How to Cope with Painful Feelings

Yes, but…

No one complains about feeling happy! But we don’t want to have other, painful feelings. When these feelings arise, one way to respond to them is to drink or drug. One set of painful feelings can be broadly labeled fear or anxiety: ”Drugs and/or alcohol helped me cope with feelings like anxiety, tension, fear, stress, agitation, nervousness, vulnerability, intimidation, embarrassment and panic.” Other painful feelings center around sadness and depression: ”They helped me cope with feelings like depression, sadness, hurt, discouragement, grief, feeling defeated, feeling deprived or feeling abandoned.”
There are many other painful feelings as well:
a) frustration, resentment, anger, annoyance, irritability and rage
b) feeling remorseful, ashamed, guilty, responsible, humiliated
c) feeling disgusted or shocked
d) feeling bored, apathetic or impatient
e) feeling over-excited, “amped up,” “wired”
f) feeling exhausted or depleted
g) feeling lonely, isolated, cut off, alienated
h) feeling powerless
i) feeling “in pain” without being able to define the pain very well (perhaps a mixture of many painful feelings)
How well do drugs and alcohol work to cope with these painful feelings? For most of us, quite well! If you have had the experience of alcohol relaxing you, or coke giving you energy, or vicodin just helping you feel better, you don’t need much explanation of these effects. For some, the drugs immediately create bad feelings more than they resolve them. Did you ever see anyone get paranoid after smoking pot or doing a line of coke? These folks aren’t likely to turn to drugs (or at least that drug) for help dealing with bad feelings!
But if you are reading this article, you may be in the group that believes how to cope with painful feelings is to seek emotional relief from one or more drugs. Have you found yourself thinking:
“It helped me bring my feelings into a more normal range. They were just too out of control without it.”
“I don’t understand why, but I felt tremendous pain, and when I did this the pain was less.”
“It helped me cope when I felt like I had nothing left inside of me.”
So what is the problem with this? Maybe nothing, if you don’t do it often or in large quantities. Did you ever overeat to cope with stress? That overeating isn’t a big problem unless it becomes a pattern, a habit, a way of life.
The problems from drug use (or overeating) come from two factors: 1) by using you have not dealt with the problem directly (by delaying dealing with it you may have allowed it to get even worse), and 2) drug use is by itself becomes, sometimes quickly, a problem in many ways, including having a negative impact on how you fit into your family and social group, your health, your emotional well-being, your financial security, your legal status, and other ways you are likely familiar with.
However, neither of these facts is guaranteed. Maybe delay will actually help. Maybe the drug you use, in the quantities and ways you do it, causes little harm (think “caffeine”).
So, the only way to know if the drug use you engage in is worth the cost, is to list the benefits of using and the costs of using. Then think very hard about your lists. If you decide that the costs exceed the benefits, then it’s time to make a change.