If there is one thing that a struggling addict or alcoholic needs in early addiction treatment, it is emotional support.
This is different from just “regular support” in that the person needs to be able to turn to other people in the event of an emotional crisis situation.
One of things that usually catches people off guard is an emotional crisis. Why? Because we all secretly believe that we are stronger than that. We believe that if we get emotionally upset that we can handle it ourselves and not reach any kind of breaking point. Maybe other people need that level of support and help, but surely not us, right? We are stronger than that!
But every recovering addict and alcoholic eventually finds out just how damaging negative emotions can be. Unwanted negative emotions are not something that are optional–they are unwanted because they are overwhelming us and we have no way to escape from them in the moment. The only thing that would magically make them all go away instantly is if we were to relapse and use our drug of choice. This is why getting emotionally overwhelmed in early recovery is so incredibly dangerous.
The bottom line is that we all need emotional support in early recovery. Period. If you are going to succeed in turning your life around then you are going to need some other people in your corner, people who are rooting for you, people who you can turn to when everything feels like it is falling apart.
Everyone comes to addiction recovery with a different set of resources. Some of us may have a very toxic family that is not supportive at all. Some of us may be surrounded by people who are already very supportive and helpful.
My first suggestion for anyone who is entering their recovery journey is that they start by going to an inpatient treatment center. You get a boost in emotional support on several different levels when you do this.
For starters you get to meet a group of peers who are all going through the same early recovery process that you are going through. This is huge and cannot be ignored. If you had to go through treatment entirely alone then you would not be nearly as strong as you are when you have a group of peers who are by your side. You gain strength from each other, you lean on each other, and identify with each other so that you know that you are not crazy. Having peers in early recovery is critical, and you can gain instant access to a group of peers simply by going to treatment.
Second of all when you go to inpatient treatment you are typically assigned a therapist. This person can help you to work through any emotional issues that you uncover during the early treatment process. Here’s a hint: Early recovery is an emotional roller coaster anyway, so you can expect to have some ups and downs.
Third, when you go to inpatient rehab, they assign you to aftercare programs such as IOP groups and follow up counseling. This is important for ongoing support, and it sets you up with resources for emotional support after you leave treatment. If you just walked out of rehab and then went back to “life as normal” without having any additional help then you are probably looking at a relapse for sure. In order to break free from addiction you need ongoing help and support, and that is where your aftercare comes into play.
So one of the key themes that you should be noticing is that you need people in order to get the support that you need. I would recommend that you follow through with a program such as AA or NA after treatment–go to the meetings, seek out a sponsor, and find some trusted peers in recovery who can help you along in your journey. The more support and the more phone numbers you have the better off you will be.
I would further recommend that you develop the habit of checking in with your recovery peers every single day. Not just one or two of your peers, but half a dozen at the minimum.
Why? A few reasons.
One, if you are not already in the habit of reaching out for support on a consistent basis, then when the moment of crisis finally arrives (and it definitely will at some point) then you will not feel confident enough to pick up that phone and reach out for help. If, on the other hand, you are in the habit of texting your “recovery group” every morning and checking in with them, then it is easy and natural for you to reach out for a little emotional support in your hour of need. Establish the habit early, and do it consistently, so that you are able to reach out when it really counts.
Two, you want to have a group of people in your support system, not just one or two folks. This is important because the fact is that some people do relapse. Or they leave town. Or they go camping and are unavailable by cell phone. And so on. So if you are relying on only a handful of people for emotional support then you leave yourself vulnerable if the situation suddenly changes.
Some people go to 90 AA meetings in the first 90 days of recovery, and that is a really good practice in terms of building social support. But I think that you want to do more than just attend meetings–you want to actually build some relationships that more than just “surface level” so that you have someone to lean on emotionally. For some people that might mean getting a sponsor, a therapist, or close friends who are also in recovery. I would recommend that you do all 3 so that you have plenty of options to choose from when things get tough for you.
Now there is also the idea that you could find some solutions that do not rely on interacting with other human beings when it comes to an emotional crisis. One of those ideas is in meditation. If you practice seated meditation on a regular basis then you essentially have a place of refuge from unwanted emotions, and you can get a bit more objective perspective on your own emotional state through the process of meditating. Now this is not going to work for everyone but if you practice it and get comfortable with seated meditation then it can certainly help you in this regard.
I found a similar effect from regular exercise. When I have been challenged with being emotionally upset in my recovery journey, I was able to engage in a vigorous workout that gave me a ton of emotional relief, and I think it directly prevented relapse as well. If you can imagine what you feel like after the most intense physical exercise of your life, and then realize that your emotions are taking a back seat during those moments. This is what intense physical workouts can do for you–they turn down the “volume” on your emotions, which can make them easier to manage.
Good luck to you in your recovery, hopefully these tips can help you to navigate your emotional state.