I successfully managed to avoid feeling any emotions for the best part of twenty years. Every time I felt angry, sad, happy, bored or worried, I would have a drink. And not just one drink, but several. I saw a counsellor a few years prior to quitting drinking permanently and he told me he thought my emotional maturity was stuck somewhere around the age of fifteen – a petulant teenager. At the age of thirty…
When you first cut out alcohol from your existence, experiencing the full hit of emotions can be tough. Every feeling seems weird, and extreme emotions can feel really uncomfortable. Initially, sitting with these feelings can seriously increase cravings for alcohol because that’s how our bodies are accustomed to dealing with them – blotting them out.
The thought that kept me sober during the early alcohol-free months was that if I gave in and had a drink, I’d be right back at square one. I knew that I was becoming more adept at dealing with my emotions, and even though the biggies (anger, heartache) were plain horrible, I truly wanted to feel them. I wanted to grow as a person, to move on mentally from that fifteen-year-old girl who couldn’t cope with the more challenging aspects of life. Every time I found myself sitting with a difficult emotion, I tried to be mindful of it – to understand why I was feeling like that, and to treat myself kindly.
Here are my top survival tips for getting through the process of learning to feel emotions…
This too shall pass
OK, you may feel awful but it’s not going to last forever. Accept that the range of human emotions includes good and unpleasant, but all are fleeting. Go with the feeling, embrace it, and trust that you’ll come out the other side soon enough.
Get into exercise
I love running, and nothing helps me cope with unpleasant emotions better than a jog through the woods. Endorphins, fresh air, escaping the demands of others…the benefits are many!
Feeling emotions is good
Feeling emotions properly means that you are growing as a person. You’re building emotional resilience. When the storm has died down, you’ll be a much tougher cookie than you were before it began.
Do things you enjoy when you’re feeling down
Alcohol does not help you cope with problems or unpleasant emotions – it just masks them. All you are doing by drinking on your troubles is avoiding the inevitable. Discover alternative ways to deal with tough times: a candlelit bath, a stroll in the countryside, coffee with friends, a shopping trip…there are plenty of things that don’t involve drinking that will help lift you out of a slump.”
Lucy gives some really good tips on managing emotions. It can be useful rather than labelling unpleasant emotions as “negative”” or “bad” to see them as motivation to take action, much like the physical pain in our hand, warns us to take our hand out of the fire. Without that physical pain, we would leave our hand in the fire and get burnt.