You’re Allowed to Feel Good

I spend a lot of time talking on here about negative emotions: sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, guilt, shame… These are emotions that a person in recovery, especially early recovery, spends a lot of time with. But, don’t forget that you’re allowed to feel good too!

My last post was about crying, and how healing and cathartic it can be. Well, the same is true for smiling and laughter. If you feel a smile creeping onto your face, or a laugh bubbling up from inside, let it shine! Let it out!

Studies have actually shown that you can improve a bad mood simply by making yourself smile. And double if you can make yourself laugh.

It’s also been show that laughter has healing properties. Laughing helps boost your immune system, lowers your stress hormones, relaxes your muscles and can help reduce pain. It has even been shown to help heal heart disease and cancer!

In addition to physical benefits, it just boosts your mood. Puts you in a better place, so you can tackle your day and handle the problems life throws at you. Everything is smoother with a positive attitude. It’s hard to feel depressed and anxious when you’re smiling and laughing.

If you find yourself in a down mood, expressing negative emotions or lashing out at loved ones, find a way to make yourself smile and laugh. Go to one of your favorite places. Eat at a favorite restaurant. Go see a funny movie. Get together for coffee with a fun friend. Play with your pet, if you have one. Go visit the small children in your life. Just get out and do something fun like hiking, shopping, miniature golf, bowling, anything to get you in a positive mood and get a smile on that face.

Your mood will improve, your relationships will benefit, and you will feel better physically. Use one of nature’s best medications to help you heal on your journey to recovery.

Let Yourself Feel Again

For this week’s safe coping strategy, I chose a simple one:

Cry. Let yourself cry, it will not last forever.

By “simple”, I don’t mean that it’s easy to cry. For some people, it can be very difficult. What I mean is that it’s a short and simple strategy, the idea behind it is very simple, and we can all cry with some practice.

First you need to let go of the idea that you aren’t supposed to cry. And that you aren’t supposed to cry in front of other people. You are allowed to cry, and you are supposed to cry. It’s your body’s way of releasing tension and negative feelings. As for other people, don’t worry about what they think. They do not have to walk in your shoes.

Crying is a physical response to very difficult feelings. For many addicts, we are actually feeling our feelings again for the first time after a long time of numbing ourselves to them. Crying will seem to happen all the time in early recovery. It is a way of getting the bad out to make room for the good.

If you find yourself tearing up, anywhere, anytime, for any reason, if you are in a safe space, just let it out. Let it all out. Cry until you don’t feel like crying anymore.

After a good cry, you will feel a sense of relief. Studies have shown that tears shed for emotional reasons (as opposed to eye irritation) contain more protein, and are actually helping you heal. We are also releasing the stress hormones from our emotions as we cry. That is why a “good cry” can feel so cathartic–there’s actual beneficial stuff going on with your body and brain when you cry.

Crying it out won’t solve all of your problems, and it won’t make problems disappear. But, it can help your brain to think about the issues in new ways, and serves as a natural stress reliever for your body.

Sometimes it can feel silly to cry, based on our location, or who we are with, or what is triggering the tears. But, it is advised that you just let it out when you feel it coming. Expunge the bad, and let in the good. Crying plays a big role in early recovery, and you should embrace it rather than try to be “tough.”

Anger

The subject of anger has been on my mind lately. At an AA meeting I attended recently, it was the topic of discussion, and so many great points were brought up.

Anger is one of the stages of grief. And in recovery, we are in a grieving process of sorts. My counselor describes it as having lost your best friend, i.e. the substance you were abusing. And you are grieving that life, even though it was a negative one. First you’re in denial that you even have a problem, but then you give in and get the help you need.

Then comes the anger. For some people, there’s resentment toward the people that put them into treatment. For others it’s anger directed inward, anger at yourself for having let your habit get this far. For me it was a little bit of both of those, and also some anger at having to be watched all the time. Monitored closely lest I slip up again. And these days, I get angry when my husband gets concerned about a situation I think he need not concern himself with. I feel like he’s overreacting sometimes.

At the meeting, we discussed anger as an emotion. What it really means, how it can manifest, and if it’s really worth it. Some people spoke about how easy anger comes to us, and it feels really good to vent our frustrations in the moment, but later we regret what we did or said. One person said, “anger is a cheap emotion, easy and readily available.” We need to start using some of the more difficult emotions if we are to make any progress.

