I have often written about all the difficulties I have had with reading my emotions. Especially in early recovery when I could not even identify and label the most intense negative emotions.
That experience has set me on a near decade-long search to better understand emotions and the way a lack of awareness of emotions plays in addiction and in recovery.
Today I would say the effective and rational/reasonable control of emotions is one area that has become noticeably better.
I tolerate negative emotions better, their intensity is much reduced compare to early recovery, the duration of these emotions is much much shorter than before. I seem to also make better decisions in my life based on not being overwhelmed by my emotions, particularly negative emotions.
It is said by much research that addicts, alcoholics and those with behavourial addictions have something skin to alexithymia, an impaired ability to read emotions and act on them in making decisions.
Humans seem to use emotions to make decisions which is something I never realized before.
When I ask my wife how have I changed she always says I have become more considerate and more mature in my emotional reactions.
This to me shows recovery as a process of handling emotions better, in a more emotional mature as opposed to immature way.
I also have looked at lots of research that says this emotional immaturity is there for many pre-using drugs or alcohol or engaging in unhealthy behaviours. So it may be a part of the aetiology of addictive behaviours.
When I first came into recovery I remember my wife would drive me to AA meetings. This was before my sponsor said I would be either walking or getting the bus from now on!
I was mortified?
ME!? Doesn’t he know who I am?
I have chauffeur, thank you very much?.
I had become so emotional dependent on my wife. It was like another addiction/dependency.
Recovery has been a long, at times painful, process of growing up, however reluctantly at times!
I was not only powerless over alcohol but fairly hopeless too when it came to living life on lives terms.
The more chronic my addictions became the more I regressed emotionally.
The more I recovered the more I matured emotionally, is my point.
Even today I often have to “talk my emotions out” to see what I feel really, before I can label and identify what I am feeling really.
Before I can act maturely on what I am feeling instead of emotionally reacting which is what I always used to do.
As a fellow recovering person said in this article (1) . . “. sit down with people and bounce some ideas off each other and get it off your chest and stuff. That’s very helpful and that kind of helps me, like saying it out loud to identify where I’m actually at.”
This is why ringing sponsors and talking to fellow recovering people is essential especially in early recovery.
We do not how we feel clearly what we are really feeling otherwise, delude ourselves everything is fine, continue to make poor decisions to the point of becoming emotionally drunk and then often relapsing to physically drunk.
We do all of this sometimes not because we want to drink but because we think we can do it alone when we cannot.
Sometimes in early recovery we haven’t go a clue what is going on, our arrogant pride however resists this idea and keeps missing the point of what is really going on.
Our errant emotion processing does not result in clear thinking, it results in negative, strangely deluded thinking.
By deluded I mean divorced from the reality of things as they really are. It takes some weeks and months to realize we cannot fully rely on our own thinking and this can be a blow to the pride.
The concluding part of this study (1) was very revealing to me and explained part of the “feeling” that often accompanies early recovery, the feeling of not recovering fast enough of not recovering NOW!
Addicts and alcoholics want everything NOW even recovery, they want the recovery of ten years in ten weeks!
” …some participants interpreted negative feelings as global markers of overall emotional ill health and poor progress in recovery, for example, “I think I should be feeling better now” and “I thought I was progressing but in a lot of ways I haven’t and that’s not good.”
Here, participants realize they are experiencing negative feelings and understand it as suggestive of a larger negative phenomenon, for example, that they are not “better now” and not “progressing” as previously thought. This type of negative globalization is a type of cognitive distortion.”
A cognitive distortion is a deluded thought like those mentioned above. Our errant negative emotions produce distorting thinking.
Our negative feelings rarely tell us the truth. They give some jaundiced view of reality.
This is why we need to have constant contact with others in recovery to offload these negative feelings.
Just as with sharing with a sponsor or a friend to find out what we feel, we need to share with others to undistort our negative thinking. Negative emotions often give rise to negative thinking.
“As one participant said “And I know [recovery] is not a magic fix either because I didn’t expect, if you get sober to be all of a sudden everything is perfect. That’s not the way it works. . . . So it’s going to take you a little longer to feel better.””
I would add to this that it is progress not perfection.
I would also add that we can feel better quicker than we think on a basis, one day at a time.
Ring someone, talk to someone and try to verbalise how you feel.
This straightens out your thinking and you will feel better right away.
We drank to go “phew!” a release from our thinking and negative heads, now we “share” with others what is really going on with us, to get to understanding what emotions ail us and this leads to the same feeling of release, to the same feeling of “phew!”
We never have to drink again to go “phew”, talk to someone instead.
We will discover things are never as negative as our thinking has lead us to believe, and are usually a whole better in fact!
We recover together.
1. Krentzman, A. R., Higgins, M. M., Staller, K. M., & Klatt, E. S. (2015). Alexithymia, Emotional Dysregulation, and Recovery From Alcoholism Therapeutic Response to Assessment of Mood. Qualitative health research,25(6), 794-805.
Thank you Paul. 🙂
thank you 🙂
Great post, Paul 🙂 I’m feeling much more “emotionally mature” these days!
thanks and glad to hear that Lori – acting (or reacting immaturely) is not much fun.