Boredom and Relapse
Sitting with Our Emotions
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | November 14, 2019 (edited 9-28-2021)
The excitement of chasing highs, and scheming to support an addiction creates boredom in recovery, often leading to relapse.
The hard and fast life of addiction is full of emotional swings—very high highs and low lows. The drug user forfeits the joys of homeostatic quietness for the excitement of chaos. Life swallowed in the throes of addiction is driven by powerful urges. Contrary to stereo types of laziness, the addict is active, scheming, hustling, and consuming. The habitual busyness, however, creates a nasty surprise in recovery—boredom. In recovery, days are monotonous, lacking constant stimulations. The quietness stirs feelings of emptiness; and a dire impulse to fill that existential hole.
Over time, the joys of intoxication diminish. The euphoric highs become necessary fixes. The strung out existence becomes sorrowful, only brightened by paradisiacal dreams of a different life. The trauma of homelessness, hunger, broken relationships, and battles with the law take a toll. The weary mind needs escape from the consequences of the habitual escape.
Often dreams of “when I am clean,” provides relief—a bright light in the future. These dreams prepare the individual for change (pre-contemplative stage). Many people, not just habitual drug users, escape disenchanting presents with hopes for an improved future. These dreams provide a motivational prick. There is a slight problem, we are terrible at predicting. Once we arrive at the destination, we discover reality a bit different than the magic kingdom of our dreams.
Daniel Gilbert reminds, “When we imagine the future, there is a whole lot missing, and the things that are missing matter” (2007, pg. 113). During addiction, we fail to predict the boredom.
Many people, not just habitual drug users, escape disenchanting presents with hopes for an improved future.
Struggle in Sobriety
Sobriety is rife with troubles, too. Perhaps, the stresses and challenges of sober living is why we haven’t been sober. In recovery, life is further complicated with carryover crap from years of neglecting life; we forfeited development for escape. The recovering drug user must confront feelings of shame and inadequacy, along with new feelings of boredom.
The pleasures of sobriety are unremarkable compared to the wild sways of emotions. The drug crazed busy of chasing the next high provided the stimulation to avoid the raucously bubbling chaos floating in our head. Normal living, honestly, is a bit boring. Homeostatic existence is flat; but the flatness is what makes life predictable and manageable. Certainly, sober living isn’t bad and can be joyful—intimate relationships flourish, health strengthens, and finances balance.
Our bodies and mind stabilize and rejuvenate in calmness. Hot fast living, although exciting, is destructive. The slow steady pace typically triumphs over time, soothing many of the disruptive emotions by creating of a better life.
"An important part of conquering boredom is allowing yourself to grieve your prior life. While sobriety may promise a healthier, more whole life, the transition is neither easy nor fast."
Joys of Sobriety Take Time to Be Realized
Many of the expected joys, however, are not immediately available. We’ve detoxed and are clean; but still exist in the old world. Life is empty. Our pastime conversations of jail, encounters with the law, and bad highs no longer seem appropriate. Old patterns of interacting spark discomfort and judgmental remarks. New social circles remind us of the differences, giving power to hideous feelings of shame.
The biological pulls of chemical addiction have been broken, but habitual escapes remain strongly enforce. Triggered emotions often give rise to feelings that mirror the chemical withdrawal, beckoning a return to the past—relapse.
Books on Addiction recovery
Devastating Consequences of Long term Addiction
Years of heavy drug use tears through our lives, destroying other passions, nothing else matters. Previous enlivening thoughts of old hobbies, friends and amusements no longer elicit arousal. We just sit in sobriety alone, afraid and bored. The joys of sobriety that motivated change, now we have arrived, appear illusionary; while memories of the painful aspects of addiction fade. Motivations shift. Relapse appears attractive, luring us back to the darkness. Our fabulous efforts to recover painfully collide with a terrible reality of not fitting in this bright and cheery world.
These early moments are critical according to Mary Addenbrooke. She explains in her intriguing book Survivors of Addiction:
The early days after stopping drug use are crucial in the life of a person who has been addicted because they either lead to further discouragement and disappointment in the form of a relapse or, alternatively, the groundwork is laid for continuing recovery.
It is a time of unique vulnerability for the person who has just stopped, for they plummet into a time of radical readjustment without the familiar prop of the drug. If the pitfalls of relapse are avoided successfully, the experience of meeting the challenges successfully can form a basis for building confidence (2011, p. 89).
Be Patient with Growth
Hold on. Be patient. The dawning moments of recovery are not the crowning experience. The reward comes later, but only to the persistent, who lifts his or her gaze beyond the bleakness of the moment.
Relapse, just like addiction, has many causes. The powerful non-salient states of boredom are often overlooked. Many believe that once the chemical addiction is broken, the rewards graciously are given. Yet, instead of joy, the vacuum of emptiness is felt, and we seek resolution—excitement.
The same impulsivity that drove us to addiction returns driving us back to using—relapse. Perhaps, a return to the same drug, or this time, to something different. Destructive replacements come in many forms, not just drugs or alcohol. Behavioral addictions (gambling, sex, gaming) also distract and disrupt, wreaking havoc on healthy recovery.
"An idle mind is the devil's workshop"