Learning to cope with challenging emotions without drinking or using is a big part of recovery. During active addiction, many of us get used to numbing our feelings with drugs or alcohol. This is called “self-medication”—when people use substances to regulate emotions and co-occurring mental health disorders. I’ve found that a big part of the work in recovery is learning to identify, sit with, and healthily manage feelings.
Emotional regulation is the ability to respond constructively to feelings, especially the big ones. This doesn’t mean avoiding emotions; it’s really the opposite. Feelings become overwhelming when you suppress them. Allowing them to run their natural course can be hard, but when you do, they are much more manageable.
One way that’s helped me cope with my feelings is regularly meditating. For me, it’s been practice sitting in emotions that feel unbearable. I was intimidated by meditation for a long time, because I felt like I had to rid my brain of thoughts or carve out a bunch of time. Neither of these things is true. Meditation is about sitting with whatever thoughts and feelings arise, without trying to do anything about it besides gently bring yourself back when you notice you’re lost in thought. Even doing so for five to ten minutes a day, or a few times a week, can make a difference.
I’ve found that a lot of emotional regulation in recovery comes down to practice–practicing healthy ways of coping with painful emotions, so that we don’t rely on compulsive behaviors to get us through. This can look different for everyone. Some things I do include calling a supportive friend, reading, talking to my therapist, running, doing yoga, playing drums, listening to music, meditating, and many others. There are all sorts of ways to get through difficult emotions that will help your well-being in the long run, rather than make things worse.
It can take practice to manage your feelings, and the process isn’t always linear. Even if you’ve done a lot of work on it, sometimes you might have more trouble with it than others. That’s okay—stressing out about it won’t help with emotional regulation, but taking steps to accept it will. Recovery allows us to find more moments of peace and acceptance for all our experiences.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you practice healthy ways of coping with your emotions so you can build a great sober life. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.