Coping with Emotions in Recovery Through Creative Methods

Emotion is a bridge to connect our body and mind, a natural part of our life. We often avoid emotions during active addiction, and we would rather feel more comfortable with feeling numb than feeling sad, happy, angry, frustrated, excited, nervous, and so on. However, in the journey of recovery from addiction, we must confront our emotions, and we will have to learn to face and feel things that make us uncomfortable. Recognizing and confronting your emotions can be very challenging, which can cause a tremendous amount of stress in your daily life. How to deal with our emotions can be a question mark for us.

Starting in January 2022, I will be leading a workshop series with Avalon Recovery Society that will share the primary emotions you will face in recovery and how to identify and cope with these emotions – slowly and gradually. Also, a non-verbal expression can sometimes make it easier to access our feelings. Therefore, the upcoming workshop series will include a creative method and hands-on exercises such as creative writing, visual journaling, art expression, and meditation.

About Emotions

Shame

Shame and guilt are two very similar emotions, yet there are many differences between them. Recognizing the two emotions is vital in recovery because it can influence your behaviours and reactions. Guilt is a feeling you get when you did something wrong, or it is perceived you did something wrong. Shame is a step further than guilt; it is internalizing guilt and feeling bad about yourself. Shame also leaves us with low self-esteem and a feeling of helplessness to improve our life.

Although it is not easy to work through and overcome shame, we can take steps to overcome this, such as receiving support from close friends, loved ones, AA groups, and mental health professionals; and keeping a journal of successes and positivity can also be a great tool. Also, embrace what makes you unique. Start to think of the things that make you special and ask yourself how these differences may benefit you in the future and how they add value to your life?

Anxiety

When we get anxious, our body tenses up, resulting in anxiety as the body’s natural response to stress or fear. When people are experiencing this type of unpleasant feeling, sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.  On the other hand, drug and alcohol addiction causes the brain to be dependent on a substance. As a result, when a person stops using them, the body usually experiences anxiety, depression, and other mood changes. While addiction and anxiety coexist, anxiety may develop in recovery, and without coping mechanisms for anxiety, a person may struggle to maintain sobriety.

It is prevalent and expected that you could experience anxiety in early recovery – and even throughout your recovery. What you can do is practice meditation and breathwork; in particular, a technique that is called 4-7-8 breathing meditation can be used for situations where you’re feeling anxious.

  1. Count 4 for inhalation
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 7; and
  3. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8Slowing your breathing in this way can also help lower your blood pressure and improve the quality of your sleep. It would be more effective that you can practice 4-7-8 breathing meditation, four breath cycles up to twice a day and no more than that.

Also, be creative, just imaging your breath as a line, draw the line along with your breathing. Doing exercises is also an effective way for anxiety relief; exercise releases endorphins to help boost a person’s mood and decrease anxiety and depression. Therefore, if you find yourself feeling anxious, take a walk or short run in a park, and the nature can help reduce the level of anxiety you’re experiencing. What you see, hear, and experience in nature can improve your mood. There is a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced negative emotions.

Loneliness

We are always seeking a sense of belonging in life. Being with friends and social circles can lift our emotions while feeling alone can be overwhelming during addiction recovery. You may have realized that you need to cut ties with old friends who still use, old social circles, family members who trigger them and completely reform your lifestyle. By doing so can cause intense feelings of loneliness. Loneliness can make you more vulnerable to triggers and urges, and you probably will keep your mind focused on the negativities in life.

As you begin to root yourself in your recovery, it is crucial to make connections with friends who are in recovery or supportive of your recovery. Considering joining one of Avalon’s 12 step meetings, support groups or workshops to join like-minded women in recovery. Also, you can start by connecting with yourself, creating self-care plans, and learning to enjoy solitude. Moreover, it is the time to restore your relationships with friends or family members who disconnect with you when you are in active addiction. In addition, you can try to learn some new skills and cultivate new hobbies, yoga, playing an instrument, or taking cooking classes. We need to understand that it does take time to erase those feelings of loneliness, knowing that you may have to give yourself time to heal truly. Being active and surrounding yourself with support will keep you on track in your journey of recovery.

