READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.
Addicts are vulnerable. They don’t know how to recognize or manage feelings, particularly strong and powerful ones. What they do know is to split off from their feelings and pretend they are just fine. Once I was sitting at a wedding reception and a clergy colleague who sat next to me began talking. He had a close friend who was also clergy and was allegedly run out of his church because of a trouble-making family who accused him of sexual abuse. What he didn’t know is that the accusatory family was mine, and I was one of the family members that was abused. I wanted to kill him on the spot. But, I didn’t. What I did was smile and become quiet. I think I excused myself to go to the bathroom.
Addicts are pretty good with these splits. When they are hurt, numbed with shame, seething with resentment, or dominated with anger or hate, they know how to compartmentalize their feelings and pretend they are not there. They use this ability to manage and control their environment that is unsafe. The problem is that inwardly they lose themselves by failing to recognize their effect. They drown in the feelings that were triggered or go to great lengths through maladaptive behavior to avoid their emotions. Addicts learn to avoid the obvious and embrace the improbable.
They live in a constant state of vulnerability not knowing how to recognize or manage the feelings that have been buried. They are unable to draw from their own internal resources because there aren’t any. They remain in constant need of self-regulation resources. They think the resources are external. It’s a fantasy that is never realized. Since painful, rejecting, and shaming relationships are the cause of their deficits in self, they cannot turn to others to get what they need or have never received. With few other options addicts turn to their drug of choice. Why, because the dopamine rush delivers what it promises. To get away from the hell of the pain that slaps them around. Any reason is a good reason to use.
Drugs of choice migrate. Addicts might find a way to shut down their use of heroin, booze, crystal, molly, or blow. They just migrate to the next fix. It can be anything including workaholism, exercise, food disorder, rage, and even caretaking. It is common for recovering addicts to create a new cocktail for their choice of drug. It will always be that way until they get to the root cause of needing a fix. Here are a few things to consider.
1. Understand your pain. Slow your life to a pace that you go inward and embrace what hurts. Dare to embrace average. Go inside to the common places of your life and face what you feel. None of us got through our childhood unscathed. There you will find the wounds that need to be scrubbed. It hurts but you are already in pain. Why not make your hurt a healing hurt rather than wallowing in pain that never stops looking for a fix that is never enough. You must resolve the pain and stop pretending.
2. Learn to regulate your emotions. Practice recognizing what you feel, particularly the powerful feelings of shame, resentment, anger, and hate. Learn to sit with them and experience embracing unwanted emotions and notice that you can get through them without having to numb out. You will need help. Step outside yourself and ask for that help even though it feels awkward.
3. Utilize others for support. Finding your tribe for support is important. This is a long-term problem for addicts in recovery. When in crisis, addicts surrender to a 12-step fellowship. Often, they don’t go deep in a consistent manner to live in consultation with accountability about their feelings. You will need help holding your feet to the fire about relationship issues. Addicts often focus on the fundamentals of 12-step work in order to address their drug of choice. But many miss out by not using that same support to regulate their feelings in other aspects of living. It is important to utilize your community of support around the feelings that come up in your everyday relationship life.
4. Become an observer of what you think about your own thinking and learn how to reflect on the mind of another. Learning to manage your emotions is necessary to understand your thoughts about yourself and the world around you. People tend to be insular. Life becomes a mind-numbing hamster wheel in that we just do what we do. Take time to pause and observe what you feel. Utilize contemplation. Think about your thoughts. Learn to identify and give voice to the different parts of your mind that are contradictory to other parts. Learn to sift and sort by listening and recognizing the truth that is in each thought. Then practice integrating your thought discrepancies with your own wise mind. It is necessary to transform behavior. Emotional maturity and secure attachment are capacities to reflect on your own internal emotional experience and to make sense of it. It includes being able to observe and reflect on the mind of others and connect with them. The way you read others is important. It begins with learning to manage and make sense of your own affect and thoughts.
Managing your feelings and thoughts creates self-agency. Developing emotional management is necessary in cultivating a true sense of self. When you don’t you foster a false sense of self which blinds your awareness of feelings and thoughts. It further darkens your understanding of ways in which your behavior hurts yourself and others.
Oh! By the way, I did circle back with the insensitive clergy colleague and insist that he listen to the gory details of sexual molestation by his clergy friend toward me and my family. Though he was stunned with silence, he heard the other side of the story. I have since wondered if that did not change the way he shared the narrative with others.