I believe a lot of addiction centers around emotions, dealing with them, accepting or fearing them, overcoming them, and anticipating them. Alcohol and drugs are a way we self-medicate, in fact, they’re a way we are told and prescribed to medicate. Doctors prescribe pills, some of which are addictive, to eliminate pain and we’ve come to believe that our lives should be painless. In addition, we see and hear from a young age that alcohol is glamorous and a good way to relax, unwind, de-stress, and connect with others.
In sobriety I’ve learned that life is full of pain, and to think it should be painless is setting ourselves up for defeat. A painless life means we aren’t really having a human experience. Does that mean we should run to the pain? No. Does that mean we should cause more pain for ourselves? No. But it does mean that attempting to eliminate pain by drinking, using drugs, or other destructive behaviors is an ultimately fruitless act. This can be a hard fact to swallow, especially for people who are just starting out with their sobriety, or who might be exploring if they want to be sober or not.
One of the things that is essential to sobriety is learning how to deal with your feels, a concept so many of us avoid, even after quitting drugs and alcohol. Let’s be honest there is nothing comfortable about feeling sad, angry, guilty, ashamed, frustrated, or grief. So, how do we learn exactly how to deal with the feelings that will inevitably come whether we drink or not?
We accept that emotions are a part of life and having them is a gift.
It’s an example of growth for me to be grateful for all the emotions I feel in sobriety. After years of trying to avoid my feels, I’ve come a long way and the first step was accepting that emotions are a part of life. It’s been my experience to try to shut down my emotions when they come, to quiet them or pretend they aren’t happening, or to even shame myself for feeling so much. The key to making it through these complex feelings is to stop battling against them. Change your thinking to believe they are a gift, or at the very least, a point of growth.
We understand that no feeling is final.
This is a big one. When we’re deep inside our feels, we can convince ourselves that we’ll never feel ok again and that the place of despair and desperation that we are in is so incredibly painful, we’ll do anything to get out. It’s important to understand that no feeling is final. That phrase can even be mantra for your sobriety. No matter how sad, bad, or mad, we feel. We will not feel that way forever. Happier days will come, and more sad days will come too, because that’s how life works. If we can understand the concept that our moments of intense emotional don’t go on for the entire course of our lives, even if it feels that way, we can hold out for better days.
We take steps to avoid exacerbation of these feelings.
Knowing that feelings will come, we can’t stop them, and that they will pass, doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about them while they’re here. Feeling your feelings doesn’t mean you should just be miserable all the time when you’re dealing with a lot. One step you can take right away is to avoid exacerbation of the particular feelings you’re experiencing. If you’re in a highly stressful situation and you can have the ability to remove yourself from the situation, do it. If you’re sad because something is over, take a break from looking or talking about the memories of the event, for now. If you are mad because you’re arguing circles around a particular issue with your significant other, leave the conversation. Taking immediate steps to take care of yourself during these times is okay and highly recommended.
We incorporate practices into our lives that provide relief.
As you go on, you’ll need to incorporate specific practices into your life that provide relief for these emotional times in life. I really had to move away from beating myself up for feeling things deeply. Eliminating negative self-talk and normalizing emotional feelings are things I still work on today. But I know that if I don’t allow myself to feel, my emotional states won’t be bearable, they’ll feel more difficult. Preparing for these times to come up is how we can ease the pain and make it through. Other practices that can provide relief include meditation, extra sleep, therapy, yoga, exercise, reading, listening to podcasts, writing, talking to a trusted friend, crying, screaming, or a combination of these things.
Figuring out what works for you will take time and practice. As time passes and your emotional health evolves, maybe listening to podcasts won’t work as well as it normally does, and you’ll try something new. Different feelings and different times of life call for different ways to deal. Having a basis for understanding and preparing for your emotional episodes won’t help you avoid them, but it will help you get through them without the crutch of alcohol and drugs. You might even feel grateful and more alive afterwards. That’s the goal of this human experience we’re on.
Kelly Fitzgerald Junco
Kelly Fitzgerald Junco is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, SheKnows, Elite Daily, The Fix, Brit + Co, Addiction Unscripted and AfterPartyMagazine. She is currently writing a memoir.