About Self

The Inner Child

The inner child is the part of your personality that still reacts and feels like a child. Everyone has an inner child, and our inner child does not disappear once we become adults; it stays within us, reminding us of all the traumas and wounds we have yet to heal from. When we don’t give our inner child the care, nurturing, and protection it needs, it tries to get our attention in all kinds of ways, such as debilitating addictive patterns or physical breakdowns. Our inner child is trying to alert us that we have unresolved issues we’re still carrying within us. Healing the inner child and supporting the inner child in feeling safe is essential in recovery. You may write a letter to your inner child, write a letter from your inner child, express loving and supportive affirmations to your inner child, do an inner child meditation and be your own protector.

Your Strength

Identifying your strengths is a key aspect of recovery, which can bring you a feeling of safety and positivity. Strengths can help people cope with adversity and find fulfilment in life. These strengths can be your knowledge from life experiences or skills. Everyone has the inherent ability to take control of their own lives. Sometimes, we may feel like all we have are problems and weaknesses. Recognizing your strengths can help you perceive your own set of strengths and use them in your life. Usually, when people come from an angle of looking at strengths, they experience better recovery accomplishments. You may identify your own strengths from different aspects, such as personal strengths, social strengths, spiritual strengths, and cultural strengths. For example, you can allow yourself to recall good moments that can help you to feel motivated; you can revisit the good times in life and write down the feelings in your journal. Also, you can create an image, draw a Tree of Strength with your hands, to explore your personal strengths.

About Creative Method

Guided Imagery Meditation

Imagery, or guided imagery, is a work form that starts with a relaxation exercise. Research shows guided imagery meditation makes a positive impact on the body’s endocrine, immune and autonomic nervous system. Imagery can bring forward inner images that give expression to conscious or subconscious feelings, thoughts, and desires. The imagery may focus on the past, the present, relationships with a particular person, future expectations, or a person’s self-image. Imagery is one of several therapeutic techniques that can open up deeper layers in the mind, and that can delve beyond verbal and concrete behaviour. Guided imagery meditation can be a useful tool to connect your inner self through imagery generation. For instance, just close your eyes, listen to the guidance and direction of a facilitator, and consciously picturing a “safe place” in your mind to lower your stress levels. Such simple visualization, storytelling, and fantasy exploration are creative ways to activate the imagination and reduce fear and anxiety.

Visual Journaling

Visual journaling is a wonderful way to process emotions, which can articulate your feelings. When you’re struggling to put your emotions into words, it may be easier to sketch them out. You don’t have to draw a “good” picture. You can doodle a little or colour the whole page, this is your own journal that allows you to express and record your emotions freely and safely. Also, you can do a collage about self-affirmation or your self-care plans. You can add titles or paragraphs beside your images, to describe what you are thinking and feeling. The act of writing is therapeutic too. If you love nature, you can pick up some fallen colourful leaves or flower petals, and insert them into your journal, wait for them to dry, then you can paste them on your page as one of the collage materials. You also can document your dreams, to explore your subconscious needs and desires. It is an accessible way to record your recovery journey; when you look back to your visual journal, you will witness the progress of your achievements.

If you would like to understand more about how emotions work, if this blog and the idea about emotions spoke to you, please consider joining Avalon’s “Identifying and Coping with Emotions through Creative Methods” workshop series starting next January.  The workshop will be held in person at Avalon Women’s Centre Vancouver and via Zoom. Please feel free to email michelle@avaloncentres.org for more information and register for the coming workshop.

About the author:

Viviana Ni, AThR.

A licensed art therapist, a counsellor in training, and an intern of the Master’s program in Counselling Psychology at Adler University. She has been working with Avalon as a practicum student since October 2021. Viviana lived and worked in different countries, Singapore, Malaysia, and China. She has over 7 years of work experience in the mental health field. Besides her work, Viviana enjoys gardening, hiking, reading, creating art, and practising mindfulness.

Moreover, Viviana organizes and facilitates the community engagement project – “Take A Break” every Friday afternoon at 2pm. All women in recovery are welcome to join this event. The goals of “Take a Break” are to build and sustain relationships through a mind-body-spirit method in Avalon’s community; to reconnect and reunite the Avalon’s community; to learn, share, and get to know each other in the community. We provide a range of recreational activities, informative and inspirational sessions. If you are interested in learning more about this weekly social event, please visit www.avalonrecoverysociety.org/workshops/#take-a-break or contact Avalon Women’s Centre Vancouver Centre Manager, Michelle at 604.263.7177 or michelle@avaloncentres.org.

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