Sometimes I wonder how I spent so many years getting obliterated with alcohol and drugs, because in recovery, I struggle with a strong need for control. Active addiction seems like giving up control; your life becomes chaotic, and you can’t make clear-minded decisions.
However, in active addiction, we’re often trying to control our emotions (which typically backfires, as feelings become distorted and exacerbated). We may bring the desire for control into recovery, especially since we’ve lost the main thing we used to cope.
Long-Term Ways to Work on Releasing Control
The need for control can feel overwhelming. For me, it’s been really helpful to commit to meditating every day. It doesn’t have to be every day for you, but making time to do it regularly will help you get the most out of it. Practicing mediation—and I really mean practicing, in the sense of getting more experience with it over time—teaches you to sit with uncomfortable feelings.
Meditation changes parts of the brain involved in emotional regulation; paradoxically, the ability to manage your emotions will help you loosen your grip on control. Emotional regulation is not about gaining control over your feelings, but about being able to respond to them instead of react.
Another long-term method is to see a therapist. They can work with you on your need for control, and give you tips for what to do if you’re having a hard time loosening your grip. They can also point out when you are holding on too tightly, as sometimes it’s hard for people to see this in themselves.
What to Do in a Moment of Wishing for Control
If you’re feeling an intense urge for control, try journaling. This helps you get all the thoughts spinning in your head out on the page. I’ve suggested journaling with direct prompts before, but in this case, it’s useful to just let it all out. (You don’t need to control your journaling about releasing control!).
If you’re in a moment where you feel particularly out of control, it can be intensely anxiety-provoking. There are a few breathing exercises that can help ground you. Square breathing is when you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for another four seconds, and again hold for four. In alternate nostril breathing, you use a finger to close your right nostril, breathe in through your left, close your left, and breathe out through your right—repeating until you feel calmer.
Life is unpredictable. The desire to control it is understandable, especially when you’re learning new ways to cope that don’t involve drugs or alcohol. However, trying to control circumstances you can’t is just going to cause suffering. Letting go can bring peace.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is 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 find peace in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005 to learn more.