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Embracing Sobriety: A Guide to Facing Your Feelings With Courage and Clarity

Too often, people in early recovery make the mistake that abstinence and recovery are the same. The truth is that recovery is a holistic, life-changing process, often requiring people to make dramatic changes in lifestyle, relationships, attitudes, and beliefs.

Only by embracing sobriety fully can you ensure your long-term success. Facing your feelings is one such critical component, as learning to recognize and address your emotions can be extremely beneficial in preventing future relapse.

But this doesn’t always come easy. Facing your feelings is often a foreign concept to people who have been using drugs or alcohol for extended periods, and it takes a concerted effort to be able to fully differentiate, appreciate, and understand your emotional state.

The Challenge of Achieving Sobriety

The road to sobriety is lined with challenges. When people first get sober, they often face an immediate set of intense, uncomfortable symptoms and side effects, including drug or alcohol withdrawals, a sudden upheaval in their social circles, or even moving away from home to find effective substance use treatment.

And while these challenges are sudden and impactful, they are generally temporary and resolve themselves quickly. Acute withdrawal symptoms typically resolve in weeks, people can find new social circles in early recovery, and moving away from home for treatment is typically a temporary situation.

But other challenges in recovery can last for a particularly long time. A worthwhile, sustainable recovery often necessitates making concerted and long-term efforts to change your way of thinking, approaching life’s challenges, and dealing with stressors in a healthier and more productive way.

One of the main components for many people is learning to face their feelings. Whether it was intentional or not, drugs and alcohol can repress and alter your emotions. As such, starting a life in sobriety can lead to people feeling overwhelmed with new emotions and attitudes, and people are often unsure of how to deal with them.

How Emotions and Substance Use Disorders Interconnect

Drugs and alcohol can alter your emotional state in several ways. Often, this is one of the primary reasons that people turn to substance use and ultimately develop an addiction. Common emotional reasons that people engage in substance use include:

  • Enhancement: to amplify positive emotions and experiences
  • Coping: to nullify or diminish negative emotions
  • Social: to facilitate emotional connections with others

While different drugs have different effects on your emotional state, these three sets of motives account for a large proportion of substance use.

Even if you aren’t explicitly using drugs or alcohol to manage your emotions, they can alter your emotional state regardless. People who use drugs or alcohol on a daily or regular basis may be repressing their emotions without even being consciously aware of doing so.

Whether it was their intention or not, the result is often the same: people become unprepared to deal with difficult emotions on their own. They become reliant on the effects of drugs and alcohol to manage these emotions for them.

Without feeling the effects of negative emotions regularly, people lose the skills to deal with them. They don’t have the opportunity to develop healthy coping skills on their own and are left suffering from a negative emotional state without a clear path out.

Why Embracing Your Feelings Is Crucial to Recovery

Sobriety can bring countless rewards to people who can achieve and maintain it. But recovery is by no means a universally positive experience. It can, at times, be challenging, difficult, and emotional. The difference is that people in recovery are expected to face these challenges rather than avoid them.

Facing your feelings in sobriety is critical. For one, being unable to deal with your emotions is often a common path to relapse, as those in recovery are aware of the palliative emotional effect of drugs and alcohol.

Additionally, facing your feelings can help you to learn from them, to grow in your recovery, and to achieve a greater sense of holistic mental health.

To understand the impact that embracing your feelings can have on your path to sobriety, let’s look at some common emotional experiences and how facing them head-on can help.

Guilt

Particularly in early recovery, guilt is an exceptionally common emotion. People who have just broken free from substance use disorders can experience intense regret for the actions they took during their addiction, for people they have hurt, or for things they wish they had never said.

When it is left unaddressed, guilt can become shame, an even more pernicious emotional state. Guilt is regret for one’s actions, whereas shame is a judgement against your sense of self and your character.

But guilt itself is adaptive. Guilt is an emotion that recognises inappropriate behaviour and steers people away from repeating their mistakes. It moves people toward a better path. It can even facilitate the process of making amends and setting right the wrongs people may have made.

Guilt is uncomfortable. But by embracing guilt, people can incorporate this emotion into building a better life for themselves. It can prevent people from feeling ashamed. And ultimately, it can propel them further on the road to recovery.

Sadness

Feeling sad is another common and unavoidable part of living a life in recovery. While feeling perpetually sad can ultimately increase your risk for relapse, it is often better to embrace this emotionality than try to avoid it.

Avoiding sadness means trying to repress it, ignoring the issue, or distracting yourself. And while this may provide some temporary relief, it doesn’t resolve the feeling of sadness. It only delays it, pushing it down the road to be dealt with at another time.

