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Emotional Pain in Recovery from Addiction

Susanne Johnson
| January 12, 2018

Most people who suffer from the disease of substance use wish to feel better. They snort, swallow, drink, smoke, or inject substances that promise to take away the emotional pain that naturally comes with life. I can’t really avoid unpleasant experiences, whether they are painful childhood experiences, a tearful breakup, a career setback, a traumatic event, or any other situation that occurs naturally. I can’t really avoid all bad things, but I can temporarily numb those painful feelings that come along with difficult experiences.

Within an addiction mindset, I feel like I can escape with the help of substances; I can try to dodge the situation by lying, stealing and cheating my way out of many things. I can block my thoughts by turning to other activities. I avoid pain because I don’t want to go through it and don’t know how to cope with it… and if my drug stops working, I increase the dose, or I try another one.

When I attempt to avoid problems and pain in this way, I may get the instant gratification of having a good minute, a good hour, a good day (or more), but the pain is just pushed aside. Situations, emotions, and thoughts pile up when we don’t deal with them. After all, instant gratification is good for a moment of happiness, but not for a life of inner peace and joy. It may create a smile on your face, but not a smile in your heart. In the long run, it’s always better to solve problems as they occur, face emotional pain in little doses as they happen, and live in a balanced life situation.

Constant dodging and avoiding is nothing but a short-term gain, which leads to long-term pain. But that is what most addicted people do. All the trauma, shame, guilt and tears don’t disappear, they just get piled up.

How do we recover from all this? Not only we have to change our way of living completely (which is where12-Step programs are helpful), but also we have to learn how to deal with those emotional and painful situations AND cope with stress. These are learned skills, and many of us learn them during treatment, or from a therapist. Still, that is not enough, since this mountain of pain is often still sitting in front of us, begging for attention. It takes a support network; we can’t move it all by ourselves, no should we.

We all enter the recovery process with our own issues– issues that made us want to escape or that we want to hide. This mountain needs to be dealt with. And if it has become an overgrown pile of emotions, professional help is most often needed to help get things right. A good therapist can do wonders to help you take down that mountain of shame and guilt. This process is often painful, but with recovery and coping skills, we can get through it.

To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!”

-Charlie Chaplin

People that avoid working through this mountain of emotional pain might stop using the substance they currently use, but will still be caught up in the same lifestyle they used to live. At the end, they might stay clean of their drug of choice, but switch to other ways of escaping and find other forms of addiction like drinking, gambling, sex, eating disorder, gaming, or shopping. Often they bounce like a superball for years between substances and process addictions, all while continually running from pain.

Recovery comes through pain– it is normal. If we learn how to cope with it, we have the best shot on long-term recovery. If we refuse to learn it, there will be years of continued suffering down the road. Treatment does work, but you must be willing to use the tools you are given, and you must be willing to accept help and accept fellowship and dig into the mountain.

Give yourself a push to go through that pain to reach the joy of life, and help your loved one with all the healthy support you can reasonably give. There is no shame in crying, because not-crying might be followed by lots of shame and pain. Don’t get over your pain, like climbing over that mountain, go through it toward freedom by taking a shovel and moving it piece by piece.

We do recover.
Susanne Johnson

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