Beating the Blues in Recovery
Let’s face it. Sometimes you just feel blue and there seems to be no way out of it. This is especially disheartening for those in recovery and, specifically, for those in the early stage of recovery. So, what are you supposed to do, just relegate yourself to unending unhappiness and reduced expectations? No, there are some strategies you can – and should – employ to help beat the blues in recovery.
Resolve to Get Unstuck
Without going into too much in-depth analysis at this point, it’s important to recognize that what you’re feeling is a logjam of emotions. Think about it. So much has happened in recent months – including completing treatment for a problem with substance abuse or addictive behavior, getting back on track with your life, attempting to resurrect your relationships with significant others, friends, and co-workers – that you feel overwhelmed. And the truth of the matter is that you have every right to feel this way. In other words, it is perfectly normal to be a bit bewildered and floored over all the intense emotions that are coming to the surface right now.
Okay, so it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by your emotions. Now what should you do? Experts in recovery strategies say that it’s important to recognize this emotional turmoil for what it is, but not to dwell on it. Simply acknowledge that it is there in your thoughts, and then resolve to do whatever you need to in order to get unstuck. You will learn techniques and tips that will help unblock this logjam of negative and conflicting emotions and be able to move on with your life.
Tell yourself: “I know I feel stuck right now emotionally. I am experiencing (anger, fear, depression, hostility, bitterness, sadness, loss, etc.) at the present, but I am going to take steps to get past this. I will not allow negative emotions to block my progress in recovery.”
Master Your Emotions Through Balance
What happens when you feel an intense negative emotion is that the feeling takes over your life. Sometimes this lasts only for a short period of time, but very often, if you don’t deal with it, the emotions ball up into a mental roadblock that prohibits any outward constructive action on your part. Think of the image of a teeter-totter. All the negative emotion concentrates on one end of the teeter-totter, leaving the other end hanging in space, unable to go anywhere. There needs to be a balance between the positive and negative emotions so that, much like the teeter-totter, movement can occur.
Why is balance so important? Why shouldn’t you be positive all the time? Life is a series of challenges. Not everything that happens in life is positive. That doesn’t mean that you give up and say that there’s nothing you can do about a situation, say, your cravings keep recurring and you might as well give into them, since they won’t go away. That’s a cop-out, a weasel’s way of avoiding responsibility. Yes, bad things do happen. Yes, cravings to drink, to use, gamble, or engage in other addictive behavior do occur. But you don’t have to give into them. You don’t have to allow them to take over and control your life. You do need to balance the negative emotions with positive ones. This may take some practice in order for it to come naturally, but it is very doable.
Here’s how. When you have a negative thought – let’s take craving as an example – recognize that it is just that, a craving. Then, instead of wallowing in it and torturing yourself over how you’ll be able to avoid giving into the craving, do this: think of something else. You may have a photo on your wall or desk or wallet of some place or someone special. Concentrate on the positive emotions that looking at this photo brings to your consciousness. Imagine you are there in the photo, at the place, with the special person. What will you do or say? In effect, you’re indulging in a daydream, a bit of a fantasy – with one exception. There is something you can do about it. You can make plans to bring your daydream or fantasy into reality. Even if the photo is of a far-off place on the other side of the world, or of someone you love who is no longer in your life (through divorce, separation, or death), you can make the moment real in your mind now. You can change the negative emotion brought about by the craving to a positive emotion you create through thoughtful intention.
There are other ways to help bring about emotional balance. One of the best ones is laughter. At this point, I’d say don’t laugh, but the idea is to get you to laugh. There is a lot of merit to the benefits of laughter on the emotions. Did you know that you use every muscle when you laugh? Your entire body gets a mini-workout with a good belly laugh. But even smiles work your facial muscles, curving your lips in an upward direction (positive emotion) and changing the dynamic of your emotions. You can’t force laughter, you object? Of course you can’t force it. That isn’t the point. But you can find small things to smile about. Take the photograph just mentioned. That makes you smile. You can also rent a funny DVD or go to see a comedy at the multiplex with a good friend. Go on the Internet to joke sites or buy a joke book and start reading through it. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to start finding the comic side of things once you start seeing the joy in life – and practicing it. And, in this case, practice means you’ll get better at it.
