Negative emotions in recovery: Fear, sadness and everything inbetween


We all have our go-to negative emotions. For many of us it’s sadness, for others it’s fear. In my experience these are the two primary negative emotions with other negative emotions being contained in the continuum between them. Feelings of hurt, jealousy, desperation, disappointment, boredom, irritation- they all contribute to a sense of being on the emotional seesaw. Tip it too much toward one end and the feeling builds up and becomes overwhelming.

When you have a substance use problem emotions are not your friend. Abusing substances really is the elusive antidote to negative emotions. But it backfires. The sadness and fear build; sadness is transformed into depression and fear into anger. It’s no wonder that depression and antisocial behavior often go hand-in-hand with drinking and drug use.

In my view, when people go into recovery they are not only making a conscious decision to stop using drugs and/or alcohol but, whether they know it at the time or not, they are also committing to encountering their emotions fully. This is very courageous. Imagine how hard it would be to face years, and sometimes a lifetime, of misplaced emotions. For many, it really is almost too much to bear.

Consequently, accepting and expressing emotions are as much a part of recovery as not using. These skills are learned with time through developing self-awareness. In the end, the goal is emotional maturity.

So the next time someone you know stops using drugs or alcohol, treat them with tremendous respect. They are not the product of their past anymore. They are facing the past in the blinding light of their present, alone and vulnerable. All they want and need is your understanding and support.

For some practical strategies on how to cope with negative emotions the following link is extremely helpful:

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help. If you feel that you need immediate assistance please call your local psychiatric emergency services.

Life example


Very few people, I find, are unassuming and able to have fun. In the world, as it stands now, we are encouraged to be self-aggrandizing, self-promoting, self-absorbed. There really is not a lot of incentive to be humble. It doesn’t get you far.

I lament this from time to time and, when I do, my thoughts often turn to my best friend, Dannie, now dead from AIDS for well over 20 years.

He was an incredible man who could be in the company of any group of people of any persuasion and be a hit. His enthusiasm and humor were unprecedented. He was a great improvisational comedian and dancer. His repartee was unparalleled. He was handsome without thinking of himself as such. (The best and most attractive kind of handsome in my book.) He enriched the lives of all those he encountered and was liked and loved by many. He cared for people as a profession and as a vocation. He gave his all to all he did.

To me, Dannie was, and always will be, the patron saint of a life well-lived. He bequeathed his bright spirit to all of his friends. We are still trying to live up to it.