Stop Using Addiction to Hide from Difficult Emotions. Take These Steps
Thanks to social media, each of us can easily and comfortably “express” emotions like love, anger, and surprise with a mere finger tap on our phone screen. In real life, of course, things can be a little more complicated. Actually, they can be a lot more complicated.
Emotions are, at times, messy and difficult and frightening.
It’s no surprise so many of us hide from them—especially if we’re simultaneously struggling with an addiction of any kind. After all, in many cases, it was an unwillingness or inability to show emotion that led to the addiction in the first place.
Emotions can make us feel fearful or weak or vulnerable or inadequate.
Addiction—substance abuse, for example—may provide a temporary haven from dealing with such distressing feelings. But this respite also hampers our ability to become emotionally mature. This can then lead us to use our addiction as an all-purpose excuse for ignoring or hiding what we feel.
Perhaps, when we’ve expressed our emotions, we’ve been mocked or ignored, or taken advantage of. Each of has walked our own journey and have many, many justifiable reasons for perceiving emotional openness as a source of fear. As difficult as it may be to change this perception, it may help to consider that increased stress levels have been observed in those who repress emotions.
In addition, studies link better recovery from a traumatic event (physical and/or emotional) to the expression of feelings via writing. Here’s more motivation: Among people who have lived to at least 100 years of age, “emotional expression” was one of the most common traits!
For these and so many other reasons, finding ways to not use addiction as a shield to hide or negate our emotions is an essential challenge.
To follow are a few steps to get you started in this journey towards emotional sobriety.
● Accept and examine your emotions and the reactions they provoke
The emotions you experience, and how you choose to express or not express them, are part of who you are right here and now. This doesn’t have to be a source of shame, guilt, or avoidance.
Being present with our behavior is not the same as surrendering to it, so breathe and ask yourself: What am I feeling? What reaction does this emotion provoke from me? Do I lash out or shut down? Do I deflect or deny? How do each of these reactions subsequently make me feel? What can I do in this moment to accept and address my emotions?
● Cultivate a back-up plan
If your emotional default setting is to use your addiction as a way to withdraw into silence, you need a backup plan. You can begin by asking yourself this question: How would I choose to express my emotions if I felt more comfortable doing so? Visualize how this would look and sound and appear to others. Most importantly, how does it feel to you?
● Modulate your expectations
Please notice that it doesn’t read “lower your expectations.” If you’ve been hiding from your emotions for a relatively long time, it’s both realistic and self-loving to expect incremental change. Give yourself permission to grow and evolve at a pace that works best for you. Also, don’t be hesitant about asking someone safe and supportive for help.
● Get help
Perhaps this step begins with a web search or a conversation with a trusted friend. Or maybe you recognize that you need to consult a therapist. Whatever path you choose, it becomes more navigable when you create a support system to provide a sense of community.