Index to Posts on Emotions in Recovery

One of the surest signs that addicts are moving toward recovery is the return of their emotions. Once active use stops, their feelings are allowed to rise to the surface, often for the first time in many, many years. This period can be one of the most exciting – and one of the most dangerous – of early recovery. Without proper support, it is easy to fall back on their drug of choice to bring things ‘back under control.” Additionally, even if they don’t go back to intoxicants, there is also a concern that they might engage in other compulsive activities in order to circumvent the difficult process of returning to emotional health.

With this in mind, I decided to post a series of articles that I originally wrote for Rescue magazine, published by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, which appeared in the September 2000, November 2000, January 2001, and March 2001 issues.

  • Self Awareness- In this first installment, the importance of emotional self-awareness is explored, along with a discussion of the affect of growing up in dysfunctional families on emotional health.
  • Early Recovery- This second installment looks at the early days of recovery from addiction and the emotions addicts experience. The main focus is helping addicts to avoid relapse by constructively dealing with these feelings.
  • Grief – The third installment, entitled “The Role of Grief,” focuses on this particularly difficult emotion and how to help newly recovering addicts to deal with in a constructive manner.
  • Anger – The fourth installment focuses on another difficult emotion, anger, and provides some tips to help newly recovering addicts to successfully handle it.
  • Hope - The residential recovery program’s first goal is to create hope in our clients.  Here are some ways we can accomplish this.
  • Depression – Depressive disorders, which are more subtle, can be overlooked as factors that prevent program participants from moving forward in recovery.

Surviving the Holidays: Tips for People in Recovery

santa-drunkFor most people, the holiday season – which includes Christmas and the New Year celebration – is a special time of joy and celebration.  We have a chance to give our thanks to God for all His goodness and a chance to rejoice in the birth of the Savior.  It is also a time to welcome in a new year with all the hope and promise it brings.

Yet, we must never forget that for people who are just beginning to walk the road of recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs, this is an extremely difficult and stressful time.  For several reasons, this time of year means we are very vulnerable to a relapse.

Let me offer a few simple thoughts that might help them make it through this holiday season:

A.  Remember the spiritual significance of the holidays - This time of year is a major commercial event for America’s retailers.  For some, more than half of our revenue is generated in the final ten weeks of the year.  As a result, we are bombarded with marketing messages that encourage us to spend beyond our budgets.  Despite the commercial pressure, we need to keep our focus on the spiritual significance of the holidays.  Our focus in November ought to be thankfulness – an attitude of gratitude.  And we must never forget that when it comes to Christmas:” Jesus is the Reason for the Season”.  Above all else, we are celebrating God’s sending of His only Son to be our Savior and Redeemer. Keeping a spiritual focus puts all of our other expectations for the holiday season in proper perspective.

B. Don’t isolate - For most Christians, the holidays are a time for family and other important relationships. For the newly recovering addict, especially those in residential programs, the holidays can be the loneliest time of the year.

Newly recovering addicts face two special challenges during the holidays.  On one hand, the holidays serve as a painful reminder of all the relationships they’ve messed up.  To many recovering people spend Christmas haunted by memories of loved ones and friends that have been alienated because of destructive and manipulative behavior.  So, there is a real tendency to fall into self-pity and remorse.  In order to compensate for the loneliness, some will take an equally destructive path; falling in with the wrong people.  To keep our sobriety, people who are still using alcohol and drugs, must be avoided at all costs

So, what’s the solution?  This is the time take advantage of new, sober acquaintances God has brought into our lives.  Reaching out to those around us and using this holiday season s as a special opportunity to get to know them better is the best antidote for that special sense of loneliness that comes with the holidays.

C. Use the holidays as a special opportunity for making amends - Instead of dwelling on failed relationships, the holidays provide a special opportunity to restore some broken relationships.  This is the time to make a list of those people and creatively consider ways to reconnect with them.  While it is not always possible to make amends to everyone that might come to mind, there will always be a few of them, especially family members, to whom amends can be made.  Some of those who have not heard from us for some time might actually consider your getting in touch with them to be a special gift this holiday season.  Talk to a counselor or sponsor about this and get some input before embarking on this important step in your recovery process.

D.  Give gifts from the heart - It’s easy to feel a load of guilt and shame about not having resources to give presents and other tokens of love to those around you.  There are other types of “gifts” that can be just as meaningful: a simple card (even homemade), phone calls or visits, lending a helping hand with a special project.  There is a virtually unlimited number of ways to show people around you that you care that don’t require a lot of cash.  Be creative!

E Share your feelings - The holidays can bring back a host of confusing feelings and memories.  Sometimes we’re tempted to dwell on “good times” that involved drinking and drug use.  For some, this time of year provokes painful childhood memories if we grew up in a troubled home.  Others experience loads of stress, disappointment, and loneliness during the holidays.  The worst thing to do is to keep all these feelings bottled up inside.  Find trusted sober friends and support groups where you can share what is going on within you.  This is a sure fire way to keep them in perspective and work through all these emotions in constructive and healthy ways.

