Many addicts in recovery will experience situations that trigger them, especially those who have past trauma. When they experience fear during an accident or a crisis situation, such as the hurricane and flooding on the East Coast, it triggers the same response mechanism that was activated in the previous trauma. This may also trigger a subsequent desire to relapse into old addictive behaviors. Becoming aware of triggers is an important way of guarding against this possibility.
As recovery deepens and surface memories are replaced by those that have been buried more deeply in the subconscious, addicts will be faced with emotions that may surprise them and catch them off guard. It is key to the working relationship with their sponsor, counselor or therapist at this stage of their recovery to reassure them that this does not mean that they need to relapse. They are being given an opportunity to work through these emotions in ways that they did not previously do. Given the support and understanding that is helpful for their sense of safety, addicts can begin to express feelings they may not have been aware of in their earlier recovery. The process is long-term and they will continue to uncover emotional “baggage” that has been stored away for many years in some cases.
Crises situations will often bring these emotions home to roost. It is part of recovery that is sometimes frightening and surprising for those who believe they have fully recovered from their addiction and processed all of the necessary emotional attachments. Although they may have touched on some of their feelings about situations and people in their past, they may need to work a bit deeper at this juncture.
Weathering a current crisis situation is difficult when the addict does not expect to feel the depth of emotions that show up. They need to know that they will sometimes feel things that are not necessarily related to the situation they may find themselves in. Old wounds will appear because they may be responding to a feeling that is similar to one from another time in their life. If they are prepared to have strong emotional responses to situations that feel like another situation from their past, they can be prepared to walk through the feelings and process them without relapsing into an old behavior or even their addiction.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.
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