Addiction is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problem. You wouldn’t believe how much pushback I get from saying that, but it’s the truth. It is only by integrating all parts of ourselves into our long term recovery plan that we acknowledge the fact that addiction has physical, psychological, and emotional components. Each of those components must be discovered, understood, and treated if we want to break the cycle of substance use once and for all.
One of the things that is pretty universal among people dealing with addiction is that we use(d) to mask some sort of pain. Sometimes that pain starts out as physical, but it commonly involves emotional pain as well. While the physical detox process can be hard, the real battle comes when we are forced to face challenging situations without self-medicating. The impact of addiction on our mind – our thoughts, feelings, and emotions – cannot be overstated. By not facing problems head on, we might feel helpless and abuse substances to avoid feeling shame, guilt, fear, sadness, and anger.
Addicted people are emotionally stunted because, when we were in active use, we were not dealing with emotional situations in a healthy way. The younger we were when we started using, the less experience we have in managing emotions and our responses to them. Even if we didn’t use at an early age, the reasons we used often existed when we were young. When we then move into active recovery we’re faced with emotional situations we don’t understand, regardless of our chronological age. So in addition to the emotion itself, we might also deal with embarrassment, frustration, and anxiety over our lack of knowledge of emotions, as well as frustration over our friends/loved ones lack of understanding that we are essentially in emotional puberty, that this is all new to us.
An important and often ignored part of active recovery is connecting with our emotions: what they are, how they feel, and how we can manage them in healthy ways. That includes digging into our past to explore the traumas and root causes of our addiction(s). It’s hard, mentally and emotionally draining work, but it’s absolutely critical to maintaining active recovery while discovering and learning to love ourselves as whole people.