By: C. W. Stratton


The Emotional Baggage We Bring to Recovery




“Everyone has baggage; maybe we should help each other carry it.” ― Rob Liano


There are so many facets and perspectives in the process of recovery. Something that’s consistently heard and relayed is the concept of “don’t use and go to a meeting; which sounds like a simple concept or easy task. Considering everyone can follow this simple task, we should have many more recovering people in the world. 

Maybe this isn’t as simple as many perceive. Is it time we considered why this is true?

There are a significant number of people who come into recovery with a tremendous amount of emotional and mental baggage. Click To Tweet

The Baggage Holds and Hides Our Past


These bags are huge and haven’t been opened in quite some time. The carrying of the loads is painful; many of the things enclosed are painful as well. In other words, the pain is doubled and even sometimes tripled, depending on the circumstances. There are things in the bags that the person either forgot about or is afraid to expose. 


That Baggage is a Heavy Burden


Many people carry their baggage around day-after-day, month-after-month, and year-after-year, with no relief in sight. Along the journey, the person places more stuff in the bags, and the number of bags gradually increases. The bags have prevented them from making any progress towards their goals and dreams.

You would imagine that the person would either let go of the baggage or find relief at some point. Lauren Kate in Fallen sums it up, “People are here because they’ve got baggage. I’m talking curbside check-in, pay-the-fine-’cause-it’s-over-fifty-pounds kind of baggage. Get it?”

Since much of the baggage is relatively ingrained in the individual’s everyday life, they seek relief or refuge from what’s been weighing them down. That relief has come in the form of drugs, alcohol, etc. These things acted as pain relievers along the way and provided temporary relief.

The baggage contains so many things:


*Untreated mental illness




*Low self-esteem

*Low self-worth



*Lack of self-confidence

*Ideas of not fitting in (anywhere)


I Just Wanted to Lighten the Load


For some of us, the idea of carrying one or two of the above seems like a heavy burden.

Now, think about carrying all of this around daily; you may end up seeking some form of relief as well. That person who carries these bags into recovery may feel they are at a disadvantage when it comes to being successful or attempting to create space for long-term recovery. 

They may hear all the concepts and slogans, but the baggage seems to be getting in the way. The message is muffled due to the clutter. 

This tends to create an obstacle to hearing the precise message and applying the concepts.


We Add to their Emotional Baggage with Judgement


There are those instances where you see that person who's always in and out of meeting or recovery. These people are often carrying a lot of baggage. Click To Tweet

They don’t seem to be able to grasp the overall process. What tends to happen is people judge their recovery:

* They aren’t serious or committed to recovery.

* They’re just playing the game.

*They have no genuine desire to stop.

* They’re trying to do this on their terms.

*I don’t trust them.

When we pass judgment, we create more baggage for the person to carry around. The New Comer is supposed to be the most important person, so why would we add more bags to their already cluttered life. This is not to say this happens consistently or across the board, but we must acknowledge and bring awareness to this when it does occur.


We Can’t Just Say the Words But Live the Words



Power is in numbers, which means that we are powerful, and the group’s messages are significant, especially for the New Comer. As a group of people, we are very resourceful and full of knowledge. Not that we are all experts when it comes to helping people address trauma, low self-esteem, grief/loss, etc. However, collectively, we can point people in the proper direction to discuss some of their underlying issues.

Some people come to the rooms with so much weighing them down, and they are seeking a way out. We should help them find the resources to heal.

The concepts that many of us are aware of and those memorized must be put into action, not just directed towards the struggling person; they must be applied to ourselves as well. 

Recall a time when you were struggling and couldn’t see a way out. That was a terrifying time, and all you wanted was relief or help from someone. 

Being compassionate and caring to someone struggling could make a difference in a person living or dying.


Help with the Unpacking


Recovery is a beautiful process that has brought many people back to life, meaning they live now, not just exist. Being able to help the person carrying all that emotional baggage is helpful to our recovery, too. 

We don’t take the bags and carry them for the person because that hinders our progress. We use the group and access the available resources to aid us. 

Some of us still have a couple of bags that we are still dealing with on our own. Some bags may linger for years due to the nature of the issue or the damage our actions caused. 

However, we must keep those bags at the forefront and not neglect our responsibility in addressing what’s enclosed. As we move forward in recovery, we become more open, informed, committed, sincere and resilient. These are things that can create more space for long-term recovery.

There are some ways we can rid ourselves of all the baggage that we’ve carried. This process must include trust, courage, and a willingness to heal. 


Stop Holding On to the Emotional Baggage!


Remaining open to suggestions and following them is critical. Many people may hold on to the old ways of thinking regarding recovery; don’t use and go to meetings is all you need to know. 

However, our society and practices have evolved in so many ways; the original literature is valid and will never be disputed. Our train of thought and ways of doing things to reach more people should take an outside-the-box approach. 

Individuals are walking through the doors of the meetings with a host of issues, problems, and baggage. Those things must be dealt with, so the person can heal.  

The statement “sick and suffering” should hold a tremendous amount of weight when we’re trying to conger up ways to help the person. If we are sick, spiritually, emotionally, or physically, we must be connected with the proper people who can nurse us back to health. 

We must not be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to seek outside help. This help could settle the muffling that all the baggage has created so we can clearly hear the message and apply the concepts and principles of recovery.


When You Unpack the Emotional Baggage, Don’t Add another Bag


Try to avoid adding baggage to an already overwhelmed and suffering person. 

  • Provide other forms of relief to the person
  • Lend an ear to listen
  • Offer words of encouragement
  • If you know of additional counseling or therapy to help them, let them know where

“If God meant for us to carry baggage around, he would have made our skin have little pouches like kangaroos. Or maybe he would have just made it so that each and every one of us was born with huge-ass shoulders to carry the load. Clearly, we weren’t made to carry the weight of the world, kinda makes you wonder why we do it anyway, huh?” ― Rachel Van Dyken, Toxic

Recovery is a process; it’s one addict/alcoholic helping another without parallel. Let’s assist in diminishing the baggage and clutter that all people come with in their early recovery.


Writing and recovery heal the heart.


Craig W. Stratton MS, ASCAS


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. from addict 2 advocate

He has also counseled adolescents, adults, and couples over the last 14 years in various agencies, and worked extensively on  Alternatives to Incarceration, to offer treatment and not incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

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. His unique perspective on various aspects of recovery besides not using is another of Craig’s strengthsFor more posts that will positively influence your recovery, here’s a link to Craig’s blog. 

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