Emotions in Motion Wherever You Go
When it comes to maintaining your sobriety, you may find that one pesky thing—or rather, one collection of pesky things—keeps threatening to trip you up. And unfortunately, these are not the kind of pesky things you can just throw away, ignore, or pass along to some unsuspecting friend. Instead, they go with you wherever you go, ready at a moment’s notice to make things a little (or a lot) more challenging.
We are, of course, talking about your emotions.
There are a number of emotions—loneliness, fear, anger, grief, boredom, shame, and sadness among them—that can challenge your determination to stay sober. That’s because these sorts of emotions, which we sometimes think of as negative emotions, are frequently the sorts of feelings from which we would like to escape. And for a person in recovery, a tempting way to escape from these emotions might be to turn back to drugs or alcohol.
Let’s take a look at some of these emotions and consider ways to ensure they do not undermine your sobriety. But first a disclaimer.
A Note About ‘Negative’ Emotions
Most of us live with the belief that some emotions are good and others are bad, says Andy Puddicombe, the cofounder of Headspace and a Nike Performance Council member who specializes in meditation and mindfulness. “We don’t like how the ‘bad’ emotions feel, so we resist them. But that resistance actually makes them stronger,” says Puddicombe, who recommends meditating to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. “In meditation, you’re not trying to get rid of these emotions. You’re trying to befriend them, to be at ease with them.” (You can start, he says, by simply sitting quietly for a few minutes each day and observing those emotions as they come and go.)
The important things to note here are: no emotion is, in and of itself, negative; trying to suppress emotions we tend not to enjoy just strengthens those feelings; and it can be helpful to just sit with the experience of so-called bad emotions as a reminder that all emotions arrive and dissipate over time.
With those ideas noted, we’re ready to consider these emotions and their potential impact on your sobriety.
Let’s Start With Loneliness
When we are lonely (which, we should note, is different from simply being alone), it can be easy to start ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or find ourselves wallowing in the idea that no one really cares about us. Those are the sorts of feelings and thoughts that can tempt us to drink or use drugs.
Instead, we suggest taking stock of why you might be feeling lonely and what steps you might take to establish healthy connections with others. Are there relationships that need to be mended in your life? Could you build new friendships by volunteering in the community? Are there connections to be made via your 12-Step (or other recovery program) meetings? Could caring for a pet—or even a plant!—offset some of the feelings of loneliness so that they don’t threaten your sobriety?
Use Your Anger for Good
All of us feel angry sometimes. But when we let feelings of frustration and irritation build up and fester, we are putting our sobriety at risk. So it is important to find appropriate, positive outlets for anger when we feel it bubbling up.
That might involve stepping away from the immediate situation and taking some time to really think about what has made you angry and why. You may find that you need to offer forgiveness—to others and to yourself—in order to put an angry incident behind you. And if you are angry over an injustice of some kind, you can channel your anger into proactive and positive steps for inspiring change in others, in yourself, and in your wider community.
Substitute Sharing for Shame
Many people who have struggled with drugs or alcohol find that they experience intense feelings of shame once they have regained their sobriety. They are embarrassed by their past behavior, upset about the people they let down, and confident no one will ever fully trust them again. But letting shame over a substance use disorder overwhelm you is, ironically enough, a surefire way to point yourself toward a relapse. Your shame over using drugs or drinking leads you to use drugs or drink. That’s hardly a useful cycle.
So how do you break it? One strategy that can be effective is to start doing things for others. As you serve people in need or stand up for a good cause or make acts of everyday kindness part of your routine, you can start to replace feelings of guilt and shame with the warm feelings that come from doing good.
Helping You Makes Us Happy
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we are always pleased to help someone reclaim their life by reclaiming their sobriety. With expertise, experience, and compassion, we can help you start your recovery journey with confidence. And that’s likely to spark a wonderful emotion: happiness.