Addiction treatment uncovers layers of experiences that influenced one’s substance abuse. As an addict works through group and individual counseling sessions, the pivotal moments that characterized their addiction are exposed and unpacked. Some of those events may date back to childhood, including the quality of their relationships with family members or moments when they felt neglected, mistreated, or unsafe.
Given the sensitive nature of addiction, recovery can spark a range of unsettling emotions. An addict will likely go through days feeling distressed and upset, remembering the numbness that drugs used to provide. But in the midst of recovery’s challenges, other days can be inspiring, hopeful reminders that life now has new meaning and purpose. The following discussion covers the types of emotions an addict will face going from treatment to long-term recovery.
Feelings of loss
As someone goes through addiction treatment, emotions from painful relationships and traumatic events are unraveled and processed. If the individual turned to drugs to escape negative thoughts from those events, residential treatment may be the first time they deal with those experiences from a sober place. Since treatment dives into the hurt that surrounded one’s addiction, those past feelings of loss may surface in an unanticipated way. For example, if someone became addicted to drugs or alcohol following the death of a loved one, that person may relive the loss of their loved one all over again. The reality of that loss is no longer clouded by substances. Perhaps someone turned to substances in response to turmoil or abuse in their home. That fear and instability they felt growing up may become near and intensely distressing once again.
While revisiting feelings of loss is painful, that process may be necessary to heal from covered up wounds. Just as the drugs and alcohol are exiting the body, so do secrets and fears that the substances once masked.
Grieving past experiences
As painful landmarks in someone’s past are recognized from a new perspective, the addict may begin grieving as if each of those events happened recently. Grief is an expression of loss that can be experienced physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Grief often depletes us of our energy and ability to do regular tasks. Similar to addiction, grief requires time for recovery. Through this process, an addict is recovering from the physical damage of their substance abuse and the emotional damage of contributing events.
We know from psychological research that every person deals with grief differently. Common emotions include denial, shock, anger, and feeling plagued by “what if” types of thoughts. In cases of addiction, perhaps the addict never mourned a hurtful loss, mismanaging their emotions through drugs. As their substance abuse spiraled out of control, the addict’s behavior and decisions may have invited subsequent loss, such as losing a partner or child custody. Whatever the situation may be, drugs were never a sustainable bypass to one’s human need to grieve. As someone goes through these emotions while sober, they can work toward more sincere acceptance and healing and reach a clearer state of mind.
Moving with new hope
While recovery exposes the most humbling parts of ourselves, living in recovery can be equal parts challenging and hopeful. The intent of helping people through recovery is to set them on a better path moving forward—free from the cycles of substance abuse. Many of our treatment alumni talk about the freedom of getting out of the darkness of their addiction into the brightness of a new, drug-free life. When you break those habits that drove all your past decisions, you gain a new sense of independence and freedom, feeling alive and awake through the next seasons to come.
What emotions are you experiencing in your recovery journey? Learn ways you can better manage those emotions through making recovery part of your daily life