When a person struggles with a sense of self and they aren’t sure who they are, they aren’t sure how to experience, live with, or manage their thoughts and feeling. Feelings especially can become baffling, annoying or painful.
In many years working in both mental health and addiction, I’ve found that in general, people try drugs or alcohol, and end up abusing them, because they want to change, forget or control a feeling or feelings.
Changing a feeling can be as simple as: I want to fit in, be more sophisticated, be liked or loved. Or as complex as: There is a dark, empty place inside and I want to fill it up.
Someone who wants to change a feeling might be expressing: There is a sadness, and I know if I drink, I’ll feel happy, albeit briefly. And it’s worth it to me.
I’m shy, I know a cocktail will make me lose my inhibitions.
I’ve got low self-esteem, I know that cocaine will make me feel on top of the world.
I’m riddled with tension, I know that oxycodone or heroin will make me feel relaxed.
Forgetting a feeling is a goal of someone with feelings they don’t want to deal with. It could be sadness, like above, or it could be anxiety or another feeling. The old saw is true: People really do drug or drink to forget unpleasant or painful feelings.
Controlling a feeling can happen when someone wants to mellow out a feeling that is too intense such as fear, or intensify a feeling that is too weak such as affection or connection.
Many times people don’t realize that their feelings are hiding underneath what we call denial.
Defense mechanisms are ways we protect ourselves from real or imagined pain, they are the tools of denial.
For example, if someone insults us, we might laugh it off. But, deep down, it might hurt. Because of this, we may “make a reservation” to use substances later.
In order to really work on recovering from an addiction, people have to learn how to get in touch with and understand their feelings. They are often surprised how many feelings are hidden beneath their denial.
One of the keys to getting at buried feelings is to talk about what you’re going through with someone you can trust. No matter how difficult it may be, make a commitment to knowing and working on yourself and getting in touch with your feelings.
Remember to give yourself permission to take the time you need to get to know yourself and your feelings.