Others talked about how anger is a cover for what we are really feeling. Anger is easier to feel and to admit to than sadness, weakness, guilt, shame or self-doubt. We use our anger to cover up those other feelings, to seem strong and in control. And we use anger to avoid feeling those other feelings they’re hard to deal with, and anger comes so easily.

So, it makes sense that the next stages of grief are bargaining and depression. After we’ve gotten over all that anger, and we just don’t have any more to give, we start to feel the real feelings associated with recovery. Having used a substance for so long to help us not have to feel any feelings at all, it can be extremely difficult to cope with the feelings that come with recovery. It’s important to reach out to your therapist or counselor, and your 12-step or other recovery groups to get through the rough times.

Anger comes so easily to most people, it’s right at the surface of all of our emotions. But, for positive emotional growth, we need to learn to suppress our anger a bit, and find more productive ways of dealing with the tough situations life throws at us. And after a while, the tough stuff will slide off like water off a duck’s back.

The next time you feel anger rising up within you, take a moment to analyze what you’re really feeling, and face those feelings head on. Try to cope with the situation in a more positive and productive way. You’ll feel much better for it in the end.

Honesty

A huge part of my recovery has been owning up to my own mistakes and being fully honest with myself, my husband and my children. Once you get rid of the lies and the secrets, you feel free, and you can truly relax and be yourself. For this week, I have chosen the safe coping strategy:

Honesty. Secrets and lying are at the core of PTSD and substance abuse; honesty heals them.

No doubt, at some point during the development of your addiction, you began to tell lies, hold secrets and hide things from your partner or other loved ones, from coworkers and from friends. And you also told yourself lies to justify your addiction.

At some point, you were caught in a lie, which is usually the first thing that leads an addict to get help and enter the life of recovery. It might be a very long time between that first time getting caught and a life of sobriety, but it’s usually what gets the ball rolling.

As an addict it’s painful to wake up every day, participating in your addiction and wanting to stop, but not knowing how to stop. Knowing you’re causing yourself harm, but continuing anyway. But what can be even more painful is the guilt and shame you carry around from all the lies you’ve told to your loved ones, and all the things you’re hiding and keeping secret. Carrying all of that around is exhausting. Keeping up with your enormous web of lies, finding hiding places for those things you’re physically hiding, seeing the love and trust in your loved ones’ eyes as you tell them a lie, it’s a terrible feeling.

I hid alcohol all around the house. And I told my husband I hadn’t drank, even though I had. And I really thought I was getting away with something. But, eventually the guilt and shame caught up with me. And I was so paranoid, all of the time. It exacerbated my already serious anxiety issues to have to constantly be looking over my shoulder and making sure I covered my tracks.

When I went to rehab, and I put all my cards on table with my husband, I felt such a sense of relief. Feelings of guilt and shame lingered, but at least he knew everything now. I could just breathe, and be myself again, and not have to constantly fear being found out.

And over time I learned to be honest with myself. In SMART Recovery, we do an exercise called Refutations. You take one of your old excuses, one of the lies you told yourself to justify your using, and you come up with all the reasons that it’s wrong. For example, I used to tell myself, “I’ll just have one drink.” Knowing full well that it never ended with just one drink. Or, “No one will know.” But the truth is, everyone knew. It’s pretty hard to hide being drunk.

Being able to examine your thoughts, and to be honest with yourself about what you’re thinking is a big part of recovery. Knowing that you need to avoid your substance of choice at all costs, and stop that little voice full of excuses dead in its tracks when it starts up in your head.

The honesty doesn’t stop there though. It continues throughout your daily life from here on out. Be honest with yourself about how it felt to be in a group of people who were drinking. Be honest with yourself about how it feels to see that aisle in the grocery store. Be honest with yourself about how you’re doing day-to-day, are you having a good day or a bad day? Can you pinpoint why? Staying in touch with your feelings and opening yourself up to discussing these feelings with your partner or a counselor will help you a lot as you struggle through those first days in recovery.

