When people arrive at the doorstep of surrender and they are contemplating the leap into addiction recovery, they are very often quite battered emotionally.
This is because they have been medicating their negative emotions with drugs or alcohol for quite some time.
Also, as they have gone deeper and deeper into their addiction, they have had to make a greater and greater effort at justification and rationalization. So they are telling themselves a story in their mind so that they can feel okay about their excessive drug or alcohol intake.
This narrative that they are telling themselves in order to justify their addiction takes a huge toll on them emotionally. Why?
Because it directly lowers the self esteem. The addict or alcoholic knows, deep down, that this is not who they really are, and this is not how they were meant to be in life.
They know that there is a better, healthier, and happier version of themselves inside somewhere. They know that they are not supposed to be allowing their addiction to run rampant and destroy their life. They know that there must be a better way, and that they should ask for help.
Every addict feels this kind of emotional pain inside on some level. Every alcoholic has some amount of emotional disturbance based on their excessive drinking and the consequences that it creates. We feel guilty because of the selfish nature of our addiction, yet we feel powerless to stop it. We don’t want to be selfish, but we also do not want to go without our drug of choice. Hence we feel trapped, and our emotions are at war with each other, shifting between “I hate myself and the fact that I drink or use so selfishly” to “if other people had my life they would drink or use too, and it is my right to do what I want, so why do I feel so guilty?”
This battle of emotions can rage on for years or even decades until the alcoholic or drug addict finally surrenders and lands in treatment.
Once in treatment, the addict must slowly start to rebuild their life and try to restore their emotions to a stable condition.
This is best done in a 28 day inpatient treatment program. Sure, there are certainly alternatives to this path, but I would argue that going to inpatient treatment gives you the most advantages in terms of remaining clean and sober and actually healing your emotional wounds.
Part of the process is to simply buckle down, stop drinking and taking drugs, and establish a foundation of abstinence in your life. That is what going to rehab helps with more than anything. But also, part of the process is to start unpacking some of that emotional baggage and figuring out how to forgive yourself and how to forgive other people that have wronged you.
You will find that you really cannot forgive other people until you learn how to forgive yourself first. And if you fail to do these two things then you are either going to carry resentments or you are going to resent yourself and suffer from low self esteem. Both of these conditions will eventually lead to relapse, so it is important that–after getting clean and sober in early recovery–that you actually do the work and start to talk about your issues and problems.
At some point, you have to grow up and try to fix the relationships in your life. This is what early recovery is all about–taking personal responsibility and doing what is right, no matter how uncomfortable it may be making you feel.
Much of our emotional discomfort comes from the fact that we are hiding and avoiding rather than facing our fear and our discomfort.
When you choose to live with personal responsibility in recovery, you are making the choice to face your fears and to do the right thing even though it will cause you some short term discomfort.
As addicts and alcoholics, we are wired differently. We sought out short term pleasure in our drug of choice even though it led to unhappiness in the long run. In spite of the unhappiness we doubled down and tried to seek more and more pleasure to make up for this deficit. It did not work and we became ever more miserable in our addiction.
In recovery, we need to learn from this mistake and apply it to other life lessons as well. We can run away from our anxiety or fear, we can run away from confrontation or anger, but then the emotions just simmer inside of us and threaten to cause relapse in the end.
The solution is to face everything, to face the anxiety, to face the confrontation, to face our problems and our issues.
That may sound overwhelming and you may be arguing that facing all of your problems and issues head on could cause you to relapse. That is a valid concern, and I hear you loud and clear.
However, recovery is a “we” program for a reason–you can enlist the help of treatment centers, AA and NA, a sponsor in those programs, a therapist that you see every week, and so on. You have an army of people in addiction recovery who are willing to help you, as long as you reach out and ask for that help.
Recovering addicts and alcoholics will do whatever they can do in order to help you in a way that is healthy and proactive (no enabling). But you have to reach out and ask. You have to call the rehab center before you can get started on this new journey. You have to walk into the AA meeting and pull up a chair before you can start making new friends in that fellowship.
You are going to have to put yourself out there a bit and maybe even become a bit vulnerable in order to reap the rewards of recovery.
In our addiction we shut down, we closed ourselves off, we dug in our heels against any sort of changes. We had our drug of choice and that was all we needed, thank you very much. That is how close mindedness and denial works.
In recovery we must do the opposite. We must open ourselves up to the possibility that there is a better way, that we can learn from advice and suggestions, that we can build positive habits that will lead us to a better life. We seek feedback and advice from our peers in AA, from our sponsor, and from our therapist in order to learn and start practicing the habits that will lead us to a better life in recovery.
Our emotional life will slowly get better as we keep taking advice and practicing the principles of a recovery program.
Take it slow, give yourself a break, and recognize that this will take time. You did not get sick overnight, and you won’t get entirely well overnight. Baby steps will get you to this new life in recovery as long as you are consistent with it. Good luck!