizon. In some cases, people feel it’s better to feel nothing at all and go so far as to feel suicidal. Coming back from feeling like that is a hard journey, a climb so steep that the wall seems to curve in on itself like the upper edge of a concave.
But like any climb, it gets easier. With time, the concave reverses on itself and turns into a convex. A steep wall turns into a gentle slope. Suddenly, there are happy days. They become more frequent. Life fluctuates. And while the sadness remains, it’s piqued by days with joy and treasured memories.
For those struggling through recovery, the analogy of emotional steepness may sound familiar. It’s not uncommon at all for people to experience very strong emotions during recovery, especially early on. And in certain cases, undoing an addiction may uncover the symptoms of a mood disorder such as depression, with all its pain unhindered by any drug. That only makes the recovery harder.
Dealing with emotions like that without relapsing is the real challenge here because it’s dangerous and very easy to slip back into the habit of using as a coping mechanism for the pain unearthed by rehab. Let’s explore some of the ways in which patients can avoid resuming maladaptive coping strategies while adopting entirely new and effective ways to cope with strong emotions and difficult days.
It’s Okay to Feel
First, it’s important for anyone in a bad place to realize that it’s important to feel. The feeling is doing – you’re working through your emotions, chewing them out, letting them wash over you. And as you do, that feeling will pass. By holding back or suppressing your emotions, you’ll only bottle them up and create the danger of an inadvertent explosion of emotion.
Feel. Feel deep. Cry it out, get angry, let it all fade away into apathy. And never ever forget the most important truth – as a feeling passes, so does time. And with time, things get better. Tears will eventually turn to smiles, and you’ll come to experience good thoughts again. No negative thought will be permanent – and you won’t have to languish in this pain forever. If you can hold onto the fact that no pain will be permanent, you’ll have the strength to go on through anything.
Why Recovery Makes Us Feel
It’s true to say that addiction makes you feel better, at least for a little while. Yet more accurately, regardless of whether your drug of choice is an upper like opium or a depressant like alcohol, the general gist of an addiction is that it works to mask the truth of your emotions. If you’re feeling extremely down, then taking an addictive substance can make you forget about that emotion and feel something else – you don’t have to confront any issues, you don’t have to go through the motions of feeling the pain. Until the withdrawal kicks in and you need the next hit.
When you take that away – when you remove the masking effect that addiction has on your true emotions – you’re unleashing a massive palette of suppressed thoughts and negative feelings. That can be extremely overwhelming, and it can continue to be overwhelming for quite some time.
Not everyone takes addictive substances to cope with an existing symptom or existing symptoms. Sometimes, the addiction itself will develop these emotional problems, as your life around you changes and crumbles, relationships break, and harmful events unfurl. The negative cycle is that whenever your addiction makes life worse, you’re tempted to embrace it even more deeply to stop feeling.
Stemming the Flow
The only way to overcome the strong emotions that recovery unveils is through working through them. You must feel them. You must reflect on them, and go over them. Only then will you heal – only then, can you continue to feel.
Think of it like Pandora’s box, in an infinite and continuous scale. Sometimes, lurking within the box is the world’s worst emotions. We let them out, then seal the box out of fear to ever feel again. But unless we open that lid and let those emotions wash over us, we won’t get to what’s underneath them – the hope and joy, the better emotions. We must struggle through the pain before we get to the joy.
There are coping mechanisms to improve your ability to feel, specifically by balancing your mood and influencing your mind, so you reduce the number of negative thoughts you have and arm yourself with positive thinking to fight back against depressive feelings.
- Practice mindfulness and active forms of meditation.
- Get together with others and plan group activities, from bowling to watching a movie to going fishing.
- See a therapist to go over your emotions and chew through your feelings, and to practice positive psychology.
- Take up journaling to further reflect on your emotions.
- Practice healthier habits to avoid health-related upsets.
With time, you’ll develop emotional sobriety – the ability to feel positive emotions again, and reflect on current and past events in a happy, realistic manner. Think of it as being at peace with yourself, enough to do away with the inner prejudice and guilt, and away with the shame.
It will take as long as it will take, but through the right professional help and patience, you’ll overcome the depressive contents of Pandora’s box and make your way to a balance in emotions, where life has meaning again and you look forward to the next day.