The Stress of Crises and Survival
If you haven't been there, it's hard to imagine the stress that weighs on someone battling addiction. All of the physiological, psychological, and relational factors of stress can be overwhelming, especially when trying to cope with stress through the hazy lens of active addiction. When the unthinkable things of the world rear up in our lives (divorce, job loss, death, etc), we automatically revert into our most simplistic form of being; survival mode. Understanding the things that we view as crises, and how we most commonly respond to them, is an important step in learning to cope effectively with stress.
Addiction, at the very minimum, causes stress to someone's mental and physical systems. Internal and external stressors often ‘peak out’ and cause individuals to react with the body’s natural fight or flight response. In the world of substance abuse, stress is all too often a threat to their very survival. Then, in the effort to recover, removal of the addictive agent itself presents its own new challenge to their system because these instinctual responses need behavioral modification.
It's easy to see how this response, which is a basic human survival mechanism, plays a key role throughout recovery. An individual’s immediate reaction to crises in the past will set the tone for how they instinctively deal with crises from that point on, creating an automatic response pattern within the brain. Once sober, this pattern needs to be identified and overcome through the employment of more effective coping strategies.
The fight response triggers an adrenaline driven reaction to meet crises with action and/or opposition. In recovery, you learn how to HALT in response to stress tigers such as hunger, anger, loneliness, etc. Instead of acting out immediately, individuals are taught to STOP; stop the reaction, take a step back, observe what’s happening (appraising the actual situation and corresponding feelings, and then make a plan before proceeding.
Conversely, the flight response propels an individual to run away or reject the crisis entirely. While there are many situations in which the flight response is appropriate, an inability to actual target the situation can cause long-term problems. Remove yourself from dangerous situations immediately, no matter what, but make sure that you alter your behavior as to not find yourself in the same situation later on down the road. The flight response is about escaping situations of immediate harm, not avoiding the issues that play into these types of situations.
When faced with complicated situations, the appropriate long-term course of action will most likely fall somewhere in between the basic fight or flight responses. In recovery, you learn that not everything that causes you stress is a crisis, and not every situation calls for you to react with either a fight or flight response. Mental balance and unhindered perspective become the most effective tools in your recovery toolbox when facing real life obstacles. Remember, the best courses of action lead you down a path to resolution, relief, and recovery.
Recovery IS Possible!
Maegan Glidden, MS, NCC