Feel Like You’re on an Emotional Roller Coaster? Here’s Why!

Posted on April 9, 2013

~Green-In-MI, SMART Recovery Volunteer

Emotional Roller Coaster

If you are new to addiction recovery you may be surprised to notice that your emotions can be a bit of a whirlwind. You are not alone; the emotional roller coaster is a natural part of the recovery process for many people. There are a couple reasons for this experience.

First, you’ve been soaking your brain in your drug of choice, often for months or years. Depending on your personal use pattern, it’s going to take some time for your brain to adjust to not being soaked. In the meantime, you might experience your brain’s adjustment as a cascade of emotions. I like to tell a story about crying at a song from The Muppet Movie — one of the happy songs.

Second, many people use alcohol or other substances to avoid dealing with difficult or painful emotions like grief, anger, or anxiety. For example, you might be attempting to avoid mourning a lost loved one. Or you might be avoiding dealing in a more effective way with something like anxiety issues. In any of these cases, when you stop using, those painful emotions are going to be welling back up in full force, and arguably you will feel them more acutely due to the adjustments going on in your brain.

It Does Get Better

The good news is that this experience does get better. Your brain will get used to living without your drug of choice. And hopefully you can find ways of effectively dealing with difficult emotions, instead of working to escape from them. REBT tools like the ABC exercise offer a way to dissect ‘problem feelings’ and deal with them. SMART’s toolbox also has materials on anxiety and unhelpful or irrational thoughts, and the message board has a specific section devoted to the topic of “Dealing with Grief While Recovering from Addictions.”

I remember my own frustrations in early recovery with everyone saying “it gets better,” and me, a red hot mess wondering, “yeah, but WHEN!?” The frustrating answer is: it depends. Different people have different physiologies and different histories of usage. But hang in there and know that it will get better. Your head will clear and by using SMART tools you’ll learn to effectively deal with those difficult emotions.

When I started in SMART, a facilitator named 3-Dog was fond of saying: “You’ve been putting your body and your brain through a lot with your drug of choice. Go easy on yourself. Try and do something you enjoy every day.” I’ve always interpreted this as eating chocolate.

About the author: Green-In-MI is a SMART Recovery Online Member and Volunteer. He continues to build on his progress and enjoys endurance sports and gardening