Filling the Empty Spaces Left By Recovery

By Joshua Hoe

Around 15 years ago I quit smoking cigarettes. It was the second time I was able to quit for over a year (I quit one other time for a little over a year).

I had smoked for about 25 years when I finally was able to put them down.

I remember now that, by far, the hardest part of quitting was filling the spaces where I used to take smoke breaks.

Quitting other kinds of addiction, like say drug addiction (which I struggled with when I was in my 20’s), often leave different kinds of spaces to fill.

Addiction + Spaces

There are lots of ways we build spaces into our days and into our expectations. Just like smokers take breaks.

The difference is that with something like drug addiction, or sex addiction, or a alcohol addiction…You never really quit. So the spaces are opening and closing all the time.

When I was younger, my Dad and I would have a little fight every day. It might be because I had not taken out the trash, it might be because I had not done a good job on the dishes, maybe I did not do my homework.

But no matter what the reason, we would fight once every day.

I think it was because we got used to our space being filled and we did not know how else to fill it. We could not be comfortable in the same space but we wanted to say something…so, I manufactured a fight every day and he obliged.

All we ever needed to do was change the topic, not follow the script, substitute a different conversation.

Eventually, I woke up to this and stopped following the script. I tried to not fall for the same old patterns anymore. I found other ways to fill the spaces. I made progress towards a better relationship.

I am an addict who creates spaces and emotional expectations for myself and for others, and when those expectations and spaces are left empty…I can be triggered.

Those can be spaces of positive interaction, a loved one comes home and is happy to see me…Or they can be spaces of negative interaction, my Dad comes home and we fight.

When those spaces are left open, I can be triggered.

Sometimes it is more about expectations. Sometimes I have an expectation of how someone will treat me and when my expectations are dashed, that same hole of insecurity opens back up.

Addiction Help – Accepting, Substituting, Asking for Help, or Embracing Space

Addiction for me has always been about misplaced emotional responses.

Instead of dealing with my sadness or loneliness or inability to connect emotionally, I process those feelings in the silence of my own heard and use the resulting resentment to fuel acting out behaviors.

In recovery, I have learned that I have options other than responding to these resentments other than acting out.

I can truly and honestly accept that things are not the way I hoped that they would be…and instead of keeping those resentments bottled up until I act out, I can just let myself be sad, lonely, or disappointed.

I can substitute other activities in the spaces where I would have acted out. For me this usually means I either go to the gym (endorphins might not be dopamine but they are still great), try to be social (or go out into social spaces), or I listen to music.

Probably the most effective (and most program consistent activity I can take is to reach outside of myself and ask for help. I can make the call, and share what I am feeling and what I am thinking of doing. This virtually always helps. Or go to a meeting, whatever works best for the time frame.

Finally, I can meditate and just let the resentments and feelings be there, I can watch them build and dissipate. I can see that they are only thoughts and that they are temporary like everything else.

Recovery, for me, is a process of learning to use and apply tools like these to fill the spaces created by my expectations and in the face of my triggers. Hopefully, you can come up with a list of tools for yourself that works for you too!

What spaces open up for you? Do you have a list of tools to respond with? I would love to see how you deal with your spaces, leave a comment!


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