Addiction is a deep suffering which erodes the person’s sense of self slowly and
gradually. The person loses most of the things that they love, their work, hobbies,
relationships, interests and so on. People can recover from addiction using different
treatment approaches such as getting admitted in an inpatient rehabilitation
program, an outpatient treatment, using pharmacological and psychological
interventions. The choice of the treatment options depends on the severity of the
problem and the motivation of the individual.
But many people struggle to understand and keep up with their mental health work
in their recovery. There are many areas in which they are overwhelmed by issues
and suddenly feel lost or confused as to how they can respond to challenges in their
life. As long as they were using their substance, they avoided looking at the
multitude of issues that led and exaggerated their addiction, such as their poor
coping with stress, emotional instability, anger, over thinking, etc. Now that the
substance is gone, these issues resurface and make one feel uncomfortable and
confused. This article outlines the common things to expect when one is in recovery
and out of treatment.
- The ‘Pink Cloud’
The phrase ‘pink cloud’ refers to feelings of elation, euphoria and joy that one feels
when they enter sobriety. These occur when one comes out of withdrawal and the
body and mind feels clean and healthy for the first time in a long time. The person
has a positive outlook in life and is motivated for recovery. The pink cloud may not
look the same for everyone, nor is it’s length or point of start universal. But many
individuals experience it. The pink cloud ends, however, and leaves the person to
experience the reality of their lives which includes stress, monotony and the need
to do real hard work. This is when most people tend to crave for the substance
again as they may feel that this downer is how their recovered life will feel like. But
that’s not true. Recovery is dynamic and depends on what you do with your mental
health. There is great energy and a perspective shift in this pink cloud phase that
can be used to push one into doing innerwork, attending therapy sessions and
motivating themselves into a lifestyle change.
2. Mood Swings or Emotional Distress
Most people who compulsively use a substance are stuck in an avoidant coping
style. Those who say we drink or use to relax or ‘chill’ are avoiding boredom or
monotony by seeking thrill or the high. Thus admitting that they can’t relax or chill
by themselves. Any compulsive activity is usually an avoidance of some needs and
suppressed mental activity. When they become sober, the things that were buried
for a long time resurface with a new found force. These could be unconscious
memories, emotions such as fear, anger, resentment, pain, etc. , thoughts,
unfulfilled needs or any other mental activity. Unless one works on these actively,
they will follow the cycle of becoming suppressed again and then resurfacing,
causing one to experience mood swings or emotional disturbances. Some people
have frequent mood shifts while some may experience infrequent ones. But the fact
remains that everyone needs to identify and work on these unconscious patterns for
sustaining their recovery.
3. Family issues
The family or close loved ones are those who have seen the rock bottom of the
addict, up close. They may have pent up thoughts or emotions that they
suppressed when they saw the person they love in such dire states. They may have
developed their own issues of codependency, resentment, guilt, etc in the course of
the individual’s addiction. Or, there may be pre- existing family issues before the
addiction began which became more severe with the person’s addiction. Regardless
of how it began, some family issues may come up after the person enters recovery.
It may be hard to handle the pressure, the expectations, the guilt of what
consequences one is held responsible for and the things thrown at the person by
the family. But distracting oneself, covering up the problems or avoiding taking
about it is not the solution. In fact that’s what the individual and the family have
done all these years. Open communication, assertive expression, sharing emotions
trust building, doing more activities together, are all key in performing these issues.
One of the most efficient ways to do this is through family counselling and
codependency counselling which includes both the addict and the family members,
helping them to rebuild the bridges again.
Feeling bored is a common complaint in recovery which pushes many people to be
more impulsive in different areas of their life (sex, shopping, food, obsession shift
to another drug or substance). In addiction, the individual becomes used to feeling
good using only the substance which rewires the reward system in the brain. It
takes a while to rewire the brain to find joy and happiness in other activities. Also,
the addict is used to such a high stimulation in the form of thrill or getting the high
through the substance that normal life becomes too boring in contrast to that.
Monotony is a part of everyone’s life and it can be worked around consciously by
engaging in new, diverse activities which retrain the brain’s reward and learning
systems and produce more “happy hormones.”
5. Unfulfilled Needs
A human being has many needs apart from the obvious physical ones- hunger,
thirst, sleep and sex. There are psychological ones such as an intellectual need- the
need to intellectually gratify oneself by using our intellect, express it, understand
new things and so on; a creative need which expressed itself in art, music, dance and so on; need to process thoughts and emotion; need for autonomy; need for achievement, need for novelty and new experiences or activities and so on. Social needs include need to give and receive love, companionship, understanding,
nurturance, and so on. Many of us have some or the other needs that we have
neglected for a long time and remain suppressed. These unfullfiled needs push one
towards compulsively using a substance in order to allow further suppression of
these needs and manage the lack that one feels unconsciously due to the unfullfiled
needs. Once, an individual is off the substance, these may come up to the surface
of consciousness once again and may make one feel disturbed, empty, lonely,
anxious or simply experience inadequacy or lack in one’s life.
Most people were subjected to a lot of negative evaluation from themselves or
others in the form of blame, negative self talk, decline in work or relationships, etc.
They saw addiction take a huge chunk of their self away from them. When they
enter recovery they may become overly defensive and want to rebuild the image of
themselves again in a positive light. This may make them sensitive to criticism and
reject any negative feedback. This can also make them overlook or reject the
suggestions of the program or their counsellor. Statements such as “My willpower in
enough to make me stay sober” or “What more do they want out of me?” can be
signs of defensiveness. This makes one less likely to seek support in times of need
and stop doing the work that they need to do on their mental health.
It is important to become aware of these issues that surface in recovery so that one
can deal with them and not be blind sided when they come up. There are many
other issues that may also come up in terms of negative thought patterns, guilt or
shame, overcompensating for the past and so on. But the ones mentioned here are
umbrella terms which cover most issues that people face. At ZorbaWellness
Rehabilitation Center, our treatment program aims to enable the individual to face
these issues and treat the issues as teachers which will encourage more
introspection and self discovery. Our team of professionals helps guide the
individual in navigating through the ups and downs of sobriety. Reflecting on one’s
thoughts and emotions, observing one’s own behavior and modifying responses to
stressful situations is an ongoing process that is a focus of our treatment program.
It is after all, only in the toughest of conditions that the diamond is formed!