There are many reasons that people drink alcohol and use drugs, but one of the most common reasons is to help deal with, or escape from our emotions. Whenever we feel anxious, scared, depressed, or bored, we automatically reach for our go-to drug of choice to alleviate our symptoms and dull our pain. If we’ve been doing this for years, then this may be the only way we know to cope with life’s ups and downs. It’s familiar and easy for us to fall back on, and it becomes a habit. It’s almost like auto-pilot. Stressed after work? – have a drink to unwind. Nervous about a social situation? – drink to calm your nerves. Celebrating something? – drink more. We’ve never learned any other coping mechanisms that we can rely on to help us manage our emotions.
Alcohol dulls our feelings; all of them, the good and the bad. Some emotions get pushed deep down and are never resolved. When we quit drinking, it seems as if all of the feelings we had been suppressing while we were drinking come flooding back to the surface full force, and we don’t know how to deal with them. Anxiety, depression, worry, fear, and insecurity are more common in early sobriety. We are forced to actually feel these feelings without the protective shield that alcohol gave us. All of these emotions seem magnified 1000 times because we’re not used to feeling them head on and unfiltered. For most people it can be overwhelming at first. The best way to process all the new emotions is to let yourself feel them. Sit with them. Face them. Breathe through it. Allow your mind the time to work through it. This is the beginning of healing. You can never heal from something if you avoid feeling it. Be patient with yourself. It can take a long time to get through this phase. Make sure you practice lots of self love and self care as you learn to live without the crutch of alcohol or drugs. Be forgiving of yourself, and try not to beat yourself up if you make mistakes.
This is why self care comes becomes crucial. Here are a few ways to practice self care;
* Get lots of sleep. At least 8 hours. Consider going to bed and waking up at the same time each day to create a routine, even on weekends. Your body heals itself when you sleep; physically and mentally.
* Spend quiet time alone everyday; either meditating, deep breathing or just thinking. I do this in the morning; sitting with my coffee for a few minutes before anyone else is awake.
* Get fresh air and sunshine everyday. It rejuvenates you, and you get your Vitamin D which can alleviate depression
* Eat well, avoid sugar as much as possible, and take a multi-vitamin so you’re not deficient in anything. Don’t forget to drink lots of water.
* Exercise, even if it’s just walking everyday. Sitting around can make you feel more lethargic and depressed. Yoga and stretching can be combined with the meditation and deep breathing. Running, weight lifting, and CrossFit (my personal favorite) can uplift your mood, and help anxiety and depression.
When you’ve been in addiction for a long time, you forget about taking care of yourself. You live your life in survival mode, just trying to maintain or keep up. You can neglect your mind and your body, and you may not even realize it. If you’re used to covering up your emotions, you probably forgot what it’s like to have normal feelings, or that its just a part everyday life. You may also realize that you are a highly sensitive person; sometimes referred to as an HSP. These types of people find many situations to be too much for them to handle. This is especially true of loud noises, bright lights, or crowded places. HSPs are also more likely to use drugs and alcohol. If you’re an HSP you probably worry more than other people, or cry more easily. I found that when I first quit drinking, I couldn’t even watch the News because it made me too upset.
I also experienced very vivid and detailed dreams in early sobriety. Through all of the years that I was regularly drinking and smoking pot, I never, ever remembered my dreams. I thought that I didn’t dream at all. This may have happened because I didn’t sleep as deeply, and didn’t spend as much time in REM, which is when you dream. Maybe it was just because my memory was shot. When I became sober, I slept more deeply. I wasn’t used to dreaming every night, and I found it to be exhausting at first. I would wake up feeling unrested and overwhelmed. It got better over time. For me, it lasted a few months, and then it became a more normal pattern. I still dream almost every night, but just not the long, bazaar, and very real-seeming dreams I had in the beginning.
As time goes on, you become more efficient at processing all these feelings. Things will balance out, and your mood becomes more even-keeled. I felt like I didn’t have as many ups and downs after awhile, and I started to be happier more often. Just as emotions like sadness and anxiety are felt more deeply, you also can feel joy, happiness, and gratitude more. There’s a phenomenon called “the pink cloud”, which usually happens 6-18 months into sobriety where you can feel like you’re on top of the world. For some people who have been in addiction for years, this may be the first time they’ve felt this way in a long time. It typically evens out after awhile. It doesn’t last forever.
One thing I’m sure of is that sobriety feels much, much better than being under the influence ever did. That’s not to say that bad feelings and bad things don’t happen. Negative feelings are still there, but now I am able to get over them sooner. I can solve them, recognize them for what they are, and move on. There’s no doubt that being clean, sober, and clear-headed is definitely worth it. It’s worth every little bit of it, positive and negative. When you reach this point, and see how far you’ve come, you’ll never want to go back to the way it was before. Trust me on that one. Have faith if you’re not there yet. It WILL happen eventually!