There are certain emotions that are more damaging to our well-being than others. Those emotions are guilt, fear, and shame. Yet many of us inexplicitly “sit” in those emotions for way longer that it is necessary. Fear is a response to real or perceived threat and it keeps our stress levels high due to cortisol that we generate when we are in that state. Prolonged stress erodes not only our emotional and mental health, but it is also damaging to our bodies—it increases the risk of conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma, according to medical sources.
It can lean to chronic stress for us relinquishees/adoptees. And it can also lead to relapse for those of us who struggle with substance use or another self-destructive behavior. This is because, naturally, we don’t want to feel badly, and we are exhausted… by feeling badly. The (false) reality is that drugs work. That is they work until they don’t, which tends to happen quickly. It is the same with shame and guilt—both of those emotions cause enormous stress and leave us defenseless and desperate for relief.
I know telling someone to “relax!” is never going to work. We cannot just switch off our emotions like that, but we can teach ourselves how to control them better. This takes time, and it usually involves therapeutic means of a group or another person, such as a therapist, a counsellor, or even a spiritual relational guide. For those who can’t access the supports right away, there are plenty of other resources: books and on-line help: guided meditation on YouTube, meditation apps, or on-line support groups. With time, it will get easier to rein in the negativity and open yourself to more productive attitudes: acceptance, love, joy and peace, which are considered the highest states.
I know it’s unrealistic to expect to feel joyful and accepting and at peace all the time, but it’s worth trying to switch our point of view that is not serving us and try on something new. For example, if your significant other causes you to feel fear, consider how damaging that is for you—don’t just resign yourself to stay in an unhealthy situation hoping for a change. The change is within you and you have a lot more power that you give yourself credit for. It is incredibly scary to make a drastic move to get out of a situation that is toxic—but familiar—yet in the end the courage to do so will only benefit you. And through taking an active part in bettering your situation you will feel pride and, eventually, joy.
Change is hard and change takes time. We know this. But slowly, one day at a time, or even one hour at a time, we can reset our harmful state of being and move onto a more welcoming space where there’s room for growth. There’s no growth in shame or guilt—they only sap us of vital energy. Allow yourself to honor whatever it is you feel guilty about or ashamed of, but try to actively get yourself out of there once you do. Use meditation, use your group and your therapist to workshop the bad stuff until you’re ready to put it away and move on. You will move on if you work at it. You might not get over it completely but you will strengthen your invisible emotional and mental muscles that propel you forward.
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