Being honest with your partner will help you earn back all the lost trust too. Those wounds take enormous amounts of time to fully heal, but full, true honesty, and lots of talking things out, will help the process along. Think of honesty as a medicine that’s helping to heal all the pain and suffering your addiction caused.

But above all else, it really is an amazing feeling to be able to be truly open and honest with yourself and your loved ones. You will feel free once again, and relieved of the burden of guilt, shame, and lies. No more will they hold you down. Living a open and honest life can only lead to good things.

Danger Lurks

For today, I have chosen to talk about the safe coping strategy:

Watch for danger signs. Face a problem before it becomes huge, notice red flags.

In recovery, it’s important to be very aware of all of your emotions and thoughts, as well as external forces you face. Everything from having a fleeting craving to a life problem that crops up and threatens to be a trigger.

It’s important to be fully self-aware and know when we are putting ourselves and our sobriety in danger. Or, to listen to loved ones when they express concern. If you ignore the signs, they get bigger and worse, and can result in real damage.

In AA, alcoholism is described as the “cunning and baffling” disease. That is, it creeps up on you and takes hold of you before you’ve realized what has happened. Part of this is being unaware of the danger signs and red flags in your life.

My relapse is proof that ignoring danger signs can have a detrimental effect on your sobriety. I was completely depressed, overly anxious, having some big life events happening and I was craving alcohol like crazy.

I held out for a while, but I never sought help or discussed what was happening with anyone. Talking it out with my husband, counselor or psychiatrist could have prevented my relapse. Recognizing what was happening in my life and in my mind could have helped me regain control.

It’s also important not to insert yourself into dangerous situations. A party with friends where alcohol or drugs will be present is a good example. You want to be with your friends, but you might not be ready to be in a setting where you will need to resist the urge to use. It is especially important to be careful with friends who do not support your sobriety, or friends you actively used with in the past. You may feel strong and confident, but being in this setting can be a giant trigger. If you decide to attend, be sure to leave if you start to feel unsafe.

In the earliest stages of recovery, it’s very important to stay away from dangerous situations. You are in a critical time where you are changing the way you live and think, and falling back into old patterns are the very first steps toward relapse. I am a living example of that.

The concept of facing a problem before it becomes huge is a good way to view this safe coping strategy. We will all be put into emotionally vulnerable places, and problems will come up. We can’t stop life from happening to us. So, it’s important to recognize dangerous situations and life problems as they happen, and not let ourselves get so caught up in them that it’s too late to fix.

I left rehab with long list of “warning signs” for relapse. But, I ignored them all, and allowed myself to falter down that path. The key is to be aware, pay attention, get help when you need it and do not allow yourself to slip into denial. If you feel on edge, uneasy, there’s a problem. If you’re taking part in activities you suspect you should not, there’s a problem. If you’re isolating yourself from loved ones, if you’re feeling out of sorts, if you’re losing the desire to do the positive things in your life, there’s a problem.

Stop, take a moment to dissect the feelings and get to the bottom of what’s bothering you. Then, separate yourself from it or fix it. If you allow it to creep in, it will get the better of you. You may be able to push it off for a while, but eventually it will get you.

Keep your future goals in mind, and ask yourself, will putting myself in this situation give me a good chance at reaching those goals, or will it hinder my progress? If you suspect it will hold you back, or completely set you back, it’s time to cut it out of your life. Remove yourself from the dangerous situation. This is how you move onward and upward.

Surrender

My counselor asked me to take some time this week to write about the word “surrender.” In the context of surrendering to your addiction in order to overcome it.

The dictionary defines “surrender” as: cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

In my Hazelden app with daily meditations, it describes surrender as an acceptance. We go through a tumultuous amount of emotions to get at the core of what we are feeling, and then we finally accept ourselves as we are. Then, we are able to let go of our anxiety about the past and future.

While I don’t believe my addiction had authority over me, I know for sure that it had power. And you could consider submitting to authority as asking for help. Taking advice and following measures requested by counselors, psychiatrists, loved ones and experts in the field. I resisted a lot of that advice for a long time.

As for ceasing resistance, I ceased to resist my own willpower. I stopped giving in to my addiction and its power over me.