You will be able to balance out the negative emotions with positive ones. And balance in your emotions is crucial to being able to move forward in your recovery. It’s a great way to beat the blues.
Learn How to Achieve Success
Another reason that people in recovery get bogged down in the blues is that they can’t see how they’ll be able to achieve success. Let’s look at this in a little more depth. You may have a roadmap that you created with your counselor or therapist during treatment. Right now, the goals may seem totally unreachable. When you feel that you have no possibility of ever achieving your stated goals, this tends to beat you down, to mire you in the blues. What’s really going on, however, is that you haven’t thoroughly worked through the steps you need to take, in succession, in order to achieve success.
To get from where you are today to the goal you set for yourself five years from now, for example, involves taking certain steps. Sometimes the steps are lateral instead of a vertical progression. You may wish to become a manager in a different department where you work, but you can’t expect to just transfer to the new position without first learning more about the job, obtaining necessary training, perhaps beginning at the same level where you are currently and going through a kind of on-the-job training. It may take some period of time before you are ready to assume the managerial role in the new area. So you’ll need to take a lateral move and then proceed to acquire the necessary knowledge and experience in order to move up.
Another important point to make about learning how to achieve success is that success isn’t always about a straight line. Sometimes you stay at a plateau for a while before you achieve your goal. Take learning a new language. You don’t just start off with a book and know how to speak and write the language fluently by the end of the book. Mastering a new language takes time, sometimes years. Avoid becoming depressed over your lack of fluency by celebrating accomplishments along the way. In the beginning, it’s all new, confusing, and a bit strange. The more you study the language, however, the more the light bulb of understanding begins to shine. You start to recognize phrases, then sentences, then entire paragraphs – or you can understand and reciprocate in entire conversations. In other words, you are slowly gaining mastery over the language. You are achieving your goal.
Take stock of your goals. Maybe you need to insert some intermediate steps that you need to take in your path toward achieving those goals. You are beginning to understand how to achieve your goals. This, in itself, will help you beat the blues in recovery. When you lack sufficient knowledge – it’s a scary prospect. Filling the gap with concrete actions to take means that you are building your knowledge bank.
Know When It’s Time to Move Forward
Everyone has a comfort zone, a place where they feel no need to make any changes. You’ve heard of the person who stays in the same position for years on end. Some might say the person lacks ambition when, in reality, it may be that they are in their own comfort zone and just don’t feel like moving forward. Others look at a person in that position as being stuck in a dead-end job. Such is not the fate for them. They prefer to be constantly moving forward.
When you allow yourself to be immobilized by the blues in recovery, you are like the person who is stuck. You’re in a comfort zone, in a manner of speaking, in that this is something you recognize. It’s at least something you’re familiar with, something that’s happened before. Getting past the negative emotions means you might have to take a risk. But – and this is very important – you need to take the risk in order to be successful in recovery. Sure, moving forward can be a little intimidating. You don’t know if you’ll like the situation once you achieve your goals. But, guess what? You can always change them. In fact, the beauty of making goals is that your list should always be evolving. Once you achieve the more immediate or short-term goals – such as being clean and sober for a week, a month, six months, a year, or getting a job to help pay the bills, or going back to school to resume your quest for a degree – you add more goals. The idea is to build upon those goals that mean something to you, or to make entirely new goals as new opportunities present themselves. And this is bound to happen. Life isn’t static. It’s about choices, always new choices.
Think how you felt when you first decided to enter treatment. You didn’t know what was going to happen. It was very frightening and you may have even been afraid you wouldn’t be able to go through it. But you made the decision to move forward, to do something constructive to overcome your addiction. That was a pivotal moment, the point at which you knew it was time to move forward. Being in recovery and beating the blues involves the same kind of recognition.
