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.