The Emotional Storm



  February 19, 2018    

Unmanageability in Recovery

Once the substances are no longer present in the lives of addicts and alcoholics their disease surfaces in other ways.  Every one that takes their first-steps into recovery has already come to the decision that their life has become unmanageable. After the initial detox period from most drugs and alcohol, addicts and alcoholics experience what is commonly referred to as the pink cloud. The pink cloud is when all the emotions an addict or alcoholic has numbed themselves to with substances, resurface.  It isn’t just the pink cloud that causes unmanageability, it’s also misery and depression, or any other emotion that we feel too intensely.

Those emotions are a whirlwind for the addict just beginning their journey in recovery. Unused to having to deal with emotions, because they have buried them beneath their addiction or alcoholism, the addict and alcoholic suddenly find themselves adrift in the desire to distract themselves from those emotions. The desire for people in recovery to distract themselves from feeling emotional turmoil, is the beginning of unmanageability in recovery.

A Multi-Faceted Problem

Unmanageability in recovery takes many different shapes and it is not identical for every addict and alcoholic. Although, there are patterns and similarities for every person in recovery. Anyone that has been in any recovery program for long, will certainly have heard someone speak on a similar form of unmanageability as they have experienced. Unmanageability takes numerous shapes in the lives of addicts, such as; gambling to excess, through sex, video games, and even through work. The signs that there is unmanageability failing to uphold our responsibilities, not being able to control our emotional natures, or not growing in our recovery.

For me personally, there are numerous behaviors, thoughts, and actions that have made my life unmanageable in one way or another. In early recovery, I had this fantasy that I would be able to save my brother. I wanted a relationship with at least one of my family members, and my brother and I had always been close. My brother was homeless and had been locked up multiple times. I identified with the depravity his disease took him to.

So, after I had an apartment and he was just getting out of detox, I moved him into my apartment. I quickly realized it was a mistake. My brother was not at a point where he was willing to be clean and sober. Every conversation he and I had was about drugs and alcohol. My brother was looking for ways to use successfully and his proximity to me put my own recovery in jeopardy. I had to talk to other people in recovery to get a sense of how to handle the situation. I ended up helping my brother get into a long-term treatment program.

Early Recovery Relationships

Another cause of emotional turmoil and unmanageability was my first serious relationship. Like many addicts and alcoholics, I never had been in a relationship that was based on a mutual attraction to substances rather than the other person. Personal relationships are something many people in recovery have difficulty with especially in the beginning. So, when I was a couple of months into my recovery and met a girl I liked, who liked me. It seemed like the perfect match. I had a fantasy that arose after our first few dates that we’d get married, have kids, have the house in the suburbs, with a white picket fence. Her friends and my friends in recovery were telling me that it was a bad idea to be involved with her. Still, I held onto that fantasy.

The relationship had numerous issues. We had very different outlooks on life. While, I remained active in recovery she did not.  Our relationship was detrimental to either of us. But, I was convinced that somehow some way we’d make it work. It took a lot of pain, long conversations with my friends in recovery, particularly my sponsor, to really start to understand that I needed to get out of that relationship. I had to get out of the relationship before it led to me taking myself right out of recovery, and back into prison, if not into a grave.

In Times of Extreme Turmoil

Unmanageability doesn’t just surface in early recovery. It is an ongoing issue and struggle that every alcoholic and addict must deal with. Certainly, our behaviors improve over time. We get a better understanding of the issues that arise and affect us and our recovery. Unmanageability often surfaces during period of extreme turmoil in our lives.

My brother died from this disease. I wanted to focus on anything at all other than my own emotions. So, I took a second full time job. I already had a job that I enjoyed and was conducive to my own personal recovery. But, I took a second job, because I wanted to distract myself from the pain of my loss with work.

In 12-step meetings I talked about barely sleeping, about being unsure if what I was doing was a good idea. Other people in recovery, pointed out that even something that seems to be positive, like working, can be detrimental to our lives and our recovery. It is not the job itself that is dangerous. Even the positive things we are attempting to do with our lives can impact our recovery negatively.

I realized that I was trying to numb myself and my emotions through work. The lack of sleep necessary to maintain two jobs was reminiscent of the days when I was in active addiction. It seemed difficult to imagine that work could be a bad thing. However, anything we do to escape from our emotions is detrimental to us and our recovery. Thankfully I had a great deal of emotional support from other people in recovery. With support, I became aware of the issues before they could lead to major issues.

Staying Vigilant in Recovery

Unmanageability in recovery can show up in other ways. My disease is at its strongest when I am not going to meetings regularly. If I stop letting people know where I’m at in my recovery, I am putting my life in danger. Like any addict and alcoholic, I need to maintain a program. I need to find balance in my life and focus on being a better person one day at a time. Anything that has negative impact on my own personal recovery, may not be the best thing for me. My recovery must come first, if I want to continue becoming a better person, one day at a time.

Part of becoming active in recovery is surrendering to the fact that we are not stronger than the disease. That we need help and a program to recover. Anything that takes us away from that daily surrender, is something that leads to unmanageability. Anything that an addict or alcoholic obsesses over in the same way they did drugs and alcohol, is almost certainly a clear sign that it is something we need to work on, so that we can continue to recover.  We become a real help to other people dealing with this disease as long as we are active in recovery.

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Michael Satterfield

Michael is currently the Clinical Outreach Coordinator for Soba College Recovery. From the ages of 14-21 was frequently homeless and in drug treatment programs. Michael struggled with Substance Use Disorder. To support his drug habit he burglarized houses and committed robberies. He was arrested at the age of 21 for armed robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. Upon release, Michael became an active member of the recovery community. Michael graduated from Rutgers in May of 2017 with highest honors. Michael's brother died after buying heroin laced with Fentanyl and overdosing.

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