Emotional Extremes (Why We Should Avoid Them in Recovery)

Emotional Extremes

Table of Contents

Emotions are a part of human life. No matter who you are, what you are, or where you’re from, it’s incredibly likely that you have feelings. Some of us may be more sensitive than others, while others may have lost touch with their emotions or tried to bury them. For those of us who are alcoholics and addicts, it’s just as likely that we are in any of these camps. Typically speaking, alcoholics and addicts are more susceptible to our feelings and emotions, especially emotional extremes. They affect us more acutely, often causing outbursts or drastic actions to avoid them altogether.

Our sensitivity to our emotions can be a hard thing for us to admit, but the literature of recovery is pretty clear about it. We drank or used because we liked the feeling. We celebrated happily and indulged even more. Then we did it too much and lost control. We suffered consequences that felt terrible. So we worked even harder to escape the pain. This vicious cycle was commonplace for many of us. Our feelings and emotions often dominated us in our disease, so this area of our lives is something we should pay special attention to in recovery.

“Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings”

Songwriter Morris Albert had it right. Feelings and emotions are unavoidable. We often categorize them as good or bad, but it’s far more complex than that. We often think of sadness as bad, but when we lose a loved one or feel sad for an appropriate reason, it isn’t bad at all. It’s normal. It’s not something we have to hide, feel ashamed of, or try to escape. We should allow ourselves to feel sad, to grieve naturally, to take guidance from the 12-Step program of recovery, and to continue living our lives.

Contrarily, we never think of excitement as a bad emotion. It’s never bad to get excited, right? What about those times when we get so excited that we do something without thinking, or rush into something without proper consideration? Maybe we hurt somebody emotionally or caused ourselves a load of consequences, all because we felt excited.

If this sounds convoluted, let’s reduce it to this —  most emotions are not inherently good or bad. It’s how we process and behave behind those emotions that makes them positive or negative. We should not avoid our emotions but shouldn’t let them run the show either. The key to managing feelings and emotions is balance. This requires a bit of patience and practice, but it’s worth it to be able to feel our lives fully without letting our emotions take control.

A Quick Word Of Warning

The book Alcoholics Anonymous contains crucial information about alcoholics and addicts and our feelings. Speaking about the vital and much-mythologized 4th-Step, the Big Book says: “If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics, these things are poison.” The Big Book also says of the feeling of fear: “It was an evil and corroding thread…Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble.”

In other words, fear and anger must be watched closely because they often plague alcoholics and addicts like us, and they can damage us thoroughly if left unchecked. Luckily, there is a solution that follows in the Big Book —  we are to conduct a thorough, honest, and fearless 4th-Step. Doing so will begin to help us free ourselves of fear and anger, but we will need to rely on our higher power. By doing so, the Big Book promises that we can meet the chaos of life with internal peace and stability.

Finding Emotional Balance

We likely know that we can’t go on allowing our emotions to run our lives. Perhaps you’ve already guessed what the answer will be. Over time, working the 12-Step program and living the recovery way of life will help us gradually practice and achieve emotional balance. All 12-Steps are meant to benefit how we understand and process our emotions. The program as a whole also teaches us how to feel our feelings without losing ourselves to them. We’ll be able to pause when agitated, heal when hurt, and help when lost.

The 12-Steps are designed to produce within each of us the necessary psychic change and vital spiritual experience that bring about lasting recovery. These results of working the 12-Steps can help us change our minds, our hearts, and our spirits in crucial ways that save our lives. The program of recovery is a design for living that really works, and part of living is handling our emotions with love and acceptance. On pages 85-87, the Big Book lays out a helpful daily routine that focuses heavily on prayer and meditation, a prescription that is both time-tested and effective. If we do our best to follow these guidelines on a daily basis and pray for our higher power’s will to be done in our lives, the Big Book says: “We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves. It works — it really does.” We can’t say it any better than that.

Alcoholism and addiction are a complex disease with an immense scope of damaging effects on the lives of sufferers and their loved ones. There is a large cross-section of alcoholics and addicts who also have mental and emotional issues. These often get severely intertwined with the disease, causing a loop of negative emotions that can be difficult to escape from. No matter how much damage has been done or what you have tried before, recovery is possible. At Jaywalker, we earnestly believe that anyone can recover. If you are ready, you need only to be willing, honest, and open-minded as you work the 12-Step program of spiritual action. As the 12-Step process begins, your healing can begin as well. No matter how much you have suffered from your disease, lasting recovery can be found at Jaywalker. We’ve been in your shoes, and we are ready to help. Call us now at (970) 533-8087.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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