Recovery – Learning to Cope With Emotions and Thoughts by ShareGood Blogger Tom Messplay
Recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction puts the person in recovery on a mental and emotional rollercoaster with the highest highs and lowest lows. These swings can be a series of short events and at times stretch for a long period of time. There is really no telling how long they last. The good thing is that the further down the path to recovery a person travels the easier these swings are managed and less frequent in occurrence. Once again since recovery is so personally based there are no easily identified times when they will cease, if at all. It may just be the mastering of managing through them.
The past 21 months have been the greatest experience of my life, which may sound strange but it is true. I have overcome something that for years I told myself I was unable to defeat. I have learned so much about myself and my alcoholism and recovery. What provided some great challenges was how to deal with new felt emotions. After decades of self-medicating I numbed myself from fully feeling and dealing with emotions. Sure I felt joy, sorrow, melancholy, happiness, fear, confidence, grief, etc. even while I was drinking. However, these emotions were never fully experienced as they were watered down with alcohol. Since becoming sober I have felt my emotions as never before. This awakening has not always been easy. I always took pride in my ability to control my emotions. That was obviously false pride as much of my emotions were not controlled by me but rather the alcohol. I am now ultra-aware of my emotions and need to deal with them. I do enjoy the full range of my emotional make up. I love more deeply, I am more aware of the feelings of others, I am more passionate, I tear up easily, I feel more anger, I am more tolerant of some things and less of others, I am more impulsive, and more assertive. I feel these more but it is a learning process and the level of intensity gets deeper. I am learning how to control some of these emotions as uncontrolled I could say the wrong thing to the wrong person if I don’t keep myself in check. This is when my emotions are transformed to thoughts instead of actions. Sometimes I have to just laugh at myself thinking what I would like to say or do. My emotional control is getting better as I experience feelings in a different way. I have to say this is an amazing process.
What I have also learned is how to control my thoughts (still a work in progress). So much of recovery is controlling “stinking thinking” as it is known. Stinking thinking is thinking about drinking, wondering if the recovering person could now control their drinking/drug use, and just generally over thinking everything. It is normal, especially early on to have those thoughts. A key part of the recovery program is learning the coping skills to control and divert the thoughts that may lead you down a dark road. Cognitive training therapy is huge in recovery and preventing relapse. It’s all about mental toughness and telling yourself to stay strong, fight the cravings, avoiding bad decisions that may take you somewhere that may lead to relapse. I also firmly believe that sometimes you have to convince yourself that you are stronger than you once thought. Maintaining a positive attitude and approach to life is critical in recovery. Many have a hard time with this as they allow themselves to believe they are weak. Part of this is the disease drawing you back into previous destructive behavior. That is when your mental toughness becomes your strongest weapon. The disease can be defeated. I have written about this in previous blogs but have become even stronger in the belief that a person can control their thoughts.
My mind is much sharper now than ever before. My critical thinking skills are sharper, I am more focused, and I am able to multitask much better. My wife used to ask me what I was thinking and I would respond “nothing.” She always said it is impossible to think nothing. It is possible with alcohol in your brain. It was very easy to just shut down. Now it’s near impossible. When she asks me now what I’m thinking it’s hard to answer because there is so much going on in my brain. I cannot shut it off anymore. I find my brain racing at times. If not for taking some sleep aids I would not be able to sleep. Now don’t get me wrong I am no super computer just because there is no alcohol in my blood. I am forgetful quite a bit. I don’t know if I have destroyed enough brain cells after decades of alcohol abuse or I am getting older and now have a near 60 year old brain that is starting to forget things. I am guessing it is a combination of both. Sometimes I have trouble focusing due to everything that is running through my brain. I can control that by more brain training. If I can make myself believe that I don’t want or need a drink I can certainly learn how to control other thinking. It is a work in progress.
I used to believe that a person was unable to control their thinking and that random thoughts just occur and that there was nothing you could do about it. I no longer believe that. Are there random thoughts? Yes. But they can be controlled by dismissing them and diverting your thoughts in a different direction. I have proven to myself that is true. It requires sobriety, practice, discipline, and focus, and desire.
Recently my family was faced with the very real possibility of losing my father. Fortunately, he had a miraculous recovery and is doing much better. During the period of time we were struggling my sister asked how I was doing (worried about how something like this could impact my sobriety) and I responded that I was fine and that I didn’t have any other choice. She asked me what I meant and I told her if I allowed myself to be anything else I could wind up drinking again. That does not mean I was in denial or that I was shutting off my feelings. I thought of losing my dad and the grief that I would feel and with my strong emotions was unsure exactly how I would respond. What I did know was that no matter what I had to be fine, that I would get through it, and that I had the strength to be there for the rest of the family and maintain my sobriety.
I once told a group of people I work with that if they thought they couldn’t do something that they were right. They defeated themselves before they even started. There are things that I undoubtedly can’t do because I don’t have the skill set, education, or experience. But if I have the desire and the belief in myself and I do have the skill set, the education, and the experience there is no reason I can’t. In many cases I may be totally unprepared to do something, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I never thought that I could get sober, and I did it. If I apply the same principles that allowed me to get sober to anything else in my life then I can be successful. Anybody can.
One of my greatest frustrations is when people tell me they can’t do something. I use to just accept that and move on. Now I challenge them and get them to tell me why they think they can do something. Most of the time these people have a lack of confidence in themselves which leads them to believe they are unable. I do feel sorry for people like this. I do all I can to convince them and show them how they can be successful. I no longer accept the word “can’t.” Sometimes people say they can’t as a copout and that what they really mean is they don’t have the desire or are just too lazy to succeed at a task. I lose my patience with people like this. I face this often at work and in the recovery world.
I know I may simplify things as I described. I’m sure someone with the proper training and education can tell me so much more about people and why they are the way they are. Maybe it’s not fair of me but I expect the same out of others as I do for myself. I have been through much more than many people, but on the other hand there are people that have faced more challenging things than me. Maybe the difference between me and some others is that I have learned to turn my very negative and difficult disease into something positive and use that experience to help others through their challenges.
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