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Emotional Pain Doesn’t Go Away When You Numb It (with Alcohol or Anything Else)

“Making a big life change is pretty scary. But know what’s even scarier? Regret.” ~Zig Ziglar

It had been a long day at work. I’d had to work with new people, which always got my anxiety going, and had to put out a few fires. By the end of the day, I climbed into my car shaking on the outside and screaming on the inside. Sounds, light, and smells were like battering rams to my senses and my internal pressure was reaching explosive levels.

I had a prearranged dinner with my mom and sister at a local restaurant, and I hardly remembered driving there. It may have been wiser to cancel, but they wouldn’t take it well and I didn’t want to be alone with my pain.

I needed relief from the mental agony, to get some of the stress out, but my boyfriend was working and unavailable to talk and my family didn’t handle my “moods” very well. I was the first to arrive and ordered a glass of wine while I waited. It disappeared quickly.

I got another glass and went a little more slowly, finally relaxing enough to fake a smile for my mother and sister when they joined me.

Dinner was a blur as I tried to be enthusiastic and say and do all the right things, but when they left I felt all the pressure from earlier come back ten-fold. I made my way to the bar to numb the pain. Some time and several drinks later I blacked out. 

I dealt with abuse and neglect growing up and was diagnosed with two mental health disorders as a young adult.

I tried many medications but when they didn’t help, I sought relief from the only thing that seemed to numb my mental agony—alcohol. It never lasted long, so I needed more and more until I was out of my head or passed out.

When I let myself, I can see a stream of images like a movie flash through my mind—so many nights spent getting wasted and countless mornings waking up unsure how I got home or where I had been.

The emotional aftermath was its own hell—full of fear, vulnerability, and regret. Anything could have happened to me while I was out of it.

I would have bruises from unknown sources and would be left wondering for days what had happened to me. Then would come the extra heartache and drama of finding out I had lost the tight reign on my emotions and trauma while drunk, spewed out all of my pain and anger, and hurt the people I love most.

I was truly on the verge of jail or death when it finally clicked in my brain that it had to stop. I was out of control, and rather than healing from my trauma and problems I was creating more. I was building a new mountain of regret and hurtful memories, not freeing myself from the ones I already had.

I was drinking to numb the pain, but after a few drinks my emotional pain would explode into more anger and despair. Worse, I could end up hurt, dead, or killing someone while I was out of it. Drinking was a quick fix with a long and heavy price.

This clear memory came to my mind of a man in his fifties that I had seen at court with a long-standing list of alcohol-related problems, and I realized that could be me. I wanted to be happy, and some day soon, I wanted to have a family. But my drinking was destroying my relationships, my health, and my dreams.

I decided it was enough and went to an online forum to declare my sobriety and get support and accountability. I also went to AA meetings. While there was a lot of shame and grief about what I’d been through and the things I had done, it was a relief to actually talk to others with similar experiences and not feel so isolated in my problems.

They were real people who knew and understood my struggles and offered genuine compassion, encouragement, and advice. I made friends that I could contact when I was down and wanted to drink and they would help me through my pain.

Once I had a good support system, I went to work on myself. I actively sought to be healthier and to learn how to cope with and manage my problems. So much of my experience as a child was out of my control, my issues and life were out of control, and I was sick of feeling powerless.

I picked up books and online courses about my issues and personal healing. I started learning about mindfulness, the art of being present and understanding your thoughts and feelings. I made healthier choices in diet, exercise, and sleep. I found Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and other holistic therapies, which taught me survival skills like what to do in an emotional crisis.

When I wanted to drink it was because of intense emotional pain, so I learned to ground myself. I would play that movie in my mind, see the aftermath of my drinking, and I would turn to one of the many coping mechanisms I learned like journaling, EFT, taking a walk, art, and using positive self talk and affirmations.

I was so reluctant to give up alcohol. My mind made up a zillion reasons why I wasn’t an alcoholic and why I needed to numb my pain. But the truth was I was afraid to change and face the unknown, and I was afraid I would fail. I was ashamed of what my life had become and I didn’t want to be embarrassed and vulnerable by making it known.

I think that is the heart of problem for all of us who struggle with addiction, numbing, and similar problems—fear, shame, vulnerability.

We’re running from our problems, trying to escape the pain, and we’re afraid there’s no end, no help, and that we aren’t strong enough. Often, we’re lost in the depths with no clue which way is up. We don’t know where to turn or what to do until something wakes us up.

I didn’t make the leap to change until I hit rock bottom and had no other choice. Until I accepted that my drinking was like putting a flame to a gas tank, and I didn’t want a life of pain and destruction.

When I was finally honest with myself and accepted that I had to stop running from my pain and problems, I was able to let go of my drinking, start changing, and get the help I really needed. I went from a downward spiral of escapism to living with intention and thriving. I was able to start healing and making the life I wanted.

