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All the Feels: Emotions after Addiction

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Author: Justin Mckibben

Today I got a case of the feels…

From my experience having emotions ain’t easy, and can cause a lot of self-inflicted suffering… especially when we try so hard to mask them, or trick ourselves into thinking they don’t matter.

Drug addiction has earned a reputation for obstructing our growth and prompting a status of emotional immaturity, a status a lot of us struggle desperately to grow out of. But when we come out the other side of addiction, what does that mean for our understanding of those feely feels?

A lot of my addiction was the never ending search to feel nothing; to somehow chemically condition myself to be immune to my own emotions, but the beautiful part of this is realizing there is progress and possibility beyond what I have even begun to experience already in recovery.

Addict Immaturity

A lot of times we are told we stop maturing mentally and emotionally at the age we start using because drugs stunt our growth, and a lot of us start using at an age where our sentiments and our sense of self are moving through a critical period of development. We are caught in the only emotional maturity (or lack thereof) we understand in our youth, moving incredulously slow in our progression… if at all.

Looking at it in sobriety, I can see now where my life has changed in relation to how I understand and react to some of those feels.

Angry Feels

I’m told I was a happy child, but I am also reminded I had a serious chip on my shoulder. Before I was 10 years old I had already spent a few years in anger management therapy, and by the time I was a teenager I had taught myself to bury my anger to avoid unwanted attention, but it ultimately festered into volatile resentment that would burst through the surface impulsively.

In active addiction it became much worse, and at the most inappropriate and unpredictable times I would lash out.

I never saw myself as an angry person, and at worst others have described me as indifferent and disconnected, but anger was there and it went unchecked until it was too late and it spilled over onto others who did not deserve it.

In recovery, I’ve been taught to understand anger as something else entirely… ego and fear. Rage and aggression should have no place in my spiritual principles, because humility and acceptance need to be present for me to keep my sanity in sobriety.

If I am angry, it is because I want to force my will onto things that are none of my business. A lot of that came from being afraid, and anxiety ruled my life. Letting go of anger isn’t easy, but it creates an easier life.

Depressed Feels

Despite being remembered as a happy kid, my life in addiction was perforated with depression. Another extension of my negative ego and anxiety was the belief futility and hopelessness was at the very foundation of everything.

Depression isn’t rare when you are addicted to downers. Basically all my usual drugs of choice were depressants so of course when I got high, I actually felt lower than my lowest lows. Guilt, regret and loneliness existed in an endless cycle of me trying to suppress them, but ultimately inviting them into my heart like long lost friends. This led to suicide attempts and overdoses; desperate attempts to break the cycle.

It’s easy to hide depression behind a smile. In sobriety I don’t have to fake the feels anymore.

I still get depressed sometimes, but I’m reminded when I feel sorry for myself I am forgetting what amazing blessings have already been given to me. Clinical depression is an obstacle for some, but not an impossible one. When I appreciate my life, I remember it is OK to be sad, but not to forget the incredible relationships and circumstances life offers me.

Happy Feels

Sometimes I don’t even know how to handle being happy. I can wake up with bliss in my heart and it feels surreal, like when you put on your favorite shirt but it doesn’t seem to fit right.

In addiction ‘happy’ wasn’t really about feeling happy for me; it was about not feeling anything else. Happy wasn’t having truth or love in my life, it was getting high without immediate consequences; avoiding emotions and using manipulation to take advantage of everyone else’s. Happiness was based on how tolerable drugs made my life, not about life itself.

I’m still not happy all the time. The beauty in that is I don’t have to be. I have finally allowed myself to feel the things I never wanted to feel in addiction, and that in itself brings me serenity. Knowing the world wont come crashing down when I’m upset is a new peace.

Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety is a foreign concept to me sometimes. I can still be anxious and afraid; I can still be selfish and angry, or depressed and ungrateful, but the evolution of my emotions has shown me how to treat myself and other people in spite of my emotions.

A wise man once said,

“You gotta ‘F’ your feelings before they ‘F’ you…”

In sobriety I understand this philosophy. Our feelings are part of the human experience, but they do not have to dictate our destiny. Our hearts and minds carry so much meaning, but even they can be fooled by our feelings. Your truth is your truth, but that doesn’t mean you have to live blind to the truth of the world, or of the impact you have on others.

Be ready to feel those feels.

Today, happiness to me is the love and appreciation I have for the incredible people in my life, it is the awesome opportunities I have to be a better person and the gifts I have been given throughout all my life, not just sobriety.

Sometimes I’m so happy it brings me to tears, because the beauty of this world passes too much of us by; because I live in gratitude and feel it so intensely after I spent years trying not to. Other times I get lost in feelings I just want to experience, and that’s OK too. I’m feeling some type of way today, and the fact I want to is amazing.

The rain is just as beautiful as the sunshine.

In sobriety I get all the feels, and I like to feel ‘em because feeling feels is my favorite feel… ya feel me?

Sobriety has given me a lot, but I remember feeling trapped in addiction. Drugs and alcohol misuse our feelings and keep us sick, but recovery is possible, and mine began at Palm Partners. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135  

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