Even in addiction recovery, conflict is inevitable.
What we are really talking about in the big picture is the idea that each of us, as we go along in our recovery journey, is going to come up against emotional upheaval. We are going to get upset, frustrated, angry, tired, and scared.
And when those negative emotions are happening, we are going to be dealing with other human beings. If you were on a deserted island all by yourself then there would be no need for recovery, no need for a program of any kind, no need to learn more about yourself, learn how to adapt, learn how to build life skills, and so on.
Personal growth happens as we learn how to better deal with our relationships, with our relationship with ourselves, and so on. When we mature in our recovery it is often because we are maturing emotionally. This is part of the spiritual growth that occurs as well.
This journey of learning more about yourself and how you can better deal with other people is a part of the learning process, but it is also vital to your very survival. Get this wrong and you will very likely relapse. People who cannot learn how to handle conflict are just going to keep tripping themselves up emotionally, and this is going to drive them to drink or self medicate with drugs.
In other words, you have to learn how to do this if you want to be successful in recovery. You cannot be emotionally upset to the point that it is constantly triggering you to relapse. That just won’t get you very far in your recovery journey. You have to find a way to build peace and contentment in your life.
Now there are really two separate but perhaps equally important skills that you might learn here: One is in how to avoid and minimize the amount of conflict that you encounter, and the other skill is in learning how to deal with any conflict and negative emotions that do happen to arise.
Those are two separate issues, and you should definitely seek to optimize both strategies in your life. In other words, you should be doing everything that you can in order to reduce the amount of emotional upheaval that you have to deal with in the first place.
Now there is a cautionary note here about the idea that you might be seeking to avoid conflict so aggressively that it is unhealthy in the long run, and simply results in more emotional struggle down the road. In other words, there are going to be times in which you have to face some real conflict in order to heal that part of your life and move on. So you may not necessarily want to avoid any and all conflict, just the stuff that is really negative and unproductive. If you are unsure if you might be running away from something that needs to be face, consult your mentors in recovery about it: Your sponsor, your therapist, and even your peers in a recovery program such as AA or NA. If everyone is telling you that you are running away from an important conflict then that is probably something worth looking into. Or if the conflict is recurring then that is a hint that you might need to deal with it eventually, and that you cannot avoid it forever.
I am fairly good at avoiding and minimizing conflict myself, but at times I go a bit too far and I am a bit too passive in my approach. Other people might be a little overly aggressive in that they seek too eagerly to resolve a conflict in their life. What we want is the healthy middle road, the assertive and healthy communicator, and our mentors can help us to find that path.
Now once you have established that there is conflict to be dealt with then you need to go about dealing with it. My first and perhaps more important suggestion for you is that you give yourself time to cool off emotionally so that you are not arguing with someone else while “hot.” That isn’t going to help anyone if you are all fired up and emotionally charged when you are attempting to deal with conflict. The proper procedure is to give yourself time to cool off first. If you look back at many of the more serious and damaging conflicts that you may have dealt with in your past, most of them could have been avoided or at least minimized greatly by giving yourself “cooling off time” before you dealt with it.
Now my second suggestion is an extension of the first idea, and that would be that you write in a journal about the conflict before you spring into action and attempt to resolve it. By forcing yourself to write about it, you will naturally explore your thoughts a bit more and you will also be able to give yourself a bit more time as well. This is a really smart way to approach problem solving. As you write your brain will come up with more solutions and healthy perspectives for you to entertain. It is a way to explore your thinking.
Now when you actually talk to another human being that you are having conflict with, it is important to not sling your opinions around. This is important because they are only going to really hear the emotion underneath, and they will hear how they made you feel. So if they said something that scared you and then you got angry in defense, then you need to tell them that they scared you. Tell them about your fear. This is very, very difficult to do because tend to want to protect our emotions and pretend like we are not afraid. So to open ourselves up like this is to make ourselves very vulnerable, because we have to admit that we were either afraid or hurt by what the other person said or did to us.
This is the healthiest and most assertive kind of communication that you can engage in. You must strip away the opinions you have and all of the angry rants and just explain to the other person how you felt, what your real emotions were: Were you scared, angry, sad, hurt? What was the real feeling and the real emotion that happened for you? That is what you need to communicate.
Now I realize that there are other kinds of conflict in the world other than being emotionally upset. However, I might argue that these other kinds of conflict don’t really matter too much in terms of relapse potential. We don’t relapse because we had a scheduling conflict. We don’t relapse because we got our communication wires crossed and nobody got emotionally upset. That is not the kind of conflict that drives relapse.
The kind of conflict that creates relapse is when you are angry, afraid, or hurt by someone else. That is the kind of emotion and conflict that can eventually drive us to relapse. In order to deal with that kind of conflict we need to be able to communicate with that person and let them know what we are feeling and why.
Think about it: If we never tell the other person what we were feeling, then the fact that they are oblivious to our pain or fear is just another thing for us to be upset about it. This is how resentment works, and assertive communication is the way to fix it.
And it takes practice. We have to be wiling to try at this, over and over again, until we get it right. Make sure you are using your mentors to help guide you through this process.