Most people in early sobriety are overwhelmed by the depth and intensity of emotions they experience. You feel intensely high on life one minute and in the depths of despair the next. If you feel angry or afraid or anxious for any reason, you may feel consumed by these emotions. This time of deep and overwhelming feelings is often described as an emotional rollercoaster.
No matter how long you drank or drugged, getting sober requires you to break the habit of running from your feelings. People drink or drug for a lot of reasons, but in most cases, at least part of the reason you used mind-altering substances was to avoid dealing with reality. While you were using, you didn’t want to feel your feelings, and that included good feelings. You would rather feel numb.
Then you got sober. And suddenly you started feeling all kinds of overwhelming emotions, both good and bad. And you have no idea what to do with all this emotion. It’s important that you recognize that both very high and very low emotions in sobriety can trigger a relapse. You’ve been in the habit of numbing your feelings, so when you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions, your first reaction is probably that you need to turn these feelings off. But you don’t have to numb your feelings anymore. You can live in reality. Here are some suggestions for surviving the emotional rollercoaster of early sobriety:
Go to meetings and listen and learn. The more meetings you go to, the better the chance you’ll hear something that will help you get through these crazy feelings. The point of going to meetings is to learn to live sober, and that includes hearing how other people deal with getting used to feeling their feelings. If you pay attention to what others are sharing, you will hear that almost everyone has gone through a period of intense and overwhelming emotions, and that things will get easier if you hang in there.
Find someone to share your feelings with. Don’t try to censor or stuff your feelings. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are. Share your feelings with someone else in recovery or with a professional counselor or minister. Talk through feelings of hurt, pain, anger or resentment. Let someone else help you process your feelings.
Journal about your feelings. If you have difficulty sharing your feelings with others, it’s still imperative that you sort them out. A safe way to tap into your feelings is to put them on paper. You can write down details about what is making you feel angry or hurt. You can write letters to people without ever sending them. Anything that you write in your journal is for your eyes only and doesn’t need to be shown to anyone else.
Remember that sobriety is a journey, not a destination. Although the intensity of the feelings you are experiencing in early sobriety will pass, sobriety is about learning to live life without picking up a drink or a drug, no matter what happens. There won’t be a graduation date. Your coping skills will improve, but you will continue to be presented with lessons and challenges, and you will be amazed at how much better you will get at dealing with difficult situations.
Whatever feelings you are experiencing, they will pass. No matter how overwhelming your emotions seem, you aren’t always going to feel the way you’re feeling right now. Time, tears and talking will heal all things. Remember that you only need to face one day at a time. You will learn more and more coping strategies the longer you’re sober, but in the meantime, you just need to get through today.
Get professional help if you need it. If you are experiencing severe depression or anxiety and you can’t shake the feelings even though you’re going to meetings and talking to people, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional or an addiction specialist.
Sobriety is a new habit, and as you practice living in reality and not running from your feelings, you will find that living in reality isn’t so bad.