When people get caught up in strong emotions they can struggle to think rationally. Even if the emotion that the person is feeling is positive in tone it can still lead to problems. This danger from emotions can be a particularly risk to those individuals who are recovering from an addiction to alcohol or drugs. These people will often have turned to such abuse in the first place because of their inability to handle strong emotions. Unless they can find new and more effective ways to deal with their feelings they will be tempted to resume maladaptive strategies.
The word emotion is commonly used in everyday speech, but it can actually be quite difficult to pin down the exact meaning of this word – in fact psychologists have at least ninety different definitions for what it might refer to. One way of describing the meaning of the word emotion might be to say that it refers to:
> …a complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behavior.
The words emotion and feeling tend to be used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. A feeling can be referred to as an emotional state but a single emotion can contain more than one type of feeling. A good example of this would be the emotion love which is made up of the feelings of joy and trust. In this way feelings can be seen as an ingredient of emotion.
Part of being human is to experience emotions – it is these that make life worth living but they also have their downside. Negative emotions such as sadness or despair can cause great suffering, and it is often these that drive people into addiction. The individual is able to use alcohol or drugs as a means to temporarily escape their emotional discomfort. The problem with this strategy is that the discomfort has not been eliminated – the emotions have just been hidden. When this person enters recovery from addiction these hidden emotions can return with a vengeance. If the individual is unable to deal with these feelings they can become overwhelmed.
The first few months of addiction recovery is sometimes referred to as an emotional rollercoaster. The individual may feel on top of the world in the morning but hit the depths of the despair by the afternoon. There are a number of causes for this emotional rollercoaster including:
* The individual will have spent years avoiding their emotions. They will be out of practice for how to deal with them.
* The withdrawal symptoms that the individual initially experiences in recovery can lead to negative emotions. Some people can develop post acute withdrawal syndrome that can last over a year.
* The person will no longer be able to turn to alcohol or drugs as a means to escape. This can mean that their emotions feel more threatening.
* The individual will have escaped years of suffering in addiction. This is can often lead to intense feelings of joy and relief.
* Alcohol or drugs numb emotions but when the individual becomes sober there can be a subjective rebound effect. It feels like their emotions have increased in intensity.
* Many of those individuals who have been caught up in substance abuse can be suffering from nutritional deficiencies. This can lead to mental health problems that may impact emotions.
* Getting sober means having to face the mess that has been created by years of substance abuse. Facing the destruction tends to cause all sorts of emotions to rise to the surface.
* In order to make a success of life in recovery the individual is going to need to make many changes. When people need to make changes it usually involves dealing with emotions – one of the most common ones being fear.
* Insomnia is a common problem for people in early recovery and this too impacts their emotional state.
The types of strong emotions that people will tend to experience in recovery will include:
* Fear about the changes they need to make.
* Anger and resentment when things are not going their way.
* Great joy and relief to have escaped their addiction.
* Excitement about the future.
* Feelings of guilt about the past.
* Worry about the possibility of relapse and the challenges of recovery.
* Boredom if they do not have things to do.
* Loneliness because they have needed to break away from their drinking and drug using friends.
* Disappointment if the individual has unrealistic expectations for early recovery.
Strong emotions can be a great danger to people in recovery because:
* When people are under the sway of strong emotions it usually means that they are not thinking rationally. This means that the individual will be at higher risk of relapse.
* When people are highly emotional they tend to make poor decisions.
* People can use emotions such as boredom or resentment as a justification for a return to alcohol or drug abuse.
* If the individual feels overly joyful they can begin to think that their problems are over – they can become too confident and take things for granted. This may mean that they stop doing the things that have been helping to keep them sober.
* When people are subject to strong emotions they tend to feel out of control. In order to develop sobriety the individual needs to be able to avoid the extremes.
There are things that people can do in order to deal with strong emotions in recovery including:
* Leaning coping strategies that they can use when strong emotions arise. It is better to plan these in advance because when people are trapped in emotion it can be difficult for them to think straight.
* Journaling is a good way to track emotions and it can also act as an outlet for strong emotions. Getting things down on paper had a tendency of reducing the intensity of thoughts and feelings.
* Mindfulness meditation is effective at helping people get a handle on their emotions. The individual develops the understanding that they are not their feelings and that these are just temporary states.
* Those individuals who belong to a recovery fellowship may find that this gives them an outlet for their strong emotions. Groups like AA also offer a program that may be effective when it comes to handling undesirable mental states.
* If the individual develops emotional sobriety it will mean that they will be far less likely to suffer from the negative effects of strong emotions.
* If people find that their emotions are holding them back in recovery it may be advisable for them to see a therapist. This individual will guide the individual to the root of the problem and assist them in the development of coping strategies.
The best way to overcome strong emotions is to develop emotional sobriety. This is sometimes defined as the ability of people to feel their feelings, and the individual who is emotionally sober will:
* Rarely have to deal with strong emotions.
* Find it easy to live in the present moment – they do not waste time worrying about the future or feeling guilty about the past.
* The individual finds it easy to regulate their own behavior. They are unlikely to fall into any behaviors that would be considered maladaptive.
* The individual will hold an optimistic view on life.
* They will have far less stress to deal with in their life.
* Less stress means that the individual will be less likely to suffer from stress related illness.
* The person who is emotionally sober finds it easy to develop deep and meaningful relationships with other people.
* The emotionally sober feel able to cope no matter what is happening in their life.