Growing Through Pain During Recovery from Substance Abuse

Recovery Reflections: October 4, 2017

Hello there, my name is Leah and I would like to welcome you once more to Detox to Rehab’s Recovery Reflections. Please join us and listen to the experience, strength and hope shared by Brandon, Megan, Patrick and Joey.

We pre-record one of our reflections every week for you to watch. In these sessions, each of these individuals will express how the reading of the week relates to their own experiences in recovery and how it has helped them along their paths.

Alcoholics Anonymous

October 4, 2017: A Necessary Pruning

We know that the pains of drinking had to come before sobriety, and emotional turmoil before serenity.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 94

I love spending time in my garden, feeding and pruning my beautiful flowers. One day, as I was busily snipping away, a neighbor stopped by. She commented, “Oh! Your plants are so beautiful, it seems such a shame to cut them back.” I replied, “I know how you feel, but the excess must be removed so they can grow stronger and healthier.” Later I thought that perhaps my plants feel pain, but God and I know it’s part of the plan and I’ve seen the results. I was quickly reminded of my precious AA program and how we all grow through pain. I ask God to prune me when it’s time, so I can grow.

Sometimes Recovery Doesn’t Feel Pretty like a Garden

In recovery, much of the pain that addiction and substance abuse directly cause will end, but emotional grief and pain may come into focus. When there is no longer the immediate distraction or emotional numbing that substances offer, that pain must be faced. This is why aftercare is so important in recovery.

Sometimes, as Megan points out, it isn’t nice and pretty like a garden. The pruning of the self isn’t as pretty as that, but it is needed to find true growth. New skills and understanding are only built upon an initial agitation; some evidence that how we are living is not ideal. This usually comes in the form of disappointment, frustration and pain, and it can take a long time to amend the things in our lives that are proving to be inadequate.

The good work itself, the work that needs to be done for positive change to come, can be painful sometimes. This is the weeding and pruning, but it is usually due to something that wasn’t really serving you and leads to improvement.

Pain Can Inspire Change

Sharing and talking about the pain you experience can help others to relate. It creates comradery and appreciates how difficult recovery is to walk through at times. It is important to acknowledge the challenges and success in what you have accomplished as well as how you still have work to do.

Hearing how deep a person’s pain is often reminds people of how important this work actually is. It reminds us of how damaging addiction really can be, but it also brings people closer. Talking about your pain is an act of trust, of vulnerability and often bonds people together. It moves others to extend condolences, to extend help, to share their own truths and to feel the spirit of service inside themselves.

Many speakers in meetings will press on the positive aspects of recovery and how wonderful being sober is, which is important, but it isn’t all daisies and butterflies. A butterfly has to dematerialize inside the cocoon, turning to literal goo, in order to be remade and emerge with beautiful wings.

Recovery is hard work and it is important for the difficulties to be addressed also. When you are going through challenging trials in recovery, it can be difficult to see the light and discouraging to only hear the bright side. It must never be forgotten how success and growth has been achieved, pain and all.

Coping and Emotional Regulation in Recovery

Many people who turn to drugs and Alcohol have not developed healthy coping mechanisms. People in recovery often struggle with emotional regulation, because their brains have been rewired to relate substance abuse as an immediate solution to uncomfortable, painful or unwanted feelings. In recovery, new methods of how to deal with these feelings must be learned.

Maybe your parents were never around when you were growing up, for example. Because of this, you may not have had as many positive role models (or any) in your life to model how to problem solve or deal with difficult feelings. Perhaps you tried drugs or Alcohol and that helped you to feel better when you were stressed out. Now, if you are sober, that lack of problem solving ability is still there.

That would be incredibly stressful, but instead of turning to drugs or Alcohol to cope in recovery, you must learn to redirect that stress. You must develop methods of problem solving that will actually address the challenges you face. This can be incredibly difficult, especially after years and years of relying on substances instead of developing those skills.

Pain Becomes a Method of Helping Others

The pain you experience and grow from allows you to help others through similar experiences in the future. This is why service is so deeply engrained in recovery programs, like the 12-step: when people who are going through something like what you have overcome, you are the best person to help them get through.

While you might not know what purpose pain is serving in the moment, there is a reason for it and growth will result. Once that pain has been dealt with in a healthy way, the coping skills and abilities that are gained will be invaluable in the future.

That growth will help for the rest of your own life and if you give of yourself, it will be invaluable to others as you use your own experience to help them.

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