05 May Managing Intense Emotions in Drug Rehab
The first months of any new experience or environment can take some getting used to. Rehab is no different. Drug recovery requires a complete reorientation to life and that is enough to make anyone feel unsteady. Without the alcohol or drugs to suppress unwanted emotions and create desired ones, a person will have to learn to navigate the disconcerting road of human feelings. When someone has been living in an artificially devised environment, managing reality can seem a bit overwhelming. This helps explain why the first period of rehab can be an unusually emotional time.
The process of facing some feelings while learning to handle others can be intimidating and it is not abnormal for a person to feel on the edge of tears for a while. Thoughts and feelings that have been pushed down with substance abuse are finally allowed to surface, and dealing with them at last requires a big emotional investment.
Of course, it isn’t only the thoughts and feelings of the person in recovery that need to be worked through. Addiction often carries a string of damaged relationships in its wake. Marriage, family and friend relationships will need sorting out. Usually, there is some guilt, shame and grieving that needs to be gotten past. Not being numb to one’s own feelings and the feelings of others is a new experience for the person going through drug rehab.
In the past, these difficult emotions drove the person to drugs or alcohol in an attempt at escape. Now, they must be acknowledged and handled so that they don’t remain triggers. Here are a few suggestions for handling these powerful emotions during rehab:
1. Name it – If you are feeling angry, say so. If you are feeling shame, admit it. Give the emotion its proper title. Feelings have no power in themselves.
2. Slow down and take a deep breath – Now that you have named your emotion, stop for a moment and take control of your body’s response to that emotion. Inhale deeply and slowly. Hold the breath a moment and then release it in a slow, controlled way through your nose or through pursed lips.
3. Become intensely conscious – After slowing your breathing, focus on your other senses. What are five things that you can hear at that moment? You may notice birds or distant traffic, even the sound of voices in another room. Next, name five things that you can feel. The fabric on the chair on which you sit, the silkiness of your hair, the fur on your cat or dog. Think about what you can smell.
4. Work or wait out the strong emotions – Some emotions feel overpowering. Anger is one example. Instead of yielding to the wind of anger, take control. You can channel your anger into productive energy rather than lash out at another person. Go clean the garage or get some exercise. After a while, the energy of anger will have been spent. If you’d rather, you can hit the pause button and allow the wave of anger to build, rise and wash back out to sea. Hold your silence until you feel the strong emotion reach its ebb.
The early stages of drug rehab are loaded with powerful and persistent emotions. Learning to accept them and handle them rather than try to stifle them is a huge part of the change needed to live sober. Don’t be discouraged by the presence of emotions during this time, realize they are signs that you are once again sharing the true human experience.
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