Many people who are attempting to recover from drug addiction and alcoholism have a great deal of anxiety to deal with. They often will get clean and sober, maybe in a detox center, only to realize that they are nearly overwhelmed with anxiety without their drug of choice. We often do not realize just how much we are self medicating when we are stuck in our addiction.
When we get stuck in drug or alcohol addiction and we self medicate every day, we slowly forget how to deal with reality on real terms. What exactly does this mean? It means that we have forgotten how to manage our own emotional state without resorting to drugs and alcohol.
So if we get upset or angry, we want to use.
If we get scared or lonely, we want to use.
If we are happy and want to celebrate, we want to use.
Every emotion becomes like a cue for us to reach for our drug of choice. Everything becomes an excuse to drink or get high. But here is the real truth: Every emotion becomes an excuse for us to drink or get high.
Just ask people who often they drink after the funeral in families. Or how often booze is served at a wedding, which of course is a happy celebration. So just based on our society, we tend to self medicate both the bad times (funerals) and the good times (weddings).
And then there are holidays. And traditions. And all sorts of other rites of passage (turning 21 for example). There are lots and lots of excuses to self medicate in our society. The alcoholic or the drug addict will eventually get to the point where they tend to medicate every single emotion that they get. They will even medicate boredom itself, which is arguably a total lack of emotion.
Now this is not too big of a deal in the short run, but addiction is not about the short run, is it? No, addiction is about the long run, and if we self medicate over and over again for years on end, it begins to change us. And this is where the anxiety begins to creep in–because we no longer know how to deal with our emotions unless we medicate them.
As long time addicts or alcoholics, we forget how to handle being sad at a funeral. We forget how to be happy and celebrate without getting wasted. We forget how to deal with real emotions in a healthy way. Everything requires our drug of choice. Every situation calls for it.
So when we finally surrender and go to rehab to get clean and sober, suddenly every emotion is an assault to our serenity. Suddenly it seems that we cannot handle anything. And we really can’t, because we have trained ourselves during our addiction to avoid dealing with any real emotions. We simply masked everything that was real with drug and alcohol use. Now that we are clean and sober and trying to deal with reality in a healthy way, we have no idea how to go about doing it successfully. We get overwhelmed.
So how do we get past this problem? How does the struggling addict or alcoholic learn to deal with their emotions again in recovery? What are the tips and tricks to overcoming anxiety and handling our emotions?
Well, it all starts, hopefully, in a controlled and supportive environment like inpatient rehab.
Second, you can continue by taking suggestions from your therapist, from your peers, from a counselor, from your sponsor in AA, and from anyone positive in your life who wants to see you recover.
Third, you can start to do the work in recovery, the kind that requires real soul searching, so that you can begin to face your emotions and overcome the anxiety that lurks there.
Fourth, you can take proactive suggestions from people in recovery to help you manage your anxiety, such as writing in a journal every day to get your thoughts down on paper, or engaging in vigorous exercise every day as an emotional release. There are plenty of healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety that do not involve medicating with chemicals, but you have to be willing to embrace some suggestions and try some new ideas out.
And finally, you can get to the point in your recovery where you are giving back and helping others to get through early recovery, which gives a profound benefit that is difficult to fully quantify. In other words, as you help others to recover, you also help yourself. As you help the newcomer to navigate their anxiety and fears in early recovery, you are also helping yourself to do the same. This is a fundamental concept in the addiction recovery world that should not be overlooked, as it is quite helpful and very powerful.
There are a number of people who suffer from dual diagnosis, meaning that they have both substance abuse as well as mental illness issues. If this is the case then it may be necessary to treat both problems concurrently, and with an extra degree of focus. In other words, if you know that you have both problems to deal with, then you need to take both of them very seriously, because each one has the potential to lead you back to problems with the other. Anyone who relapses on their drug of choice is not in a good position to take care of their mental illness, until they can get clean and sober again so that they get back on the right path.
Of course your honesty is an important part of this process–both self honesty as well as being honest with doctors, psychiatrists, and so on. If you want to allow people to help you recover then you have give them good information, and that means being honest and upfront about yourself and where you are at. It doesn’t help your case to hold information back in the hopes of making yourself look good, or in the attempt to minimize your problems. Be honest with the professionals that are trying to help you and you will get a lot more out of your recovery efforts.
I have found that one of the most important things for my own recovery is daily exercise. If I am getting a vigorous workout in every day then it does a great deal in helping me to regulate my emotions. Think about going for a jog that lasts over an hour, and you get done with that run and you are huffing and puffing and sweating really vigorously. Any emotions that you may be dealing with become a mere side issue at that moment, because the workout is so intense that it sort of overpowers the rest of your sensations, the rest of your life, it takes over everything. But that is just one technique for dealing with anxiety, and there are many others. You just have to find what works best for you.