Your emotions, your mistakes, your thoughts do not define you. Your life is bigger than the things you are trying to leave behind.
Anger fires through your veins and you just cannot calm yourself down… you feel ready to blow. You make impulsive decisions when you feel overwhelmed. You can be insensitive to other’s feelings and needs, instead you tend to be blinded by your own emotions and needs.
Do any of these situations fit you?
Take a moment, sit with yourself and consider: Where are you right now? Not just where your body sits or where you are located, but where is your attention? Your emotion? Your sense of connection to other people, to yourself?
The ability to be aware, pay attention, adjust your emotional tone and pace, be sensitive, match other people around you, and build trust and connection are keys to being able to function well in relationships. When you are in recovery, your journey is not just about working on who you are. You not only have to work at quitting and staying quit, but also how to recover your ability to feel and manage your feelings, and how to connect meaningfully with other people.
Recovery is not about quitting. It really is about recovering your life.
10 Commandments that will help you make emotions and relationships work for you, instead of against you
Emotional intelligence helps you to understand yourself and other people. It will help you to identify emotions, understand how emotions effect you, and to make choices that support your recovery and your growth.
Do you want to know how to make emotions work for you, instead of against you? You can begin by paying attention to the 10 Commandments of an Emotionally Intelligent Recovery.
I. Want to stop using drugs? Start considering your feelings.
A healthy recovery, managing your emotions and paying attention to relationship cues does not have to be complicated. You can begin by asking yourself a few questions: “How am I feeling right now, and how might my mood impact my decisions, my ability to connect with other people or connect with myself?” or “What strengths do I have and when do I use them? How do my weaknesses effect me?”
Considering questions like these can help you to build self-awareness and a greater understanding of how your emotions contribute to the decisions that you make.
II. Be humble and learn from other perspectives.
As you work on your recovery, one of the things you may encounter is “black and white thinking.” This is one of the thinking patterns that can lead to rigidity. When we are thinking black and white, we believe that there is only one way to think, one way to approach relationships, a relapse, triggers or emotional pain. But learning to see the nuances creates flexibility.
Consider the difference: Either this or that; compared with Both this and that. Black and white thinking is an Either/Or approach. Whereas a flexible mind will learn to see that life can be Both/And.
When you think black and white, you see a situation or a relationship issue as a complete disaster. It feels as if the relationship and even life itself is a terrible disaster. One situation feels as though it may ruin your entire life. When you get sucked into black and white thinking, your emotional life is a roller coaster. You are at the mercy of your emotions.
Other examples of black and white thinking includes: “I am a terrible person,” “I am a failure,” “His life is so perfect and mine sucks.”
The reality is that you can make a mistake, become overwhelmed, feel very anxious, lapse or get into a conflict but still have many things going well in your life. Your life is not awful if one circumstance, or even several circumstances are going against you.
III. Practice the “pause.”
Take a breath right now and practice the pause. Do it when you are in line for groceries, waiting for a traffic light, during commercials, at your desk at work. Practice, practice, practice. Because when you really need it, pausing will be difficult.
The pause is as simple as taking a moment to stop and think before you act or speak. (But beware: while easy in theory, it’s difficult to practice.)
Pausing when you are ready to blow up or vent unhelpful emotions on another person can be very difficult. Don’t expect perfection. Instead, work at it. Practice. The pause will help to prevent challenging relationship issues and help save you from emotional blow outs.
IV. Narrow your bed and widen your world: Say “Yes.”
Saying “yes” to relationships and emotions is like learning a new language, or navigating in a country where you feel like a foreigner. It means that you willingly open up, you take a risk to open up and be vulnerable.
Learning to see things through the eyes of another person, instead of judging or labeling can change how you interact with others. Consider questions like, “Why are they responding to me this way? What could they be feeling?” and “What’s going on in their life that may be contributing to their behavior?”
When you say “yes” to vulnerability, risk and consider what may be driving another person, you will be able to build a greater sense of connection. Connection can change your relationships, your ability to understand yourself and the way that you approach your life.