Ultimately, trying to avoid the feeling of being sad leads to feeling sad more often, stressing yourself in an effort to avoid your emotions, and letting the emotion build to a boiling point.

No one likes to feel sad. But by accepting your feelings and leaning into them, you can process the emotion fully and avoid making your sadness worse later.

Joy

When people talk of the importance of facing feelings in sobriety, they often hyperfocus on negative emotions. But the same principle can be applied to happiness, joy, or excitement — and it’s just as important to take the time to savour these emotions.

Especially in early sobriety, people often have difficulty experiencing positive emotions. This is often a direct consequence of the way drugs and alcohol interact with the brain, specifically by changing the way the brain responds to dopamine. People new to sobriety are less sensitive to positive natural rewards, which can often lead to feeling unmotivated, unhappy, or bored.

So when you do experience the joy and happiness that sobriety can bring, take time to savour it. Truly engross yourself in the positive emotion. Recognise how your sobriety has led to being able to enjoy the small or big things in life, and you set yourself up for future success again and again.

How to Work Towards Embracing Emotions

Embracing emotions isn’t easy — particularly if you’re out of practice. But it is a goal that is achievable for everyone on their own terms. There are a number of time-tested strategies that can guide you on the path toward embracing emotions in your new life, including:

Addiction Support Groups

Addiction support groups are built upon social connection, community support, and open and honest communication with one another about your challenges in sobriety. Being vulnerable, speaking openly about your emotional difficulties, and sharing strategies that work to help guide you through these emotions are hallmark features of nearly every addiction support group.

This isn’t just a coincidence. These groups value a deep and honest connection with emotions because it helps people stay on the path to recovery.

Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness is a practice of connecting to the here and now. It can help you not only identify the emotions you’re feeling but truly embrace and understand them without attempting to distract yourself or push the emotions away.

Mindfulness has quickly risen to prominence in the scientific literature as an effective mental health tool. It is a key component of treatments such as:

  • Dialectical behaviour therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Mindfulness-based relapse prevention
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapies

While centring your experience on emotions — even negative emotions — may seem like it only accentuates the negative aspect, you may find that the exact opposite is true. By truly focusing your attention on the emotions you are experiencing and experiencing them fully, you can rob them of their power.

Therapy

Working with a therapist, either one-on-one or in group therapy, is perhaps the most effective way to truly connect and embrace your emotional side. A therapist has specialised training to not only guide you towards embracing your emotionality but to help show you effective and healthy methods of coping with your emotions in your day-to-day life.

But intensive therapy work can go even deeper. Your therapist can help you understand the root cause of your emotions, how they affect your behaviour, and where they do or don’t align with your treatment goals. If you feel like your emotions are jumbled or inconsistent, working with a therapist can help you untangle and make sense of them.

Drop the Struggle

Learning to embrace your emotions is ultimately a path toward stopping needless struggle. When you try to avoid, suppress, or distract yourself from uncomfortable emotions – you only make the process harder on yourself, add undue stress, and suffer when it doesn’t work out as you hope.

By facing your emotions head-on, with courage and clarity, you simplify the course of your life. Emotions come and go, and you don’t need to fight them anymore, turn to drug or alcohol use, or hide them behind behavioural patterns that ultimately don’t line up with your treatment goals.

Starting a new life in recovery is hard enough on its own. Building new supportive social circles, finding new ways to spend your time, and engaging in the treatments and activities that can inspire long-term recovery all take effort. Don’t bog yourself down further by trying to push away your feelings and dealing with all the complications that come as a result.

Face them. Embrace your emotions. And you just may find that they start to turn more positive, more enjoyable, more sustainable, and help you connect deeper with the people you care about the most.

Get Help at APN London

If you’re struggling to embrace emotions, stay sober, or get sober, call the team at APN London to get professional, compassionate, and evidence-based support. Our team is available 24 hours a day by calling 0203 984 7699 or by filling out our completely confidential online contact form for more information.

You can break free from addiction. You can build a better life in recovery. When you work with APN London, you can embrace your emotions.

References

  • Addict Behav. 2013 February ; 38(2): 1563–1571. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2012.04.001.
  • Addictive Behaviors, vol. 31, no. 10, 2006, pp. 1844-1857, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2005.12.028. Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.
  • Kuntsche, Emmanuel, et al. “Who Drinks and Why? A Review of Socio-demographic, Personality, and Contextual Issues behind the Drinking Motives in Young People.”