Understanding mental clarity in recovery

Woman experiencing mental clarity on the beach

Choosing a life of recovery comes with personal growth, self-reflection, and reparation to relieve the weight of guilt and shame. Yes, the path forward can be painful yet fulfilling. Working towards a sober lifestyle requires sacrifice but can yield moments of clarity that reaffirm the decision to live free of all substances. 

First responders who have stayed sober for extended periods are privy to the mental health benefits of experiencing peace of mind. However, any long-tenured recovery alumni can attest that these moments of clarity, feeling content in sobriety and life in general, often lack their portability.

Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily take them with you. Given the impermanence of contentment, many people will be chasing the feeling. It’s essential to remember that it’s not the pursuit of clarity that leads to clarity itself but rather a commitment to living harmoniously within ourselves.

Recognizing the validity of feelings, thoughts, and emotions allows a person in recovery to honor and empower themselves. In many ways, the journey back to this place of wholeness lies in one’s ability to listen inward.

A moment of clarity can be a double-edged sword

While the feeling of epiphany can provide a cathartic sense of healing, the experience of feeling contentment can lead to experiencing the pink cloud effect. Commonly experienced early on in one’s sobriety, the pink cloud effect describes a carefree euphoria associated with the joy of sobriety; however, this sensation can occur after years of leading a sober lifestyle.

Experiencing a sense of purpose and self-assurance is a great place to reach in recovery. But after this confidence fades, those in recovery can begin to wonder why they lost their sobriety mojo; this can result in the pursuit of feeling accomplished rather than recognizing the strategies which led to reaching that high point of validation in the first place.

Chasing an emotional state can be particularly risky for people in recovery, as alcohol or substance use is viewed as a shortcut to suppressing any doubt and uncertainty one is feeling. 

First responders are particularly prone to extended bouts of anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, these episodes can go unnoticed as first response work often causes individuals coping with depression to suppress the symptoms to conduct themselves at work.

Manic-depressive tendencies entail feelings of intense, positive moods, followed by immersive pools of negativity. The extreme shifts from high to low can be destabilizing, making it challenging to overcome disbelief in oneself while also complicating the ability to trust self-assurance.

First responders and anyone in recovery should remember that depressive feelings will pass with time and treatment, just as happy moments are not guaranteed. 

Staying level-headed during low points

A healthy mindset can recognize that reactions within one’s brain chemistry determine a recovering alcoholic or substance user’s perspective.

That is not to say that individuals are powerless to their feelings, but acknowledging that the scope of control is limited makes an effort necessary to manage mental health less overwhelming. First responders often experience elevated mood swings, particularly after extended on-call shifts.

The reliance on adrenaline jump-starts a series of emotional responses that can be manic in the heat of first response action but depressive once a shift has ended. 

Lacking control over these fluctuations, first responders often look to alcohol and substances as a means to exercise control over their emotions for a brief period.

Some are using manifests in subdued, emotional expression, while others tap into emotions that may seem less accessible in sobriety. Still, relinquishing the desire to ascertain greater control will help those in recovery accept and focus on the little things within their agency.

Instead of trying to do too much and ultimately disappointing one’s lofty expectations, those who can realistically identify strategies for managing emotional highs and lows are likely to be more successful in recovery.

Managing mental clarity

When you manage expectations of mental health, observing your behavior without ascribing judgment is the first step toward making a significant change. 

It’ll allow individuals in recovery to mark patterns in their behavior: how does work affect my mood, what events trigger a bout of depressive tendencies, do my thoughts of using follow a particular feeling? Taking the time to self-reflect sets up healthy realizations that will allow you clarity, growth, and sustained strength in recovery.

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