I responded today to a LinkedIn discussion started by Elisabeth Davies, MC of Bright Alternatives, Inc. and the author of “Good Things, Emotional Healing Journal: Addiction.” The discussion topic was, “Is relapsing with unhealthy substances an attempt to get more peace of mind? Being so passionate about this recovery topic, here’s my long-winded response!
“For many, yes. Many use substances as a coping behavior to help bring their emotional level to a more tolerable or comfortable level. Also, returning to such a behavior reduces the extreme tension of wanting to do it and not allowing ourselves to…thus, the experience of immediate relief or peace in-the-moment. To help us to feel better about relapsing, we’ve probably come up with all types of reasons (emotion-driven lies) as to why it is okay to do and would help us…and how we can also quit again when life settles down, etc…unless of course, it is a major emotional reflex to an immediate stressor and we do it VERY impulsively…without giving it much thought.
Relapsing on substances is little different than wolfing down a big bag of cookies or scoops n’ scoops of ice cream, or starting to smoke again, a “forbidden” sexual encounter….whatever. I think these types of behaviors have to do with attempts to bring an “out-of-control” emotional mind into control…so that we feel better and more comfortable in the emotional moment. It is all about being desperate for relief and doing what brings us relief, often immediate relief. It’s a desperate way to experience a sense of emotional, psychological, and physical peace IN-THE-MOMENT…although we’ll have hell to pay when we come to (when the emotional moment passes and rational mind picks up strength).
When we come to and realize what just happened and are faced with the consequences of our behavior…and the unresolved problem…we feel bad again…and then we may continue destructive coping….chasing “peace in the moment”…When we use destructive coping behaviors to deal with our pain and problems, we enter the Cycle of Suffering. Our problems multiply and intensity and we go through a period of increased pain and suffering as a result.
I believe most people use destructive coping behaviors to some degree (e.g., overworking, oversleeping, physical aggression, yelling, throwing fits, being rude and ugly, ‘always speaking our mind”, lying, gambling, obsessive exercise, cheating, sleeping around, codependency, procrastination, smoking, prescription meds, alcohol, overeating or eating the desired “poison foods” for us, being hyperreligious, narcissistic….and the list goes on and on.) I actually tell my patients that it’s “normal” to be “abnormal” and entirely abnormal to be so perfectly normal and in control of ourselves. We all do some destructive coping behaviors and the healthier or more in recovery we are…the less we do these things…and the more we work VERY hard to stay in control of our emotions, behaviors, and our addictions of choice….and the more we choose life-enhancing coping behaviors instead.
I’m obviously very passionate about this…it’s one of those, “been there, done that, still doing that…having to fight for recovery at times to stay in control…and not to get too far out of control” type of things for me. I believe that when we are in recovery…we remain “works in progress.” Sometimes it’s a daily battle and sometimes, an occasional battle. We’re emotional critters and creatures of habit…and when we hurt or are feeling desperate and “out-of-control”…we tend to fall back into old patterns of relief-seeking behaviors…or to certainly think about doing them!
We’re emotional critters and creatures of habit…and when we hurt or are feeling desperate and “out-of-control”…we tend to fall back into old patterns of relief-seeking behavior…or to certainly think about doing them!”
And you know the more we think about doing them…the more likely we are to finally do them. That’s because the tension is building…we want…and we won’t allow ourselves to have…and we want…we tell ourselves “NO”…and we want…and we’re tired of the pain, problems, tension, and frustration…and we become desperate for relief and peace…that we finally do what we keep trying not to do…and we relapse. Have you “been there, done that?” Have you been through this struggle? It’s a battle of the minds, Emotional Mind vs. Rational Mind and Wise Mind. It’s a battle of wills…willingness vs. willfulness. Which recovery skills do you use to get through the “fixing to relapse” moment? Do you still have these moments?
I believe that one of our major recovery tasks is to learn ways to keep our Emotional Mind in control and to tame our Emotional Mind when it is getting out-of-control. That’s my biggest recovery task…and it’s always a battle of the mind states and a battle of will. Sometimes, I grow tired of the battle and dealing with my emotional, willful self. At those tired, weak moments, I remind myself….”Mel, what do you want…peace and stability or chaos and pain?” Isn’t it horrible that you have to parent yourself even when you’re a grown-up!?