Before we can discuss what it means to effectively deal with a personal crisis in addiction recovery, we need to first identify what that crisis might consist of.
We all handle and deal with stress in different ways, and we all have different triggers for anxiety.
So maybe you experience a number of different events that set you off emotionally: The death of a family member, a close peer in AA relapses, your romantic relationship goes through a tough breakup, or whatever the case may be. There are a lot of different things that could qualify as being a “personal crisis” for a person in addiction treatment.
What we want to really focus on is the fact that these personal crisis situations are defined by what they do to us. Specifically, what that situation does to us emotionally.
In other words, if a situation comes along and it doesn’t really upset you emotionally in any significant way, then that situation is not really a crisis for you. If you are not struggling to deal with it in a healthy way then we should not really label that as a “crisis.”
It bears pointing out that a personal crisis is really dependent on our reaction to the events of the world, not the event itself. In other words, just because you got fired from your job, this does not necessarily constitute an emotional emergency. Maybe you wanted to quit anyway and go seek alternative employment, so this really could be no big deal at all. Therefore, it is your reaction to the events of the world that make it into a crisis, not the thing itself.
We don’t really get to choose our emotions. If a meteor lands on your bicycle and squashes it then you may be upset by this, and you don’t really get to cheat reality and say “I choose to be happy about it instead” (insert fake smile here). This doesn’t work and it is not fooling anyone, especially yourself. When you are angry, you are just angry…there is no getting around it. We don’t choose our emotions.
That said, we can definitely make decisions that limit the impact of those emotions. We can tweak the severity of an emotion. We can dial down the intensity of an emotion if we choose to do so.
This takes practice, and it takes real effort. You can’t just wave a magic wand and have your angry become instantly reduced, simply by wishing it.
But, there are things you can do.
So there are going to be times in every person’s addiction recovery journey in which their emotions are being pulled all over the board, and they are upset for a certain reason, and this emotional disturbance could become a threat to their sobriety.
It is in cases like this that we want to have a plan in place and certain lifestyle that we are living so that we have a better chance of being able to deal with the emotional roller coaster.
If your strategy is to avoid getting upset then I would say that is not realistic. You can try to avoid becoming emotionally upset, but you have to realize that this will fail at times. As much as you try to manage your emotions, there are going to be times when they get out of whack anyway. Life shows up. Chaos happens. You cannot prevent all of the chaos, all of the time. You are going to need a strategy and some practice at dealing with being upset, scared, angry, hurt, and otherwise inconvenienced by negative emotions.
So there are things you can do. What are those things?
First, if you are serious about addiction recovery then it is likely that you have had some exposure to addiction treatment, counseling, therapy, or support group meetings such as AA or NA. You may have had some exposure to all of that or none of it. My recommendation to people is that they start their recovery journey by going to inpatient treatment and then following up with everything that inpatient treatment is going to recommend for you: Therapy, counseling, group support, IOP groups, AA and NA meetings, and so on. You need to dive into all that and dedicate your entire life to all of that stuff.
Why? Because this is how you are going to learn the new skills that you need in order to deal with those emotional triggers in your future.
Addiction treatment is really about finding and using new solutions in your life. Our old answer for everything was to self medicate with our drug of choice. That was our solution for everything, all the time.
In recovery we have removed that option, and we need to find a healthier path in life. That means that we need new information, because all we really knew how to do was to cope with life by using drugs or alcohol. In the end that stopped working for us, and we decided to surrender and seek a better path.
This new path means that we have to learn how to cope with life in a healthy way. We cannot afford to run away from our problems any longer or escape into substance abuse. We have to confront reality and deal with our problems and work through them, and in order to do that we are going to need some help.
That help can come from many different sources, but building a good foundation for all of that help will begin in addiction treatment. Going to inpatient rehab will give you a lot of potential resources that you can tap into for strength and guidance as you attempt to navigate early recovery.
The early recovery process can be–in itself–somewhat traumatizing. We are suddenly having to deal with all of our emotions, confront reality, and we can no longer run away and hide by getting drunk or high. So we need a good support system if we are going to take on early recovery and be able to emerge clean and sober. Going to treatment gives us a huge advantage in creating this foundation.
My life today is such that I have a lot of good supports in place that can allow me to better handle a crisis. Not only have I surrounded myself with people who are supportive of my recovery, but I have also learned many techniques that allow me to overcome negative emotions in a very direct way. For example, I exercise and work out a lot as part of my recovery program, and I have found that an intense workout is a fantastic “dampener” when it comes to unwanted, negative emotions. Sure, the emotions are still there, and I still have to process and deal with them. But if I engage in a very intense workout, it definitely “dials down” some of that intensity from those emotions, and it makes them far more manageable.
I think that everyone needs to find solutions and outlets such as this one for their own life. Maybe for you it will be seated meditation, or perhaps it will be sharing with your sponsor–who always seems to be there for you when you call them. But it is up to you to find and test out a variety of solutions for yourself, so that you can see what actually works for you and what does not. This is how you become responsible for your own recovery–being able to manage your emotional state in a healthy way, without running away from reality. Good luck on your journey!