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 Vanessa

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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