I finally got in touch with my mind and body and was able to hear and understand what it was telling me, what I really needed. I learned to trust myself and be confident. I found the serenity and clarity I had been so desperately seeking. It took time and tears. There was embarrassment and shame. But there was also hope, happiness, and true change.

If you are struggling with emotional pain, mental health, addictions, or other heavy burdens, there is hope and there is change.

You can overcome your addictions, your destructive patterns, and your crutches. You don’t have to keep suffering. It can get better if you are brave and vulnerable and willing to start the process of healing.

Don’t suffer in silence. Try to step outside of yourself and your pain to find support.

I went online and to AA meetings to find others who would understand. I didn’t see them as different from me and isolate myself. I opened up, and those places became a safe space for me to really talk and get encouragement and help. I found a place I could talk about it where I would be seen with empathy not judgment. I was able to release my emotional pain without consuming me.

Next, try to understand where your pain is coming from—what causes you to seek relief in your destructive behaviors.

You can seek counseling, do personal research, and try alternative therapies. Journaling your thoughts and feelings can help you step back from your pain and find the source. There is no one way to do this; I tried all of these and found different elements in each that helped me to understand my pain.

As you work to understand yourself and cope with your pain, you must replace your hurtful behaviors with healthy ones. Just quitting them leaves a hole that you will scramble to fill the next time you are in distress, and you will likely relapse or choose some other bad thing.

I found coping mechanisms like art, walking, EFT, and others to help me express myself when I was hurting and wanted a drink. Now, I carry tools with me so I always have something healthy on hand to do when my pain strikes. I always remind myself that though it feels like it will last forever it always passes.

As you work through your problems, you’ll find greater relief and freedom. You’ll be able to see and think more clearly, plan ahead, and react the right way when things go wrong. This is how you can build resilience and mindfulness. You can be aware of yourself and your needs and care for yourself in a healthy way.

Sobriety was the best gift I could give myself to restore my emotional balance. It’s been over a year since I became sober, and I can see a real future for myself. I no longer live each day heavy with regret. I’ve come to accept and learn from my experiences, and I use them to make wiser choices and help others.

Now when I go out, I know how my night will end—with a clear head and good memories. I don’t have to fake anything or run away anymore. I truly feel and live in each moment.

About Dania Vanessa

Dania Vanessa shares everything that helped her reach emotional balance and teaches Dialectical Behavior Therapy, EFT, Mindfulness, and more at bossofmyfeelings.com. Grab a sample chapter of her book, Boss of My Feelings, and check out her program, Emotional Resilience Road Map, which teaches life skills for those suffering depression, bi-polar, and borderline disorders.

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  • Frazer McLeod

    Lovely story, thanks for sharing. Good for you!!!! 🙂

  • Whoa! For most of your story it was like I was reading MY story! It will be two years next month that I woke up with my last hangover and guilty day. I too, have filled the hole with so may beautiful new tools, reiki, mediatation, yoga, and the list grows. I love my new sober life and the thought that after all these years I’m finally conquering all of my demons and not hiding from them. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Congratulations on your new life. I’m so excited for us both!

  • Very nice post. It is so important to change the way you relate to the underlying painful emotions, the depression, shame, self-hatred, fear, that fuels the compulsive drive of addiction. From my experience as a mindfulness therapist, the best way to transform addiction is to learn how to meditate on those painful emotions themselves. Our habit is to avoid them and run away from them, which can never help healing, but the moment we start to focus mindfulness on emotional pain it begins to heal. I have seen this over and over again.

  • Emotional pain becomes stronger when we don’t face it. Quick fixes never work.

  • Yes! It only gets better and better from here 🙂

  • 🙂

  • So true. The art is in learning how to face our emotional pain with mindfulness – this is the heart of mindfulness meditation.
    Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • I found the solution to this the hard way. I would often go to extremes. Smoking, video games, you name it. But addiction hardly solves anything for it pulls you away from the real problem – your negative thoughts. It is better to face the thoughts head on and see what is happening. Then, let them pass and don’t believe every thought as true.

  • Rachel

    Reading this really reflected on how I have and still am feeling.. I’m still feeling so empty and lost…thank you for sharing

  • Tao of the Artichoke

    I just found this awesome community and sharing my experience. I was using alcohol to ease my anxiety. I lived with anxiety all my life. I was also raised Catholic, which added to a very complicated self-destructive spiritual experience. In college, the life of the mind was hellish. I used an anti-depressant, Lexapro, for 6 months to help me break out of a deep and very dark moment. The anxiety I experienced was nothing to what I began experiencing as a professional. I didn’t understand what alcohol was until I joined a few colleagues for a Happy Hour after a disastrous day. From that day on, no matter what happened at work (or in my personal life), Happy Hour was just a few hours away. I didn’t drink during the weekends, until I discovered brunch bottomless mimosas! I was in great shape and I was drinking a lot. My partner pointed this out and I was in denial. I gave myself a little challenge to not drink for a month. I failed at it. I couldn’t last a week. I excused my drinking as a means to treat my anxiety. There are so many levels of irony! I didn’t go to AA. I took a different route, I spoke to my personal doctor. He had been noticing my weight gain, and had seen me age…and he said try Naltrexone. It reduces the cravings. I approached with weariness and caution like Lezapro years ago. I was on a three month regime and I helped me turn down alcohol cravings. There are several awesome methods to use this medication. The Sinclair Method is one. The key is to get help early. I still struggle to manage my anxiety…but not with alcohol.

