Emotions in Recovery

Early recovery and emotionality go hand in hand. Your mind might become excessively expressive in the first few months of recovery, as you cope with living life without drugs. Addiction has the hallmark of slowly becoming the center of a person’s universe, consuming more and more of their time and focus as they consume more of their drug(s) of choice.

Yet regardless of why a person developed an addiction – there are a few wildly different factors – substance abuse always leads into maladaptive coping. Once the addiction begins to cause problems in life – from becoming inattentive to losing your job and inadvertently causing harm to those around you – it leads back to itself as the best and fastest form of medication to shut out the feelings and thoughts that arise as a consequence of using.

Even among the most functional of people struggling with addiction, part of why it’s so hard to let go is because being addicted causes fear and stress, worry, and guilt, and it breeds negative thoughts that erode your sanity and replace rationality with short-sighted impulsivity, and the chase after the next high – not out of hedonism, but self-preservation. Regardless of whether it develops before or after, addiction is always coupled with negative thinking, and in many cases, that develops into full-blown instances of clinical depression and general anxiety.

So understandably, when recovery kicks in, and drugs as a coping mechanism fall by the wayside, your mind may begin to unleash a barrage of uninvited thoughts, some depressingly negative and some manically positive, causing a rollercoaster of emotions. Yet avoiding this is impossible – and wanting to, while understandable, is the wrong attitude to have.

Why You Need to Feel

Generally speaking, emotions are a very important thing – but they’re especially central to early recovery, where they play a big role in helping you make the first leap away from dependence. Dependence on a substance is defined in two ways, one physical and one psychological. In essence, psychological dependence is the reliance on a substance’s numbing or euphoric effects to mask the pain of life, and the stress of living.

Physical dependence is a bit more complex to explain, having its roots in neurology. Basically, the body builds greater tolerance to a substance until it requires much larger amounts to create that intoxicating feeling – and any attempts to stop using lead to painful withdrawal symptoms.

The need to feel and the importance of emotions plays into the first type of dependence, the psychological one. When you quit using, one of your major coping mechanisms for dealing with the stresses of all the consequences of your addiction falls away, and you’re left to deal with everything that entails. For some, quitting addiction becomes like a high itself, and they think most of all the freedom and happiness they’ve unlocked by going into recovery. When that initial feeling of elation falls away and life becomes “mundane”, then the urge to use may creep up once again.

Others get into their first few months of addiction and are confronted by thoughts of guilt, inadequacy, fear of using and fear of not using. They’re paralyzed emotionally and overwhelmed, without having the option to drown it all out with a high.

Running away from these major emotions is never the answer, and neither is seeking a crutch with which to overshadow or drown out what are symptoms to serious underlying emotional problems. Instead, it’s important to let these emotions run their course and to act accordingly – utilizing your feelings to help you diagnose what issues you have with yourself, with those around you, and with your perspective on the world. Just as addiction can physically warp the way the brain works temporarily, it can also warp our way of thinking – unwarping it requires confronting and examining the issue at its core. And in both cases, one thing is exceptionally important: guidance.

Seeking Guidance and Therapy

Addiction has to be treated as more than simply a brain issue, a chronic disease, or even as a personal failure. Addiction is a mental condition, one that sparks a series of thoughts that can range from harmful to suicidal. For those dealing with addiction, particularly with the emotional aftermath of addiction in recovery, the best thing to do is seek help – professional help. Therapy is important because it allows you to openly discuss, dissect, and examine your thoughts and emotions and come to conclusions about your way of thinking that help you make critical choices and changes with far-reaching consequences.

If, for example, addiction has caused you to harbor intense feelings of guilt and self-loathing, then professional therapy may help you find ways to relieve those feelings and change the way you look at yourself by giving you exercises and affirmations to tackle your perspective and develop a much more healthy, conscious relationship to yourself.

It’s easier said than done, but there are no shortcuts in recovery – and no shortcuts in therapy. If addiction has left you feeling irrationally angry at yourself and at constant odds with the positive messages of recovery and post-addiction self-discovery, then the most important thing to address are these emotions, due to how they tie into your addiction. Regardless of whether they were present before or after drugs came into the picture, recovery isn’t possible without one crucial thing: self-love.

The Significance of Self-Love and Acceptance

It’s stated again and again – self-love is important in recovery. This isn’t just because of some new-age wisdom and the pursuit of happiness – it’s because recovery from addiction means getting back into a healthy state of mind, and self-love is healthy. Any symptoms contrary to normal self-esteem might suggest deeper underlying issues – you shouldn’t have a massively overinflated ego, but if you’ve got a problem with yourself, then coming to terms with it and finding a way to live with yourself is paramount to any recovery effort.

People can support you all they like, but unless you yourself have found peace with who you are – even if that means changing who you are – then you’ll always struggle and fear a potential relapse, and a recurrence of past events.