Photo by Robert Anthony

Becoming physically sober can be an emotional roller coaster. You start out determined to make it through rehab, then hopeful as you progress, then angry when you fail or sad or depressed during difficulty. Then determination sets in, and you start over again. Until finally, relief and joy flood you as you realize you have made it. Physically free, a new normal develops.

The chemical that blurred your world to a manageable mush is gone. But what about when the sharp corners of reality threaten your balance? Jangled nerves can’t be soothed with substances anymore; they confront you in clear focus with no escape. The emotional aftermath of recovery plots with the feelings surrounding the memories and events that led to addiction in the first place. How do you tame those unexpected prickles of passion that threaten to sabotage your recovery?

Sometimes the path to addiction opens because of our own lack of training in emotional intelligence. We get schooled in intellectual intelligence all day long as we grow up and get career training. But little focus is placed on our ability to be aware of and process emotions in constructive ways. This skill falls by the wayside, and, when we don’t learn it, we may decide it’s easier to ignore or suppress emotions. We may banish them to the area of neglect in our mental back room where they get locked up instead of used in constructive ways.

But emotions don’t deserve to be boxed up and denied a part of your life. Given the right care, they help us survive and thrive. They can help move you to constructive action, feel part of a community or connect with family.

But you have to learn how to recognize and react appropriately to emotions when they call for your attention. Ignoring them is like being given a tiny puppy, then deciding to let it starve because it cried for food or water. When your emotions sound off, it’s a cue that it’s time to take care of them.

Addiction can be like putting cotton balls in your ears instead of learning how to deal with emotions. Denying them, hurting yourself or others and running away when you feel an emotion are all signs of poor emotional self-care.2

Let’s go back to the puppy. It’s crying. Maybe it’s hungry. Or is it lonely? How do you find out? You have to look at it. Pick it up, turn it around, pat it a little. What’s going on? Try something. If you feed it and it stops crying, hey, you learned something — that sound was a cry of hunger. If you play with it and the crying ends, you just learned that certain cry means it was lonely. How about you? Feel like crying? Don’t stuff that emotion in a box. Instead, ask yourself why it’s there. Emotions prove you are alive.

01 | If your heart is broken, it means you have taken the risk of loving someone deeply. 
02 | If you feel angry about the state of the world, it means you care about social issues and politics.
03 | If you worry about others, you may be called to helping professions, like healthcare or missions.

Emotions can be a source of energy — the gas that gets your journey to meaningful action started. Journal, talk to a close friend, do some research, pray about it, get outside for a walk in nature. Which of these actions make you feel better? You just learned something about your emotional needs.3

If the first thing you try doesn’t help, try something new. You will discover certain situations trigger the same emotions every time. Do you hate crowds and love solitude? Or maybe you enjoy loud sports events and hate being alone? Do the things that bring you joy, and you will find others who feel the same way about the same things. They are your tribe.4 Share your joy and gripe with them about what you all detest together. The world needs people of passion, not apathy, to move it along and bring change. As you share your emotions with people who understand, your feelings will become a key to unlock your inner mysteries and dreams — a help to you instead of a problem. Pretty soon your puppy emotions will be walking on a leash and fetching your slippers, instead of running away and chewing your socks.


  1. Scuderi, Royal. “Sorry, but EQ Is Way More Important Than IQ These Days.”, Accessed September 15, 2017.
  2. Weiss, Robert. “This Is What ACTUALLY Causes Addiction.”, February 23, 2016.
  3. Foundations Recovery Network. “Becoming a Love Warrior With Glennon Doyle.” Recovery Unscripted, July 5, 2017.
  4. Oprah Winfrey Network. “Glennon Doyle Melton: First the Pain, Then the Rising.” Super Soul Sessions,  May 10, 2017.

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