Those who are successful in recovery sometime refer to this as the “Aha!” moment. This is when it all starts to make sense. You know you don’t want to go back to wallowing in your sorrows and perhaps falling into relapse. Instead of looking back, you are now looking forward. You know it’s time to move forward.
Tend to Nutrition and Exercise
It is funny how often we all take the human body for granted. We go about our daily lives, worrying about this or that, and fail to take into account the fact that our bodies and our minds require nutrition and exercise in order to function optimally. The recommendations for eating healthy seem to go in one ear and out the other when in reality they are a perfectly sound prescription for healthy living.
Get your recommended daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. Include whole grains in your diet. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. Avoid saturated fats, too much red meat, excessive salt intake, and empty calories. It doesn’t take an advanced degree to figure out how to eat healthier, but if you have any doubts about how a particular eating regimen can benefit you, ask your doctor, nurse, or nutritionist. Buy a book on healthy eating. Start watching the cooking shows and see how the chefs prepare balanced, healthy and delicious meals. Then, start doing the same thing for you and your family.
Along with nutrition comes the need for adequate exercise. America doesn’t have to be a nation of fatties, or people who sit more than they walk, ride when they should be moving about, or people who consume more than they can reasonably use. Get up off the couch, the chair, and go for a walk. Play ball with the kids. Join a neighborhood or community team to play a sport – basketball, baseball, hockey, for example. Invite your friends or co-workers to go skiing, tubing, whitewater rafting, camping, hiking, fishing or some other recreational activity. Make exercise a vital part of your schedule.
Two things happen when you exercise regularly. One, your body creates natural feel-good chemicals called endorphins. These help lift your mood and make things seem more manageable. Two, your body begins to find homeostasis. Your heart, lungs, and vital organs function better. You build muscle tone, stamina – you may even lose weight or trim unnecessary inches from various parts of your torso. When your body and mind benefit from exercise – regular, vigorous exercise 3 to 5 days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes to 1 hour at a time – you won’t be finding yourself stuck in the blues.
Boost Your Mental Clarity
Another way to beat the blues in recovery is to stimulate and challenge your mind. There are any numbers of ways to do this. You can enroll in classes to learn a hobby or subject that always interested you. You could do crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or mind game challenges on a regular basis. Play Scrabble or other word games with your family and friends.
Learn how to play a musical instrument. An intellectually stimulating job can also keep your mind alert and boost mental clarity.
Stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the world by reading the daily newspapers. You can read the stories online if you don’t take the newspapers – and it’s free. Reading different kinds of books – novels, mysteries, adventure, and history – can expose you to new worlds and stimulate your mind.
And exercise, which has already been mentioned as necessary for overall health, can also help boost your mental clarity.
Even a good debate with a friend can jumpstart your mental clarity. Instead of stagnating, your mind is constantly working to form arguments and counterarguments. It is stimulating, and beneficial to mental clarity. It’s also fun.
Join With a Friend
Sometimes the best way to beat the blues in recovery is to do so with the support and encouragement of a trusted friend. This is not to say that you’re indulging in your woes by going over them with your buddy, but that you are sharing time with a friend and getting your mind off your negative and counterproductive thoughts. Your friend may be someone you’ve known and trusted for years, or it could be someone new that you’ve met, perhaps at a 12-step support group. Who your friend is doesn’t matter, as long as you have complete trust and enjoy spending time with him or her. Be sure to give of yourself freely to your friend. That means that you are willing to listen and offer your support and encouragement in return.
Two friends in recovery can help each other immensely – beating the blues, moving forward, becoming successful in reaching goals.
Whatever steps work best for you, employ them. Find what really motivates you and move forward. In the end, beating the blues will no longer be the time-consuming task it may seem like now. In fact, you’ll be such a pro at beating the blues that you won’t give it much thought. It will be second-nature. Life in recovery is all about possibilities. Get out and explore yours now.