People in recovery like to overthink things. It’s probably a holdover from active addiction. I realize not everyone in recovery is a member of a 12-step fellowship but there are definitely perks for those in them. The collective wisdom passed down from one recovering addict to another is of immeasurable value. All over the world, recovering addicts share similar eye-opening revelations they’ve experienced and these shared insights turn into the often-repeated sayings we hear in meetings.
“We can’t think our way into new feelings but we can act our way into new thinking.” (Or some variation of this). We hear this solution – that action changes feelings – yet we continue to overthink, ruminate, and obsess in a vain attempt to control how we feel. Overthinking is never a solution. Usually all it does is increase stress and keep us trapped in our discomfort and confusion. We long for change yet we fear it – unless, of course, we are in control of it. There’s no comfort in familiar misery but in early recovery the concept of “letting go” is confusing and difficult to grasp. We usually let go when the pain is great enough. Until then, we hang onto our old belief in self-reliance that’s hardwired by fear. Without solutions we stay trapped in our heads with emotional discomfort.
For anyone new to recovery the greatest suffering happens when we are left alone with our mind for stretches of time. Once the substance or compulsive behavior is gone, our brain experiences a dopamine deficit and this creates anxiety until it finds homeostasis. Our mind’s racing and it feels like we’re going crazy. Even the air stings our raw nerve endings. What’s a newcomer to do?
You can reduce the intensity of withdrawal and early recovery anxiety by taking actions but this requires a conscious daily commitment on your part. Trust me, the addict-mind will try to hold you hostage in prolonged isolation. It’s easy to lose hours sitting at the kitchen table thinking your way into a level of anxiety that’s paralyzing. This makes it hard to get the day started or find motivation to create new habits of self-care.
Here are actions to take:
Call people and make plans so you aren’t spending too much time alone. (Maybe this means going to a meeting or getting together with other people in recovery).
Get outside – take a long walk, look at whatever nature is around you. Fresh air lowers stress.
Do something physical – go to the gym, take an exercise class, yoga, a bike ride, jogging, jump rope, swim or play a sport. Get your body moving for at least 30-60 minutes. (Make an effort – baby steps if you haven’t been active in years).
Eat healthy food and don’t skip meals. Newly clean and sober people have a tendency to go for sugar, bread, and caffeine – mood-changing foods. What they don’t realize is that the mood this diet may lead to is depression and lethargy. Be mindful to get in enough healthy food to balance this out.
If you do all of the above on a regular basis, your body will respond positively. You will sleep better and have more energy. You will also experience less mood-swings.
Cravings always come from feelings. Stress is where they begin. You have the power to control this – the choice is yours. Action not thinking is the way out.
Whenever you start to feel anxious – if you talk to someone who triggers you, if you have to go somewhere or deal with a situation that’s stressful – have quick stress-deactivator tools on hand. Here is what to do: before entering a situation that’s triggering take ten slow deep breaths. Inhale through your nostrils until you feel completely full of air and then blow this air slowly out of your open mouth until you feel like an empty balloon. This will relax you. Anytime you feel any level of stress, breathe like this. Whenever you feel your stomach or chest tighten, excuse yourself from the person or situation and get some fresh air or go to the restroom for some deep breathing. This only takes a few minutes. YOU HAVE THE POWER TO STOP STRESS FROM BUILDING UP BY ADDRESSING IT AS IT HAPPENS.
Allow yourself several minutes throughout the day to deactivate stress. This is damage control. This way day to day stress won’t pile up until thoughts of using pop into your head as a solution. This will leave you more room for joy.