V. Show gratitude to other people.
It is difficult to focus only on the good in others. It takes practice. But when you look for the good in other people, and then tell them what you see, you will build them up. You will let them see themselves in a more positive light. You will show them that you are growing, maturing. You will remind yourself that you also can be grateful for your own life.
VI. Apologize, not because it is one of “The Steps” but because it is a step in the right direction.
“Please forgive me” can change you. Saying it can feel very difficult, but it will impact your relationships when you follow up with appropriate efforts to improve yourself and your relationship.
Effort proves that your words are more than empty words or more unfulfilled promises. Small efforts build into important changes.
Be honest and own up to your mistakes when you feel that you need to. This will help grow empathy, patience, honest connection that will change your attitude and mindset.
You may never get the closure that you want or need from another person, from a job, from life or from yourself. Give yourself the gift of healing. Forgive so that you can let go of resentment and negative, unhealthy emotions. Decide to let go and move on.
This is different than numbing or avoiding. Forgiveness means that you take time to acknowledge and own your emotions. You own the right to feel hurt, disappointed or taken advantage of. You feel it, but you don’t get stuck there. You move on. You invest effort to continue to improve your life and pay attention to your health.
When you forgive, it will help you to move forward.
VIII. Don’t freeze other people in time.
It can be tempting to expect that you and that other people should just wipe away the past and “start fresh.” You cannot erase the past. Think for a moment about the devastation that is caused by Alzheimer’s. Losing our memory effects our identity, our ability to make rational decisions, how in tune with others we are.
You cannot (and should not) try to erase your memories. You can learn to use memory to your advantage, you can build a new relationship with your memory and your past. Let go of self-judgment and judging others. Take time to consider why a person may be making the decision they are making. Practice accepting another person. Breathe and allow judgment to not be the only way that you see another person.
Remember that everyone has days, decisions and even entire relationships where they wish they could have a “do-over.”
IX. Accept rather than try to control your thoughts.
Thoughts come and they go. Your mind will chatter no matter how much you try to control or numb it. Feelings can work against you and often you have little control over your moods. Instead of trying to control fleeting thoughts or emotions, work on what you can control: acceptance.
Fighting your mind will just entrench negative thoughts, anxiety, and expectations that you should/ought/must change. Accepting your thoughts with an attitude of self-kindness will teach you to focus your energy on taking meaningful action.
Acceptance is not passive. Instead, it is an action that you take that will help you to expand rather than avoid or control. Acceptance means that you allow thoughts or emotions to come and go. Where you focus your energy is on efforts that move you closer to becoming the person you want to be and living the life you want to live.
X. Go ahead, change your mind.
Learning can change your mind. So can stepping out of your comfort zone, being vulnerable, engaging in really hard exercise, taking a new course, being curious and yes, even laughter.
What changes you is being open. Open to new experiences, your feelings, your sensations, your body. Learning to say “Yes” rather than assuming that you cannot do something or be successful or be happy.
What also changes you is investing effort. It may feel like you have heard it before, but it is true: action changes you.
Growth and learning will change you and help you to become more of who you want to be.
An emotionally intelligent recovery is where you let go of perfection, of self-judgment and perfectionism, or trying to measure up. You let go. But at the same time, you keep walking, moving and progressing. You will never recover so well that you no longer make mistakes. Growth does not mean an absence of weaknesses. One of the greatest strengths that you can have is to admit when you feel weak.
Recovery is not about the drugs. It is about what you do with the rest of your life. An emotionally healthy recovery will help you create the life that you want to live.
I hope that you enjoyed this article. It makes my day if you are inspired by something that I write. I invite you to read some of my other writing:
I write articles that talk about the kind of changes I am trying to make in my own life. I hope that my writing also helps you. My topics include addiction and mental health recovery, relationships, and personal growth. I work as an Addiction Therapist, an Editor for the Good Men Project and freelance writer, and Adjunct Professor at City University, Edmonton. But what is most important is that I have a family and I am in recovery from depression and anxiety. My mental health experiences are part of my personal University degree, but they do not define me.
I hope to inspire you, to inform you and on occasion to entertain you. But most of all, I want to connect with you. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.
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Keep it Real
Photo by Martin Fisch