When you stop using drugs, you begin to see the big, ugly gap you were trying to fill. This gap existed long before the addiction developed. In fact, it was probably a large part of the reason you began using drugs in the first place. There was a void or emptiness you didn’t know how to face or manage. You felt overwhelmed by your emotions or frustrated by a lack thereof. You tried to cover gaps so you wouldn’t fall into them. You tried to numb emotions or raise the right ones.
Addiction only made the void bigger and the feelings more powerful, but you couldn’t see that. Addiction wouldn’t let you see that. Now that you are beginning your recovery journey, the void is visible. And it is scary. Don’t worry! When you have the support of peers, loved ones and experienced professionals, there is always a person or a method on hand to help you fill the void.
Addiction and the Void
Addiction is closely tied to your thoughts and emotions. How you think and how you act are interrelated. When your thoughts lead to drug use, the action that was supposed to fill or at least hide a void only makes it bigger. Translational Psychiatry1 shares, “The prefrontal cortex has extensive connections with subcortical structures that regulate emotional processing, including the amygdala. Alcohol and drug exposure impairs emotion regulation in this region, with interconnected medial and cingulate networks showing enhanced reactivity to arousing stimuli and reduced capacity to suppress negative affect. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) also act to appraise and regulate negative emotions. These cortical areas over-activate in response to substance-related stimuli.”
This is a complicated way of saying drugs impair your ability to manage your emotions. If you turned to drugs to help you feel better or fill a void, you already didn’t know how to positively process or manage your feelings. Addiction only makes this worse. Luckily emotional regulation is a skill, and skills can be taught. You can learn how to look at and fill the void.
Start Where You Are
Facing, much less filling, the void may seem overwhelming. When you begin your recovery journey, step back from the edge. You don’t have fall in. You don’t have to fill it at once. You don’t have to leap across it. Recovery is gradual. Your treatment team will push your boundaries and comfort zone, but they will never ask you to do more than you can manage. They understand that getting sober can be as scary as staying addicted. Psych Central2 considers this the most common fear related to recovery. They explain, “Getting sober means replacing your primary coping mechanism – drugs and alcohol – with new, unfamiliar ones. The process can be uncomfortable, particularly for someone who is afraid of feeling in general.”
There’s no denying that recovery is mentally challenging. You are facing a void you’ve been ignoring for a long time. You have to change habits, thoughts, and ways of acting that, if not safe, at least felt comfortable.
Change is a necessary part of recovery. However, you will never be asked to do more than you can handle. You aren’t expected to leap into the void of recovery feet first and hope you’ll be fine. You turned to drugs and alcohol for distraction and false feelings. You wanted a solution. You knew drugs and alcohol probably weren’t the best choice, but they seemed to work at first. You did the best you could with what you had and what you knew.
As Scientific American3 explains, “Recovery programs teach…fundamental principles of emotional regulation because addicts do not know them intuitively.” You don’t enter treatment knowing the right way to fill the void. You don’t enter treatment prepared to face the gaps in your life. If you knew how to do these things in a healthy, positive way, you would have already.
Recovery is here to teach you how to face the void. Peers and professionals gently guide you and help you develop the skills and strengths you need for recovery. Treatment teaches you how to not just fill the void but repair the gap that began it in the first place.
Pausing for Perspective
When the void seems too big or recovery too overwhelming, don’t give up. Pause and find perspective. Ask for professional support. The void won’t be, and can’t be, filled overnight. You don’t have to do it all at once, and you don’t have to do it alone. You can step back from things that are too difficult or painful to manage right now. This doesn’t mean you get to avoid coming to terms with experiences, memories, and feelings. It does mean you don’t have to face them all right at the beginning. It does mean you will never have to face them without support and understanding. Learn how to manage your emotions. Learn how to fix the gaps in your life rather than widen them with the wedge of addiction. Take the right first action, and the rest will follow. Call Michael’s House at 760-548-4032 for immediate support and information.
1. http://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v7/n3/full/tp201734a.html. “Effects of naltrexone are influenced by childhood adversity during negative emotional processing in addiction recovery.” Translational Psychiatry. 7 Mar 2017. Web. 23 Mar 2017.
2. https://blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2014/06/6-common-fears-in-addiction-recovery-and-how-to-face-them/ “6 Common Fears in Addiction Recovery – and How to Face Them.” Psych Central. 9 Jun 2015. Web. 23 Mar 2017.
3. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-emotional-sobriety/. “The Nuts and Bolts of Emotional Sobriety.” Scientific American. 1 Mar 2012. Web. 23 Mar 2017.