You know what’s worse than having to accept change? Hearing platitudes about the necessity of accepting change. There are few things more tiresome than a condescending rando putting on their sage hat and pretending to know all the answers. “Well you know, Mr. Alcoholic Stranger in Recovery, life is about change. Blah blah blah, (random irrelevant allegory that doesn’t change the fact that you can’t have a real drink with the guys anymore).”
We’re not here to tell you all the answers. But we can offer some wisdom from recovering addicts and alcoholics that actually does help people let go of certain expectations and habits that revolved around their drug of choice. It all revolves around a simple concept: Don’t bottle up.
Stop, Drop, and Roll the Tape
“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow. Pain marks you too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
When you’re so removed from the consequences of addiction, it’s really easy to romanticize the good times. The dopamine released by our drug of choice has a funny way of eclipsing that drug’s wake of destruction. It’s okay to be sad about losing those warm euphoric hazes; however, it’s in your best interest to face that sadness head-on with an answer.
Playing the tape is a reality smack down for your noisy inner addict.
One of the first relapse prevention tools you learn in long-term rehab is rolling/playing the tape. The “tape” is a realistic picture about what actually happens when you give into cravings, rather than what you want to happen. It’s a succinct reminder that, as a recovering addict, you are not like everyone else. You don’t have the luxury of a biological “stop” button when it comes to your drug of choice. Through experience, you know that having a drink with the guys won’t end at the bar. So instead of saying yes, play the tape:
When the tape ends, it might be tempting to start rationalizing that things will be different this time with some extra willpower. Stop! Drop! And roll the tape again. You know, deep down, that this time won’t be different.
Don’t bottle up the urges–think through them instead. Reasoning through cravings is a way to confront mourning head-on. Playing the tape is really effective because it directly pits intelligence against the faulty heuristic reasoning that drives addiction and relapse. And if it didn’t work the first time, well, you can keep rolling the tape until it does.
How Mourning Evolves into Compromising
It’s 100% normal and healthy for addicts in early recovery to mourn the loss of their drug of choice. Somewhere down the line, that drug became a major tool for coping with life, and to have it stripped away feels like some cruel sort of deprivation. To make it worse, people who don’t understand addiction may judge you left and right for being sad that you have to be sober now.
But time heals. It’s the great equalizer among us, and years of habit-building will shift your perspective to a new kind of normal. The loss of booze, H, or whatever your drug of choice was will feel less keen. Invariably, rediscovering yourself in sobriety will beckon you away from that grief. Over the years, you’ll pick up new, healthier habits (consider becoming a coffee connoisseur or get into road biking) that will build you and your body up rather than act as a slow poison that constantly has you dancing with death. Just as a life without your drug of choice may seem impossibly distant now, the life you’re currently living will become a distant memory of the past. Everything is relative, after all.
Don’t bottle up your feelings of mourning. They are a normal and necessary part of your personal maturation as a person. Just remember that the mourning is temporary, and it will naturally transition into compromising as you learn to accept the trade offs involved with getting sober.
14 Days Sober in Group Therapy
“I don’t know how I’ll go to tailgate parties with my buddies anymore.”
3 Years Sober at a Get Together
Saying “I don’t drink” is actually not a big deal, and parties always have soda anyway.
2 Months Sober Confiding to Family
“I feel really sad that I won’t be able to drink champagne at my wedding one day.”
7 Years Sober at Your Wedding
“NBD, sparkling apple cider tastes way better. I remember back when this really mattered to me for some reason… anyway, let’s toast!”
Curb Cravings with Safer, Healthier Alternatives
There are times in early recovery where your rational mind is hijacked by the addict mentality, and a kind of desperation seems to take over. These cravings are historically responsible for many relapses among the addict population; however, you have the power to reign back that fall into a harmless stumble. Don’t bottle up; those racing thoughts of using don’t have to be choked back entirely. Especially because bottling up that kind of feeling is not healthy in the long term.
Instead, you have the choice to help curb your craving with a more healthy alternative. Ever wondered why many members of AA seem to be obsessed with caffeine and sugar? It’s pretty obvious that anything in excess is not healthy. But if a strong cup of cold brew coffee or a trip to the gym will keep you from relapsing today, then it’s 100% worth it. Remember, sobriety only takes one day at a time.
Lying That You’re OK Isn’t Doing Anyone a Favor
When you’re feeling that everything is overwhelming, you’re not helping anyone by keeping all that inside. It’s very common for people to feel like their heavy emotions are a burden to share with others (especially in early recovery). But that’s what therapy is made for, and you’d be surprised at the level of support family can offer.
Bottling up to spare others the inconvenience of your feelings is unhealthy and dangerous. It breeds feelings of loneliness and malcontent, which are two main drivers of relapse. It is helpful to take a step back and look at the long term projection of your life. Getting clean and sober is, objectively, a very difficult stage of your life. It’s expected for you to not be okay during this time. Eventually, it will pass, but only if you deal with the “not-okayness” in a way that helps you move past it.
Venting Is Your Friend
It’s totally normal for mourning to take the form of anger and bargaining; in fact, those are two of the five stages of grief. But don’t bottle up! This type of mourning is best addressed through healthy venting. But be warned: This only counts if you vent to people who support your recovery. Do NOT vent to “the guys” about your frustration, because as normies, they likely don’t understand the gravity of addiction even while you’re in recovery.
Instead, park your anger in an AA/NA meeting and unleash it. More than likely, your frustration will actually help others who are struggling with the same cravings. This is a huge reason AA exists. It’s an ongoing safety net that welcomes venting as a healthy release.
Don’t Bottle Up
Although many think they can “tough it out” alone, recovery is not a single player game. It requires a network of support and tools that prepare you for the long haul of sobriety. Don’t bottle up if you’re trying to make a better life for yourself–that gift of self love is worth sharing and supporting with real resources. If you or a loved one is seeking help, call one of our addiction counselors today: 855-737-7363