Dealing with the highs and lows of recovery
There is one thing true to everyone’s recovery process, regardless of the original trauma: progress does not always equate to increasing happiness. Recovery is a huge roller coaster ride. You go up and up and up, but inevitably, you must come down before going back up again.
We might recognize this as being true on an intellectual level. Like, you can’t always be happy. However, that doesn’t mean we connect to this truth on the emotional level. For me personally, when I’m in those highs, I feel on top of the world, like nothing could ever bring me back down. I am strong. I am powerful. I can create whatever life I want for myself.
But like a rollercoaster, after these immense highs, I immediately come crashing back down. I get in my head. Anxiety takes control. I can easily go from feeling unstoppable one evening to barely-able-to-get-out-of-bed the following morning.
Am I bipolar? (No.) Are sudden swings like this normal? (Absolutely.)
To keep the negative emotions at bay when I’m feeling down, I try looking at this emotional roller coaster a few different ways. Maybe if I better understand what’s going on, I can better control the response.
1 step forward, 2 steps back
At a recent event, I sat in a discussion circle about fear (led by one of our planned affiliates with The Alliance . . . But more on that at a later date). And there’s one statement from the whole session that has been running through my mind since. Something along the lines of “For every step you take to move forward, you’ll take 2 more steps back.”
Think about a time where you made a change in your life that was great, so much that you were 100% confident in your decision. It doesn’t have to be something huge, but it was a change that took you out of your comfort zone (from moving somewhere new to taking on a leadership position to getting bangs). Now, while you might have had some apprehension, ultimately, you must’ve felt pulled to push for change in order to make your decision. So you did something new, and the excitement and adrenaline made the decision-making process feel awesome. But once that rush in your body fades away, what’s left?
Usually, that’s when anxiety or fear kicks in, and most of the time it’s unfounded. Unless the result is death, you only learn and grow from change . . . but that fact isn’t always easy to keep in mind.
For example, nearly 3 years ago, I made the decision to uproot from Louisiana and head to northern California to kick off post-grad life. It was something I had long wanted to do, and when the opportunity came to finally make it happen, I was so sure of myself. The decision was made official practically overnight, and I was set to leave in three weeks. I was ecstatic, knowing it was exactly the right next step for me. In my last few weeks at home, I filled my time working, packing and spending last minute time with friends and family. Then I set off across the country, with all my possessions in the back of my Camry, and my brother beside me for the journey. It wasn’t until after my brother left and I was unpacked that it hit me. I just made an extremely huge life decision and acted on it, and now I’m here. [Cue anxiety.] What the hell am I supposed to do? I didn’t prepare myself for this. What’s next? Am I going to be alone here forever?
This is a pattern that plays out all the time, sometimes from simple things like making a conversation with someone new. (Afterwards, you’re in bed awake for hours overanalyzing because you didn’t say please. Maybe it sounded too aggressive?) But why do we catastrophize events and let anxiety set in after making decisions/changes? It’s not like you can turn back time.
According to the discussion leader (still a secret for now), it has to do with fear. “Fear is excitement without breadth.” Often when we make positive change in our life, we are stepping into the unknown. It’s rational to feel some fear there. And for that reason, fear should not be viewed as negative. It means you just did something new, and despite any fear, this step should be celebrated.
Befriend fear. Listen to what it is saying. It’s not about moving past it, but managing it differently.
The cycle of nature
To explain a little differently, you can view that highs and lows of your life as just the cycle of nature. (We do come from nature after all). That is, for every spring, there must be a winter. For all the sunshine, there must be rain. For each day, there must be a night. For all the positive emotions you experience, there must be some negative. It’s about balance. The bad helps you appreciate what is good.
And really, nothing is objectively good or bad. If having bad times help you appreciate and understand the good times, then the bad times are . . . also good? Though we might equate good with spring/sunshine/daytime, do we view winter, rain, or nighttime as bad things? Do we judge them for existing? Even if you don’t enjoy them as much (or maybe you do, idk, bear with me), you acknowledge that these are times of rest and replenishment for nature, so that we can have more sunny springtime days in the future as opposed to droughts and death. So why then, do we let having bad days or emotions get us so down? Why do we judge ourselves for having periods of low energy or negative emotions? These times should be viewed as replenishment, so that we can sustain this push for growth and change that lead to high emotions in the future.
Tying it all together
Life is full of ups and downs, especially through times of recovery. And when you’ve faced sexual assault or something similar, I don’t think the recovery process ever truly ends. And every step you take in this recovery journey, big or small, is going to have its ups and downs. It’s an important fact to recognize and integrate into your way of life.
Everyday, we should celebrate and take care of ourselves. It’s easy to celebrate when we’re making “positive” change. We celebrate with friends and family or with drinks or by treating ourselves to a nice massage. But when we are feeling down on our luck, instead of celebrating, we turn to judgment and self-criticism. “Why don’t I have more energy?” “Why did I blow all the progress I just made?” “Why can’t I just be happy?” “I’m a failure. “
STOP. THAT. SHIT.
I’m not going to pretend that I’ve fully integrated self-love into my everyday life. I’ve spent the last 2-3 weeks trying to break out of some really heavy emotions after launching this site. That is, until 2 days ago, when I realized that I haven’t given myself a break in months to rest and reflect on all the changes that have been occurring. The moment that I truly accepted that this down time was needed for my own wellbeing (not just on an intellectual level, but at a core emotional level too), I felt the negative energy lift off of me. Society has trained us to believe that emotions like sadness, loneliness, and fatigue are negative. In actuality, they’re necessary, and it’s only our reactions to these feelings that are negative.
Even though we can’t always control our needs and desires, we are the ones in control here. We push to overcome heavy emotions and heal the deep wounds that stem from our traumas. Sometimes the wounds cut so deeply that the trauma itself becomes integrated into your core being. As you release the heavy, negative emotions from these wounds, you are essentially releasing pieces of your core self, but ones that no longer serve you. It’s painful and draining, but if you stick with it, you can find so much love and joy that was hidden underneath (cue the highs of the emotional roller coaster). But don’t forget, that your body still needs to mourn the pieces of you that were released, no matter how negatively they were serving you. So, when you’re feeling down and out, instead of judging yourself, see these negative feelings and fear as a good thing. You wouldn’t feel this way if you didn’t just do something completely awesome and good for you.
Turning knowledge into action
But still, what do you do when you’re in a funk? Only you know what’s best for you, but here are some suggestions:
- Reach out to friends/family. Be with the ones you love, and talk it out if need be
- Do something physical. Dance. Run. Bike. Soccer. Do flips on a trampoline. Whatever helps you shake off the negative energy.
- Practice mindfulness through yoga or meditation (Seriously been so effective for me)
- Volunteer your time. Spread joy into the lives of others to bring joy into your life too.
- Get lost in a book.
- Go to the park. Or somewhere in nature. Disconnect from your everyday world.
- Declutter your life. While you get rid of the negative energies that no longer serve you, get rid of all the crap in your house that no longer serves you either.
- Or just lay in your bed all day. Sometimes a serious rest sesh is all you need.
Okay, you get the idea. I’ll leave it at that. No matter what you decide to do though, the most important thing is not to judge yourself through the process. Give yourself this time. You need it. Once you release the negativity and give yourself time to reflect, you create space for more growth and positivity in the future.