After my first stay in rehab, I didn’t know it at the time, but I had not yet surrendered at all. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was resistant to finding a higher power. And I was resistant to using medications to help my depression and anxiety. I was pretty sure I could handle this simple thing called sobriety all on my own.

Just prior to my first small relapse, I resisted the idea that I couldn’t ever drink again ever. I thought somewhere down the line it would be safe again. That I could learn to moderate again. I just didn’t take stock in the idea that that was it for me, for real.

Even after my first relapse, when I was asked by my husband and counselors to return to rehab, I resisted. It was just one small bump in the road, I thought, I’ve got this.

But, after my second, and very grand, relapse, it became clear to me that I had to give in. I returned to rehab. I started taking all suggested medications. I took every step anyone told me to move toward a real and true sobriety.

I had at that point really and truly surrendered. I recognized the bottom I had reached, and that I needed all the help I could get to pick myself up again. I feel like in that moment, I got to the core of my emotions and was ready to accept myself as I am. And I do feel a great deal of relief and peace.

Surrendering is difficult, but once you’re there, your life will improve greatly. Accept the fact that your actions are the only things in this world you can control, and by getting sober and making good choices you can improve your life and your world. Here you will find the peace you’ve been searching for all along.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

For the past two or three days, my anxiety has been rampant. And for no apparent reason. Things are moving swimmingly. Yes, my youngest has been sick for a few days, but nothing serious. Yes, I had to leave work early on Monday to retrieve said sick child from preschool, but it was a non-issue for my boss. Yes, the weather has been cruddy and I like my sunshine, but that’s not usually something that sets off the anxiety.

I think it’s just rearing its ugly head to remind me that it’s there, or something like that. Hey, don’t forget me! Your old pal, anxiety! Just popping in to say hi! It’s been there all my life, so it’s been hard to just kick it out the door and not look back.

I have a prescription for Clonazepam which it says on the bottle to take “as needed for anxiety.” At first, I took it a lot. Nearly every day. And lately have been trying to go without. Sometimes, I feel myself getting uppity, and I go for the bottle, but my husband encourages me to take a time out, breathe, let the feeling pass, and in 5 or 10 minutes if I’m still on edge, then take it.

And that’s been working pretty well. The idea is for me to have the medication for only a few months anyway, so I do need to start recognizing the anxiety for what it is, the actual level that it’s at when I start to feel it. And to train myself to get over the hump and move along with my day.

But, the other night, I didn’t take it at bedtime, though I wanted to. I hardly slept at all that night. I’d roll over and glance at the clock just about every half hour, all night long. And there was nothing specific on my mind, just a bunch of thoughts racing through my mind. I’ve got a long to-do list to accomplish before the kids’ summer vacation starts, but there’s still time for it all to get done. I just felt…on edge. Jumpy. Unsettled.

At bedtime last night, I was feeling slightly anxious, but ok. So, again, I didn’t take it. But, when I caught myself wide-eyed, and for some reason drafting my father’s eulogy in my head (he’s 54 and not even ill), I knew it was time. Somehow I’d let my anxiety take over my brain again, and all my swirling, crazy thoughts had led me to that place again. I haven’t been like that in a while, the anti-depressant I’m on has helped me immensely. But, I guess there’s still going to be those times when I fill up with steam and have to let it out somehow, before I explode again. So, I got up around 1:30 a.m. and took the medication. And I feel calmer this morning than I have in days.

I had so many awful days before, when I was drinking. And now that I’ve started having good days, and lots of good days in a row, I guess it’s easy to forget that there will still be bad moods, tough days and a little anxiety sprinkled on top, because that will always be a part of who I am. But, I’m learning that I have tools to get through: meditation, talking it out to someone, focusing on a hobby or my writing, going for a walk, having a cup of tea, basically just relaxing and getting my mind out of the irrational-worry gutter.

Anxiety was a big part of what fueled my addiction. If it is for you too, I suggest that you try to focus on worry and anxiety as a part of your recovery. Not focusing on it enough played a big part in my relapse, so I’m trying to really focus on it now. Trying to be aware of it all the time. When it’s not there, I’m so happy and peaceful; a new and completely amazing feeling for me.

Take each day, each moment, as it comes, and try to remember that you’ll be ok. You’ll get through. Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue. That just makes you human.