By: Craig W. Stratton
“Control your emotions or they will control you.” ~Chinese Proverb
Whatever The Reasons, There Are Feelings And Emotions
There is a host of reasons that an individual starts down the path of addiction. Throughout the history of substance abuse/addiction, the root causes continue to be explained. Many of us acknowledge that “not” a single reason equates to full-blown addiction. The many studies, theories, opinions, and research around the subject still has many people scratching their heads, which results in making assumptions about the cause. Some things that are known to be contributing factors include:
- Genetic Factors
- Environmental Factors
- Psychological Factors
Although these are significant factors associated with addiction, we still wonder – why do people use? If we look at genetics as a contributing factor, the gene identified within the person doesn’t eventually fire off at a moment’s notice and the person just decides to use a given substance; despite never being a user of substances. People don’t wake up one morning, and say, “I’ll go to the liquor store and start drinking every day”, or “I think I’ll find the neighborhood dope dealer and become a regular customer.”
The environmental cause doesn’t mean the person just “catches addiction” like you would catch a cold. However, poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and poor role models all contribute. The psychological makeup of the person must be factored when reviewing why anyone would use addictively. I know, I know, these three factors can be viewed on a deeper level, which would include research and study outcomes. However, each of the three categories has a common denominator – feelings and emotions.
You know, those things that we do our best to guard and to avoid discussing. The way we deal with them often dictates how our day will be and how we respond or react to different situations.
Feelings and Emotions Challenge Us
But beyond more research, there are reasons we know. People use to change the way they feel. Whether it is to change their feelings, or to bury the feelings they are having. We hear this most often talked about in recovery support meetings, too.
Our commitment to the recovery process is also challenged by feelings and emotions. A feeling is an emotional state or reaction. Whereas, emotion is a natural, instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood or relationship with others. In many instances, the two tend to be confused with one another.
Reflecting on the internal reasons people engage in destructive/addictive behavior, feelings or emotions often fuel their thoughts and actions. A good example is that feeling of inadequacy. We may feel inadequate in certain settings or situations.
However, there are those who experience this feeling on a regular basis; no matter the circumstances. These people may yearn to have this lifted, especially as they see their peers presenting as confident, secure, and comfortable in those social situations.
What Fuels Our Decisions? Feelings and Emotions
Feelings and emotions are known to drive of our decision-making. Being controlled by these is dangerous and detrimental to our personal recovery. The following is a partial list of feelings and emotions that are problematic and may lead a person back to use.
- Being Overwhelmed
It’s Not the Feeling or Emotion, But the Reaction
Throughout our recovery, we’re going to have many feelings and emotions, and many times the root of these come from outside sources.
This means that we ultimately have control of how we respond and whether we choose to return to destructive behavior.
Active Addiction Can Stop If We Don’t Relapse
Being reactive to situations that arise in our lives places us at greater risk for relapse. And, when this does occur, we often realize that we should have handled a given situation differently, and not reacted to our feelings and emotions.
As a result, we may continue to use substances after that relapse. If we are lucky we will get another opportunity at recovery. For many, it takes weeks, months, and even years to step foot back into the recovery process. The delay in returning to meetings or reconnecting with those who had previously supported us isn’t always connected to the obsession and compulsion to use, it’s sometimes centered around the guilt and shame that we acquired along with way.
These two things can destroy the core of an individual; especially as it relates to recovery. We are ashamed to let those know we returned to active addiction. We become consumed with guilt about our actions. We say to ourselves, “I’ll never go back to that meeting, maybe I’ll try to hold on and make it seem that everything’s alright.” As we continue with these thoughts, the delay in returning to the very place that has saved us and provided a new life for ourselves, becomes even greater.
I Know That Feeling and Emotion
Over time, we can get to a place where feelings and emotions no longer dictate the directions in which we go. Being able to name specific emotions and feelings, as they arise, is key in this process. Many have the instinct to run and hide when certain emotions or feelings emerge. The running or hiding is sometimes manifested as acting out in some way. We either turn on others, but most importantly, we turn on ourselves. Reflect on a time where an outside source provoked intense feelings or emotions (someone disrespected you, hurt you, or embarrassed you) and the instinctive thought is to lash out or react in some way.
When we don’t address the matter head-on, our behavior tends to display, “I’ll show you, I’ll hurt me.” We do something destructive that will only impact our lives, and will not affect the other person at all. This is what it means to “turn on ourselves”.
Feelings and emotions will always exist; we won’t be able to avoid them as they surface. Managing them and acquiring healthy ways to respond is most important. We must begin working through them and fully experience the feeling and emotion to get a better understanding of what it’s all about. Or, to find out why we respond and react to certain things as we do. Everyone doesn’t respond to a given feeling or emotion that same way.
Go Ahead and Feel It
There are those that subconsciously talk themselves out of an appropriate response by going back to the “default” response. We return to what’s familiar; but not necessarily comfortable. Look at what your given “default” response is, then assess the results of it. I’m sure we can find “fault” with the “default”.
Many of our responses to situations are related to our belief systems. Our belief systems have affected us on many levels. We learned these from one another through observation, imitating, and modeling. From the beginning of our lives we learned how to respond to certain situations based on how others have. We adopted this to the point that we believe this is just who I am and how I am. My position about this is that it’s only an excuse not to do the work to get a better outcome of what we are seeking. This is an example of how our beliefs can impact our recovery:
Your friend, family member, or spouse tells you “no” to something, or they are critical toward you about an action you have taken. Our belief is that this person is mean, doesn’t know that they talking about, or they just don’t want us to be successful in this process.
This results in us being angry, upset, hurt or even embarrassed. What we tend to do is curse, slam doors, stop talking to the person, and even go as far as to use substances. The domino effect (from beliefs, to feelings, to actions) can be catastrophic.
Feelings and Emotions Activate the Events
This is known as an activating event. We have allowed so many events to control our feelings, emotions and actions. We have made them responsible for how we think, feel, and act. Now, it’s time to return this control back to ourselves.
Recovery is geared to help people get a different perspective on their lives. This process isn’t just about “not using” substances, this also requires an internal transformation. We have responded to many things in ways we have regretted and wish we had a do-over. Learning from the outcomes of our reactive and impulsive behavior of the past is crucial. We are by no means perfect, but to measure the quality (not quantity) of recovery, we must look further within.
Internal battles do not have to last a lifetime – we can bring peace to our recovery, and peaceful is a feeling and emotion that’s worth working towards.
Craig W. Stratton MS, ASCAS
Craig is an Adjunct Professor at Hudson Valley Community College, where he brings his personal experience of 17 years in recovery as well as his education to his students, ensuring that the next generation of substance abuse counselors understand knowledge of addiction, but more importantly, know a representative of the addicted population.
Bringing this human element to his classes, advocates for recovery and will help remove the stigmas and myths associated with faceless addicts.
Combining his passions with a purpose is one of his goals. He has worked to help marginalized populations understand their addictions and introduce them to the benefits of recovery, as a Case Manager for the homeless, and those in Drug Treatment Court.
He has also counseled adolescents, adults and couples over the last 14 years in various agencies, and worked extensively on Alternatives to Incarceration, to incorporate treatment and not incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart