In the recovery world, addiction is viewed as a complex disease that affects every aspect of a person’s life, damaging and eventually destroying the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual parts of it. But what about feelings? What is it that originally causes a person to put chemicals into his body, and continue using despite the obvious evidence that his life is falling apart.

Through our experience of working with addicts at Genesis Recovery, we have come to see that addiction often stems from unresolved and unexpressed feelings. People who struggle with addictive behavior report that they struggled expressing their feelings and internalizing them from a very young age. Guilt, shame, fear, abandonment, and a sense of not belonging, are some of the most common, but not a complete list of, negative emotions we see. Because of how unpleasant these feelings are, it is not surprising that people find themselves looking for a way to escape. The concept of “using to not feel” is one we hear often from our residents at Genesis Recovery.

You may find yourself wondering “My child had everything he ever wanted. He has never been abandoned or neglected, and we gave him our all. How could it be that he was feeling these things?” Your thoughts are valid; however, it is important to recognize that negative feelings can originate not only from major traumatic events but from practically anything. The significance of events to an adolescent should never be underestimated. Changing schools, being bullied by peers, feeling left out by siblings, being separated from a childhood friend – these are all parts of life, but they can all affect a child in a drastic way, causing a ripple effect into adult life.

Here at Genesis Recovery, we say “If it’s a crisis for a client – it is a crisis” and by that we mean that we are never to judge the significance of how something affects a person. When feelings are repressed during childhood, due to the child’s inability to deal with the amount of pain and discomfort, they often become greater in their intensity and are experienced with more difficulty in their adult life.

Let’s consider an example of a child that had been traumatized by an unexpected and sudden separation from his childhood best friend due to the family moving to a different state. This child may grow into an adult who subconsciously fears change. He will react very strongly to separation from his loved ones, due to his sensitivity to the feeling of separation. He may not be able to set up the boundaries that are vital in a healthy relationship and overreact, for example, to his girlfriend wanting to spend time with her family, by subconsciously thinking that he is once again being separated from a significant person. This is the phenomenon of “projection”, when a person transfers the feelings from a past traumatic experience to the smaller, less significant everyday experiences, thus overreacting out of fear of reliving the pain.

At Genesis Recovery, we take pride in understanding how important it is to recognize all of these unresolved feelings from childhood and to bring them to the surface in a gentle, yet thorough way. We help our clients identify which experiences from their past continue to affect their current reality and process these events in order to free the client from this cycle.

Because addicts spend years numbing the pain and discomfort by chemical substances, it can be very difficult to “learn how to feel again” in early recovery. My next blog will focus on how we help our clients to connect with their emotions and learn how to internalize and live with their feelings in a healthy and positive way.

by Mila Kisina