Navigating Emotions Without Relapse
We use because we lack other means of coping: that’s one of the first things you learn in counseling or rehab, right? Substance abuse is not a character flaw or an indicator of morals. It is a symptom of deeper, unaddressed pain and traumas. Through self-exploration, mindfulness, and behavioral cognition we can work through these underlying causes of addiction and begin the path of long-term recovery.
That being said, removing one’s coping mechanism without providing new, positive techniques is a recipe for disaster. Being left vulnerable to triggers and urges and having no means of defending against them invites relapse and damages one’s self-image, which will only further complicate the healing process.
Learning to process and express one’s emotions when newly on the path of sobriety is an important part of that healing process. Suppressing and ignoring our feelings or allowing them to guide our life decisions leads to a life of chaos, drama, and undue suffering. It’s vital to understand where your emotions are truly stemming from and rectify or come to terms with that cause to lead a healthier, happier life.
Here’s how to navigate your emotions without relapsing.
Where it stems from: Anger can arise from feelings of being misunderstood, unheard, insulted, or wronged. It boils up from within, creating mounting pressure, triggering spikes of adrenaline and clouding our judgement. We may lash out in anger, wounding those around us emotionally- and sometimes physically- in a misguided attempt to defend ourselves. Sometimes we rationalize extreme reactions by deflecting blame to others for bringing it forth; but there are better ways to deal with anger.
How to address it: Though it may be difficult in the heat of the moment, recognizing when anger is getting the best of you will help temper the situation and provide a much better outcome than screaming, pointing fingers, and breaking things. Take a second to breathe, keep you voice as even and tempered as possible, and focus on getting your point across, not being right. If the person you are engaged with cannot respect your attempt to keep anger out of the midst, it’s okay to disengage. Walk away; tell them you need time to cool down. You are in no way obligated to raise to anyone’s bait.
Where it stems from: Guilt is often associated with wrongdoing, but that’s not always the case. Guilt can be triggered by feelings of responsibility for a situation that may be out of your control, or inadequacy. We carry guilt with us for the pain we cause others due to our decisions and actions- especially when those things were caused by a substance abuse disorder. Guilt can help us learn life lessons where our treatment of others is concerned, but it becomes a problem when it negatively impacts our views of self. The first step of moving forward is leaving guilt behind.
How to address it: Understand that life moves on. Living in moments of regret because of mistakes or misjudgments will only serve to keep you stagnant and unhappy; you don’t have to live your life this way. Focus on finding the lesson and carry that with you- it’s a much lighter load and is far more beneficial to your new life than the heavy stones of yesterday. Acknowledge that making mistakes doesn’t make you an inherently bad person; it makes you human, and that’s all anyone can ever ask you to be.
Where it stems from: Sadness has a wide array of causes which vary from person to person. There’s sadness caused by a perceived loss, shortcoming, or imperfection. There’s sadness caused by rejection, misunderstanding, or stress; sadness can even be triggered by moments of happiness. Rather just a moment of sullenness or the beginning of a depressive state, feelings of sadness can derail one’s recovery if one is not careful.
How to address it: Recognize that sadness is a part of life, and allow yourself to feel it- just don’t dwell for too long. Take some time to yourself to find the cause of your sadness and understand that this is not a permanent state. It’s okay to distract yourself with positive things like your favorite movies, a crossword puzzle, or some time with friends. It’s also okay to cry for a while and get it out of your system. Do not stay there.
Where it comes from: Losing someone or something to which one has become attached can be devastating emotionally. Experiencing grief is a sign that one has cared, and you should never regret that. But just as with sadness, you cannot live your life sitting in moments of grief- they can easily lead to relapse.
How to address it: Coming to terms with grief is a process, and you must allow it to be so. Know you are allowed to feel grief, no matter the circumstances- we are all allowed to our emotions. Take your time to mourn and grieve, but don’t stay in that place. Be open about your thoughts and emotions with those around you: your support team, your counselors, your sponsor. You have to allow the grieving process- but you don’t have to do it alone.
Where it comes from: Yes, even happiness can be difficult to transverse in your new sober life. Strong feelings of joy, satisfaction, and goodness can inspire celebration; however, it can also inspire an anxiety for when that time ends. Temptations to extend that feeling through the use of illicit substances leads to unexpected and powerful relapse urges.
How to address it: Break the association between celebration, drinking, and drug use. Keep yourself out of situations which would tempt relapse in the name of ‘fun.’ Know that your sobriety is always priority- in the joyful times and the dark moments. Enjoy your life, but do not lose sight of your sober path.
What other advice can you provide for navigating your emotions without relapsing? Comment below with your thoughts!
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About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.