Welcome to the 7th segment of a nine-part series on the big areas of life that addiction/alcoholism and recovery can and need to have (for the recovery part) on our life in general. Please go into whatever archives exist on the site you are reading this to find the article from May of 2014 so you can get caught up on the main four areas. For the sake of bringing some people up to speed and for a quick reminder for those who are following from October(we took a few months breaks to focus on holidays and the new year in recovery) articles, the main or fabulous four areas of life are Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual. Again, see the archives for a detailed breakdown of these areas. This month, we are going to take a closer look at some of the ways that recovery affects the emotional part of our life. Of course, there is so much information on this that it would literally take us at least a few years of daily articles to cover it all. Since you have no desire to spend that much time reading and ditto for me typing, we will cover some basics. As with all articles, I encourage you to do as much further research as you can/want on the subject.
How does recovery affect the emotional part of our lives? The emotional part of addiction, the area we last focused on, is well documented. Almost everyone in or around recovery understands that when a person begins to abuse drugs or alcohol, their emotional growth stops. This occurs when a person is no longer able to emotionally connect to their consequences or rewards. They use (without knowing this) drugs or alcohol to replace or circumvent those emotions. This is a problem for many reasons. Firstly, emotional consequences are what cause us to change as people and secondly, our accomplishments as people would mean little if took no emotional or internal satisfaction from them. In a sense, our emotions dictate the quality of our life and the depth of the connections we have to ourselves, our peers, our family, and our spiritual relationship (whatever that may be to you). So, we are aware of the how’s and why’s of the emotional arresting that occurs in chemical abusers. The question becomes, what can be done about it? Thankfully, there is an answer and it lies in a recovery experience.
Going back to our example from October, let’s look at someone who starting using drugs regularly at the age of 14. The time has come for them to get and stay sober, and they are willing and accepting help. When their journey begins, they are 14 emotionally. What, exactly, does this mean? It simply means that in emotionally stressful or even joyful times, they are more likely to react like a teenager than a fully emotionally mature adult. For example, let’s say our newly sober 35 your old (emotionally 14), is in traffic and they get cut off. An emotionally mature adult would feel frustration or anger but would either honk the horn or more likely just vent to themselves and move over. What does our newly sober friend do? Generally, they either yell at the other driver, threaten them, launch into a profanity-laced tirade, or rage at the other people in the car, scaring them. Basically, he or she would act like a scared kid, which emotionally, they are. The process of emotional sobriety doesn’t mean that someone’s emotions change, it’s the emphasis on “respond not react” that occurs. In treatment and in early recovery an emphasis is made on people learning to step back and think out their responses before launching into action. Think of it like this. How many times have you heard someone say “You know, I really wish I would have reacted more emotionally”? Almost never. What you hear a lot of is “I really wish I would have calmed down before I________________________”. This simple example highlights the change we in treatment teach people in early recovery. Now, does everyone who yells at another person in traffic or wishes they had shown more restraint in an uptight situation an addict? Of course not! But people who have been emotionally blocked are much more likely to react poorly than they are to calm down and respond. Teaching people to process emotions through communication with their support system and to learn how to respond with thought vs react with feeling is a key cornerstone in emotional recovery.
Once our emotions are blocked, we lack the ability to connect to positive things and to enjoy life the way people normally do. Once we experience true recovery and these changes, we can embrace and love life in the same manner that anyone who is functioning well in the world does. This is the crux of the statement about recovering addicts or alcoholics that goes like this, “we may not be normal but we can live normally”. This is the primary purpose of recovery and one of the main goals of treatment.