F. Find healthy ways to celebrate the season – For some of us, it’s hard to imagine a Christmas or New Year’s Eve without alcohol and drugs.  But, for newly sober people, this time of year can be a chance to rediscover how to have fun without mind-altering chemicals.  Take a few moments to find out what is happening in the church and what other Christian and sobriety-based events are happening in your community – and participate in them!

G. Have realistic expectations – Most post-holiday disappointments are the result of expecting too much.  Keeping Christmas as primarily a spiritual celebration also keeps our expectation in reality, too.  We may find this holiday season is not the exciting and joyous experience others seem to make it out to be.  Maybe no one seemed to have reached out to us in any special way.  Maybe we did not handle all the stress of the holidays, as we would have liked to.  So what?  Making it through the holidays without using drugs or alcohol could actually be the most significant thing we managed to do this holiday season.  This, in itself, is a major accomplishment.

Tough Love in Addiction Recovery Programs

How do we properly cope with the emotional distress that some staff members experience when called upon to dismiss residents for violating recovery program rules?

A. The Principle of “Tough Love”  One of the keys to overcoming staff difficulties in this area is educating them in the important principles of “tough love.”  While it can be extremely difficult to dismiss certain people from a program, we really are doing what is best for them.  For those in denial about their problems, consequences can be their salvation!  People continue to abuse alcohol and drugs (and persist in dysfunctional behaviors) as long as they feel the benefits outweigh the costs.

Additionally, being dismissed can often serve as an important learning experience.  Such people may return to the program with a much better attitude, having had a chance to get a hard look at the pain and destruction in their old environments.  Someone once said, “It”s hard to go back to digging around in the garbage after you”ve been feasting at the King”s table!”

At times, people may have more problems than a program”s facility and staff are equipped to handle.  Except for this situation, there seems to be only one other reason for dismissing an individual from a program – resistance!  One manifestation of resistance is a refusal to abide by expectations and rules to which they initially agreed when they first entered your facility or program.  Keeping them around is both bad for them and unfair to those who do have a sincere desire for a new life.

Certainly, troubled people need a lot of love and compassion.  Yet on the other hand, like Jesus, staff members do need, at times, to confront people who are in sin and denial.  Truth is always uncomfortable to the hard-hearted.  People only recover when they learn to take responsibility (with God”s help) for their own actions and lives.  We cannot do this for them!

B.  Protecting the Sincere Client - Another important principle to remember in the application of “tough love” is the need to protect those residents who are sincerely trying to change their lives from those who are not.  Keeping hard-hearted and disruptive people around can be extremely discouraging to those individuals who are working hard at their own recovery.  It can be truly amazing to sense the dramatic change in the atmosphere of a program when one or two disruptive individuals are removed.  Sincere people can be further motivated and reassured if they know that their efforts toward recovery will not be undermined by disruptive, uncommitted, and dishonest people.

C. Consistent Application of Program Rules and Expectations - It is extremely difficult for a staff member to dismiss a resident for a rules infraction that another resident has gotten away with.  No one wants to play the “bad guy.”  To prevent this situation, whatever rules a staff establishes must be applied equitably to all who stay at the facility.  Furthermore, “bending the rules” leads people to conclude that the ministry”s staff members are not serious about enforcing any of them.  “Playing favorites” by exempting certain individuals from your established rules will certainly lead to resentment toward staff members and their “pets” by other residents in the facility.  It is also especially important that staff members are supported by their superiors who are not constantly over-ruling their disciplinary decisions. If there is a disagreement between staff members about such an issue, it must never be discussed in the presence of a resident.  Forgetting this will certainly undermine the authority of the staff member in the eyes of the residents, rendering him ineffective in disciplinary matters.

The most important element for successful application of program rules and expectations is a formal intake session for every individual before actually moving into the facility.  At this meeting, the rules and expectations that are conditions of staying at the facility must be clearly discussed with prospective residents. The best policy is to require them to sign a formal contract agreeing to abide by your expectations.  This way, with everything explained at the very beginning of their stay, staff members will not be accused of “making up rules along the way.”  It also means that residents cannot say, “I didn”t know about that rule.”

D. The Principle of Good Stewardship - Staff members must be assured that, if a program has limited space, they must practice the best possible stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to them.  This involves, at times, a commitment to not allowing their time and resources to be wasted on people who are closed and resistant to what they have to offer.  They must avoid turning away people they can work with because space is being taken up by those who are hardhearted and resistant.  Good stewardship can mean working with a smaller number of sincere people, rather than filling up their facilities with people who use and abuse often limited resources and have no desire to change their lives.

E. Internal Struggles of Staff Members - When staff members are struggling with their own codependency-related problems, it can be very difficult for them to take disciplinary measures with program participants.  Staff workers must be committed to being part of the solution and not a part of the problem.  Their own unresolved issues will inevitably hinder their ability to minister effectively to others.  It is only proper and fair to those they work with that staff members seek out the right sort of help for themselves.  (The “Wounded Warriors” recorded lecture has more insights on this topic.)


Excerpts from Rescue Magazine, Fall 1993. Journal of the AGRM.