Many emotions can be difficult like anger, shame, guilt, loss, loneliness, and fear. When these feelings arise, it might feel easier and safe to push them away. In fact, for many addicts, pushing their feelings away is precisely what fueled their addiction. Whenever discomfort arose, a craving for drugs showed up too.
This is a common experience among addicts. Yet, believe it or not, emotions don’t have to be difficult. Sure, there will always be emotions that are challenging to face, but the experience of facing and being with uncomfortable emotions can get easier over time. Plus, it’s important to remember that pushing feelings away can actually create more uncomfortable feelings.
You might have heard the phrase, “What you resist, persists.” When you push inner experiences away, they can get worse. It can be a difficult catch-22 to be in. If the feelings are uncomfortable, you push them away because you don’t want to face them. But as you push them away, they get stronger. And this cycle can in fact make an addiction worse as well. If you’re frequently experiencing uncomfortable emotions and as a result craving more drugs to push them away, then the addiction can become more severe.
For this reason, it’s important to have tools to help you face feelings in a safe way. You may need to begin by seeing a therapist. A mental health provider can help you create a safe environment so that you can gently face feelings a little bit at a time.
In addition to seeing a therapist, there are other things you can do.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Journaling can be a safe way to explore yourself and investigate your feelings.
- Refuse to use drugs or alcohol when you have a craving because uncomfortable feelings are arising.
- Distract yourself and do something that will take your attention off the uncomfortable feelings.
- Call your sponsor, a friend, a relationship partner and get your thoughts and feelings off your chest.
- Surf the feeling. As a surfer you can ride the energy of this feeling. Without letting it get the best of you, use its energy and have the best of it. It’s a way of staying on top of the crest of the emotion until it loses its momentum and ultimately, like all waves, crashes and dissipates on the shore.
- Change your thoughts. When you’re feeling an uncomfortable emotion, check out the thoughts in your mind. There’s a good chance they are negative or self-harming. Once you notice the thought, see if you can change it something positive. For example, you can replace the thought, “I need to drink to feel better” with “I don’t need to drink to feel better; I can exercise, spend time with a friend, or spend time in nature to feel better.”
These are some suggestions for facing emotions that are difficult to be with. You can tell from this list that sometimes you might need to allow yourself to feel the emotion (like when you’re surfing a feeling). And other times you might need to simply turn away and return to that feeling later (such as when you need to distract yourself).
It’s okay to temporarily put your feelings aside in order to meet your responsibilities in the moment.
Be sure to contact a mental health provider if you’re having a hard time with accepting your feelings.