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Finding Emotional Balance in Early Recovery

Feelings are rampant in early recovery. Fear is a big and powerful part of emotional imbalance. So are sorrow, anger, remorse, guilt, and general feelings of free-floating anxiety about what will come, what has gone happened during active addiction, and what is going to happen as a result of these situations.

It may seem that all of your emotions are present at once, making their presence known in different ways. It is possible that sleeplessness and tension will manifest because the calming influence of medication is eliminated in recovery. It feels like it will never end, but it usually does and it usually will. How does one get through the initial discomfort of emotional disregulation that is part and parcel of early recovery?

Learning to identify and talk about these feelings is the first step toward living with them. Historically, it was necessary to drown them in alcohol or shove them aside with drugs. It does not work, and now they have become overwhelming in their demands for attention. Talk therapy, even with an understanding and compassionate friend, is the beginning of welcoming feelings back into our experience. There is tremendous freedom in admitting that feelings are new to us and uncomfortable, even pleasurable ones. Learning to identify what is being felt can be an empowering and exciting new way of beginning as well.

Sayings in recovery settings, such as “Feelings are not facts” indicate the need for allowing feelings to come up and through our experience. They don’t need to dictate how we behave or respond, certainly reaction is not a necessary way to deal with emotions. They come and they go, if we allow them to. When we ignore or deny them, they have a tendency to build up inside until we are forced to acknowledge that we are feeling something. Rather than allow emotions to drive our lives to the brink of exploding or imploding back into old behaviors of active addiction, it is simpler and less dangerous to feel, identify, express and release emotions. This sounds daunting to those who have spent vast amounts of time and money keeping them at bay. With practice and patience, however, it becomes more comfortable and easier to do.

Begin with the most prevalent of your feelings. Identify one or two, such as anger and fear. You could say to yourself, “I am feeling anger right now. I am not sure what to do about it, but I am going to allow it to be my feeling right now. I am also feeling afraid or fear. I am going to talk to someone about this feeling, because I do not know what else to do about my fear and my anger. Perhaps they can help me get through those feelings.”

This is the tiniest of beginnings, but will make a large difference in your life, as you learn to look at your feelings and hold them as not being a part of you. You are not your angry feelings, nor are you those feelings of fear. They are just feelings, not a piece of your identity. Chances are good that they will pass after some time of acknowledging and feeling them, talking to someone about them, and perhaps exploring what is bringing those feelings to you at this time. Checking out from feelings is not necessary any longer; you are now in the process of recovery.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

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