Early sobriety is often described as being an emotional rollercoaster ride. This refers to the way that people can experience such highs and lows from one day to the next – sometimes even one hour to the next. These emotional swings begin to settle down after people have been sober for a few months, but may continue to be a challenge for many years.
Dealing with emotions can be a test for people in recovery. If they are not effective at doing this it can mean that their sobriety is in jeopardy. The emotions that are most likely to cause problems for people include:
* Excessive joy – pink cloud syndrome
It is common to use the words “emotions” and “feeling” interchangeably. Strictly speaking there is a difference between these two words. Emotions refer to a state of feeling that arises in relation to something happening. An emotion may involve a number of different feelings. A good example of this would be the emotion of love which is made up of the feelings joy and trust.
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. An individual may be standing in the middle of a crowd yet still feel lonely. Loneliness is a subjective experience that involves strong feelings of solitude and emptiness. Humans are social animals so dealing with loneliness can be a particularly difficult emotion to handle.
Giving up an addiction often means walking away from a social group. This is because it is not recommended that people in recovery spend much of their time with former drinking buddies or fellow drug users. Those in early recovery may experience plenty of loneliness. Such a negative emotion may lead to thoughts of relapse. The most effective way of combating this is to build a new social network. This can begin by joining a recovery fellowship such as AA or just making some sober friends.
Anger is probably the most dangerous of all emotions in recovery. This is because when people are angry they are unable to think straight. They can easily fall into doing things that they later regret. It is natural for people to get annoyed from time to time, but it is vital that those in recovery are cautious around this emotion. It is a luxury they just cannot afford.
One of the emotions that fuels anger is resentment. People experience this when they feel they have been wronged in some way. Such wrongs can be real or imagined. People in recovery can become resentful if they feel that their efforts are not being appreciated, or if other people are getting in their way. This can lead to self-destructive thoughts that easily smooth the path for relapse. Resentment is like rocket fuel for anger, and if people hope to be successful in sobriety they will need to be able to manage this emotion.
Fear of the future not only keeps people trapped in addiction; it can also prevent them from making progress in recovery. The most common fears that people experience will include:
* Financial insecurity
* Worry about how they will cope with alcohol or drugs indefinitely
* Fear of death
* Fear of ill health
* Relationship worries
* The fear that they will never find happiness in recovery
The thing about most fear is that it involves worrying about things that have not happened yet, or may not ever happen. It is therefore necessary for people in sobriety to develop the capacity for letting go of the future. This involves taking a leap of faith. It means believing that because they are doing the best they can now it will mean good results in the future. Fear can be a devastating emotion in recovery from addiction. It can paralyze people so that they will not take the actions that are needed for success.
It is understandable that people expect their life to improve after they quit their addiction. This is a justifiable expectation, but the problem occurs when people expect everything to be magically perfect from the start. They fail to realize that recovery is a process and not an event. What this means is that it can take many years for people to rebuild their lives to a stage where they feel content most of the time. There will always be room for improvement.
Getting sober should always mean that the life of the individual is improved significantly. If they have unrealistic expectations though, it can easily mean disappointment. The newly sober person may begin to question their decision to quit alcohol or drugs. They can feel cheated because life is not as wonderful as they had been expecting. This may mean that they are not willing to put in the work that will be needed if they are to build the life they dream about.
There are few emotions that are as self-destructive as guilt. People should feel remorse for any wrongdoing they have committed, but guilt is of no use to anyone. The only function it really has is to give people an excuse to return to their addiction. It is not possible to undo the past so the best that people can do is focus on the future. It will be more beneficial to make amends to people who have been harmed in the past; guilt is of no value to them. Those who belong to 12 Step group will be encouraged to take a personal inventory and make amends where appropriate. This type of action can be good for combating guilt. Another effective approach is to share these emotions with a therapist.
One of the reasons why many people turn to substance abuse in the beginning is that they feel bored. This is an emotion where people do not experience anything of interest in their surroundings. It is an uncomfortable mind frame that most people will experience from time to time. Those who experience too much boredom may complain that their life is unsatisfying. It opens the door for all sorts of negative thinking. The individual may begin to remember their years of substance abuse as a time of great excitement.
Those who give up an addiction will suddenly have plenty of time on their hands. This is because so much of the life of an addict is focused around obtaining and using their drug of choice. When these people become sober they will have huge gaps in their day with nothing to do. It is therefore vital that they find new things to do or else they risk experiencing boredom. The good news is that those who have been sober for a reasonable amount of time will often complain that they just do not have enough hours in the day to do all the activities they want to do.
It may sound strange to suggest that too much joy in recovery can be a bad thing. The problem with pink cloud syndrome is that it can mean that people lose track of reality. Their life suddenly becomes easy and they may become complacent about their recovery. Eventually the pink cloud period ends and the individual may hit the ground hard. They can feel disappointment and this may prevent them from getting back on track.
There are a number of things that people can do that will make it easier for them to deal with dangerous emotions:
* Learn coping strategies for handling anger and other negative emotions
* Practice mindfulness meditation. This technique teaches people to observe their emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.
* Journaling in recovery can be effective for tracking and managing emotions. Once people look back on their journal entries and see how these emotions come and go it can be reassuring. It is easier to deal with an emotion when people know it is not going to last.
* Therapy sessions can be an effective way to get to the bottom of uncomfortable emotions and learn how to better manage them.
* Some people find that membership of a fellowship can be highly beneficial. It provides them with support and a program for dealing with these emotions.