  • Julia Zioto

    I want to thank you for this

  • Annonymous

    You are not alone. You may feel lost and empty but you will find yourself and fill yourself. Your life story is not over. First know you can fill and find things empty and lost. Take it from someone who had everything and lost everything in life, you can find yourself and realize why you felt lost or had to get lost to become who you will be after this bump in your life. For me, i loved my life before my events to change everything to but still would not take my old life back because the hell Of a hand i was dealt transformed me into a person who is much stronger and confident than the person I was when my life was what it was before. If you overcome this which you can do and will you will ultimately become a stronger and more resilient person than the normal individual life without adversity. You will be more developed into your maximum potential than the average person’s capabilities l without the issues dealt or experienced such as yourself and me.
    Sometimes maybe its just leap of faith to trust that life is about the journey not the destination and accepting that our journey can really really suck. Our journey can be so terrible compared to our neighbors because of circumstances we did not choose or create! This is enough to be down and defeated if we think too hard about the unfairness of it all but this is not going to change those things but only hurt us more. Instead, I think yes, it is a journey that can be cruel and tough on us to live through but it is a journey that we have only a single one chance to experience to live. This is precious to remember the powerful reality that we get one chance to live our lives. So, I decide to keep this as the center point of why I continued to wake up and try those days I did not want to do the day.
    I was able to use the mentality that
    It is never too late to create a different story. Its not corny it is true. It can be a very bad ending or a great comeback its up to us right now during the turmoil period of time how this journey may end up to be.
    If you feel?
    Helpless and no control over many circumstances hindering your chance to break free, i know this makes mountains to climb every morning but you are capable and have the control to choose one thing no matter what- to keep going forward.

    Do not give up on yourself just yet. You deserve to know that things that are empty and lost we can fill and find and they are parts of you that other average people don’t get to develop when not enduring adversity like us.

  • Anonymous

    To all who may be alone today even in a crowded room of people, here are some thoughts on this article and comments some people have shared still enduring their personal set of pain.

    It is long and no proof read so i apologize hut have no time to do so! Still thought I hwould get these feelings out there for someone to use to their benefit to become hopeful when they need that assurance things can be okay.

    I remember tiny huddha has sent me emails with articles that have been perfect for that moment in my day or life that addressed exactly what I had faced or was experiencing. Although my life has broken away from my period of personal pain I remember it like yesterday

    First,
    You are not alone. You may feel lost and empty but you will find yourself and fill yourself. Your life story is not over. First know you can fill and find things empty and lost Take it from someone who had everything and lost everything in life, you can find yourself and realize why you felt lost or had to get lost to become who you will be after this bump in your life. For me, i loved my life before my events to change everything to but still would not take my old life back because the hell Of a hand i was dealt transformed me into a person who is much stronger and confident than the person I was when my life was what it was before. If you overcome this which you can do and will you will ultimately become a stronger and more resilient person than the normal individual life without adversity. You will be more developed into your maximum potential than the average person’s capabilities l without the issues dealt or experienced such as yourself and me.
    Sometimes maybe its just leap of faith to trust that life is about the journey not the destination and accepting that our journey can really really suck. Our journey can be so terrible compared to our neighbors because of circumstances we did not choose or create! This is enough to be down and defeated if we think too hard about the unfairness of it all but this is not going to change those things but only hurt us more. Instead, I think yes, it is a journey that can be cruel and tough on us to live through but it is a journey that we have only a single one chance to experience to live. This is precious to remember the powerful reality that we get one chance to live our lives. So, I decide to keep this as the center point of why I continued to wake up and try those days I did not want to do the day.
    I was able to use the mentality that
    It is never too late to create a different story. Its not corny it is true. It can be a very bad ending or a great comeback its up to us right now during the turmoil period of time how this journey may end up to be.
    If you feel?
    Helpless and no control over many circumstances hindering your chance to break free, i know this makes mountains to climb every morning but you are capable and have the control to choose one thing no matter what- to keep going forward.

    Do not give up on yourself just yet. You deserve to know that things that are empty and lost we can fill and find and they are parts of you that other average people don’t get to develop when not enduring adversity like us.

  • <3

  • Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad you found something that worked.

  • I agree with all of this

  • What really helps heal anxiety is to learn how to embrace it with conscious love. This a very powerful approach that you can learn through mindfulness training. Anxiety needs love, not alcohol, to heal.

    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy