Mental and Emotional Fitness in Addiction Recovery

Mental and Emotional Fitness in Addiction Recovery


In order to be at the top of your “addiction recovery game” you need to be healthy along a number of different dimensions.

Those would include things such as physical health, mental health, emotional health, spirituality, relationships, and so on.

If one of these areas becomes too neglected in your life then it becomes a potential source of relapse.

Therefore, one of the things that you need to keep in mind is that your addiction recovery is really a holistic effort. Your disease of addiction affected your entire self and your entire life, and it compromised your health in a number of different areas. Therefore you are going to need to make a special effort in several of these areas in order to “clean up your life” in recovery.

Sure, you can surrender to the disease and then prioritize not drinking or using drugs. Abstinence from the substance itself is important. However, as you build a new life in recovery, simply avoiding your drug of choice is not the only solution. You need to improve your life in all of these different areas if you want to thrive and succeed in long term recovery.

One of the major issues that I notice for people in addiction treatment is that many of them are also struggling with some level of mental illness. This could be depression, anxiety, or something else entirely, and it nearly always complicates their addiction. What this means is that because they are also struggling with dual diagnosis, their mental illness could be the trigger that pulls them back into a relapse. Because of this, such a person in recovery needs to prioritize treating both their mental health along with their addiction. It is not enough to just dry out, sober up, and hit a few meetings. In such a case the person would need to seek professional help for both substance abuse as well as mental health, then form a plan and take specific steps in order to improve their mental health condition.

The same could be true for emotional health and wellness as well. A relapse with drug or alcohol addiction follows a fairly typical pattern: The person is not necessarily “plugged in” spiritually, and therefore when something upsets them emotionally, they do not have the tools at hand to deal with those negative emotions in a healthy way. So if their program was stronger in terms of support, or if it were stronger spiritually, then they might be able to reach out for the tools that they need in order to deal with an emotional trigger situation. But in some cases they will not have those tools in place, or they have not practiced those tools, and therefore the emotional trigger overwhelms them and they relapse.

Think about it: At the moment when an addict snaps and decides to use again, they are making that decision while being very emotionally upset. They are so upset, in fact, that they are essentially saying “screw it” in their mind. They have stopped caring to the point that they are willing to throw away future happiness in order to medicate in the moment and avoid the emotional pain that they are struggling with right now.

So there are really two different ways that you can deal with this kind of emotional turmoil in your life, and in your recovery. One is to realize that you can take steps to minimize and reduce the amount of negativity that you are going to have to deal with in your life. For example, maybe you are in a toxic relationship with someone, and you realize that you are just going to keep arguing and fighting with this person, and that in order to move on and be healthy you are going to need to put some distance there. Or maybe you realize that every time you go to a certain place or a certain event you get emotionally upset. So you can then take steps in order to reorganize your life in such a way that you can minimize much of this emotional negativity. The less you need to deal with, the better.

However, the second step here is to realize that you are never going to be able to eliminate and minimize all of this emotional negativity, and therefore you are still going to need some coping skills. And the skills that actually work for you are the skills that you practice on a regular basis. This is why they tell the newcomer in AA to use the phone numbers they are given and to call people in AA every day, even when they are not tempted, so that it is easier to call when they are actually triggered. You have to practice it and establish it as habit in order to make use of it when it really counts.

And so it is with emotional wellness. When you are emotionally upset it is like you have blinders on and you cannot think straight, so your solution to this situation needs to be automatic. How can we make a solution become automatic for dealing with trigger situations?

By making the solution into a daily habit. So let’s say that a hypothetical person in recovery establishes the following habits, and they engage in these things every single day, whether they need to or not: They go to an AA meeting and they share about where they are at, they write in a journal, they call their sponsor or a peer in AA, they exercise physically, they read a daily meditation book in the morning, they do seated meditation, and they force themselves to write down 3 things that they are grateful for.

This hypothetical person does these things every single day, and in doing so, they form positive habits that can then sustain their mental and emotional mood in such a way that it helps to protect them from relapse.

So the power is not in the event itself, such as “doing yoga,” but the power is in establishing a habit of doing yoga consistently, so that it becomes automatic for you. If you fill your life up with healthy solutions like this and then you make them into routines, it will be very difficult for relapse to sneak in and take over your life when you are emotionally vulnerable. And the point is that every person is eventually going to go through a period of being emotionally upset, vulnerable, and so on. We all go through ups and downs, we all experience chaos and turmoil eventually.

So talk to your therapist, your sponsor, your mentors in recovery–talk to them about what their habits and routines are that help to keep them centered and healthy. Talk to a variety of people in recovery and see what their positive habits are, then start testing those habits out for yourself. If you can establish a solid routine then it will protect you from the threat of relapse, while also improving your health and your life. Good luck to you in your journey!