Addiction sometimes feels like a dirty secret. We fear that, if we tell anyone about our disease, our peers will judge and ostracize us for something we cannot control. As such, our negative emotions build upon each other. Instead of others judging us, we decide to judge ourselves. Our fear, anger, depression and isolation leave us pent up and alone. We can confide in other addicts and alcoholics, and this helps to an extent. But if we find no other means of expressing ourselves, our negative emotions may continue to build. This is why we need to find other forms of self-expression. In our experience, these forms can be categorized by looking at the six senses.
Some people may immediately question this. After all, there are only five earthly senses. The sixth, psychic sense, is but a myth. Right? Well, you may believe so if you so choose. But for our purposes, we aren’t using the concept of six senses to imply that you’ll be able to read minds or teleport objects across the room. Instead, we refer to six senses as including a mental, perhaps spiritual sense. There already exists a great necessity to feed this aspect of our being if we wish to stay sober. So why not use this sense for self-expression as well?
Below, we’ll discuss each of the six senses and how we may use them to express our emotions. In doing so, we can stop bottling things up and begin confronting our emotions in a healthy way. Not all of the advice below will appeal to every person, but you’ll likely find something that you can use. If one thing doesn’t work for you, simply try another. That’s the benefit of sobriety—once drugs and alcohol no longer control our behaviors, we have the freedom to express ourselves however we wish.
We’re beginning the six senses with touch because it occurs to us that some may find it confusing. How can we express ourselves by touching something? Well, in this case, think of this sense as referring to sheer physical activity. We already know that exercise is one of the daily tips for maintaining sobriety, but it can also help us express ourselves. When you feel angry or upset in any way, try hitting the gym and working through it. If your gym has a punching bag, you can get those emotions out pretty quickly!
Of course, you can also get exercise in more creative ways. Paintball, laser tag, community sports—just find a physical activity that you enjoy. When your negative emotions take over, you can release them while having a bit of fun in the process. Or, if you want a more traditional notion of touch, try petting something nice and fluffy. Rescue a dog to cuddle, or find somewhere with a petting zoo. Exercise works out some of our emotions, but true touch helps us overcome our sense of isolation. This makes animals great companions for people in recovery—as long as you’re not trying to pet something crazy, like a goldfish. They don’t really stay still for too long.
In the Daily Reflections entry for August 11, the author talks about using paint to work out frustration. Those who are artistically inclined might find that visual art works wonders. Sculpting, painting, drawing, craftwork—all of these things allow us to filter our emotions through a creative lens. Even if you’ve never considered yourself much of an artist before, it’s never too late to start. For all you know, you might turn out to be really good at it. And even if you aren’t, it serves as a nice focus. Instead of focusing on the negatives in your life, you can focus on improving at your craft of choice.
Art therapy is another great way of engaging our six senses. For instance, try drawing a picture that personifies your addiction. Then, try to figure out what this might say about you. Is it a big, scary monster that tries to eat you alive? Perhaps it’s a small, pesky mosquito that bites you when you least expect it. Maybe it’s a charming devil who lures you in with the false promise of happiness. By using your six senses to personify your addiction, you can figure out better ways of guarding yourself against it.
Just as art therapy uses your six senses to inform your recovery, music therapy does the same thing. See what type of music brings out the negative emotions that trouble you the most. Sometimes we feel bad, but don’t quite know why. By gauging our reactions to different lyrics, we can identify the source of our troubles. And once we do that, we find ourselves able to work through the emotions with which we’ve been struggling.
If you really want to work through them, you might try creating your own music. Many musically-inclined sober celebrities use their songs to work through various personal issues. That’s why you have songs such as “That’s Why I’m Here” by Kenny Chesney, or “Amazing” by Aerosmith. If you’re a musician, you might try creating a similar song of your own. Or if you’re a decent lyricist without much in the way of instrumentality, you might try collaborating with other addicts and alcoholics. Join the Recovering Artists group on Facebook, and meet some other musicians who struggle with substance abuse. Not only can you use your six senses to express yourself, but you might make some friends in the process.
We’ve talked before about the fact that nutrition can improve mental health. So if you find that your emotions are still on the downswing in recovery, you might try finding some new recipes to try. Not only is taste one of the six senses that can result in a new hobby, but the health benefits can be quite amazing. Provided, at least, that you’re actively looking for nutritious recipes. If you want to add a social aspect to this advice, try taking a cooking class.
Of course, not all of your recipes need to be healthy. In fact, it’s actually good to engage your sweet tooth every once in a while. According to the Center for Human Nutrition at UCLA, sweets engage happy memories from childhood. Naturally, we shouldn’t overdo it. But eating a few sweets every once in a while triggers our nostalgia in a very uplifting way. So if you’re feeling down, try baking a pan of warm brownies or having a scoop of Blue Bell. It might be just the quick fix you need to turn that frown upside down.
Unless you’re a perfume manufacturer or aromatherapist, there aren’t too many ways to “express yourself” through smell. Nonetheless, it’s one of the most important of the six senses. Studies show that our olfactory sense influences memory more than possibly any other sense. Given the link between smell and taste, this means it plays a role in the nostalgia derived from sweets. But we can also use smell to recall positive memories in other ways. Aromatherapy is one way, but there are some other neat methods as well.
First, take a trip to a botanical garden and see which scents stir your memories the most. Then, you might consider choosing a scent that appeals to you and making your own scented candles. There are some pretty cool recipes for this sort of thing online, and they aren’t as difficult as you might think. When you’re done, you might want to try using these candles while you meditate. Through meditation, you can calm your negative emotions while using your sense of smell to replace them with happiness and serenity. In this way, the six senses can bring a bit of peace to your life. Not only that, but you’ll find that using candles in this manner helps to invigorate your sixth sense as well.
As noted above, we do not refer to the psychic sense in the same way certain movies might refer to it. Instead, we are simply talking about the side of you that seems more in touch with spirituality and stability. If you are still looking for creative means of self-expression, you might use your six sense to share your spirituality by writing about your history with addiction. This can be a truthful account, or even a highly fictionalized horror story that makes more use of symbolism than of fact. In this sense, writing can be a lot like the art therapy exercise we reference above. Some people also like to “vlog” about their experiences, posting video logs that can be seen by other suffering addicts or alcoholics. But if you like your anonymity, this might not be for you.
In truth, the best way to use the spiritual side of your six senses is to share your story in person. You can do this at recovery meetings, or one-on-one with other sufferers. If you have not yet entered recovery, you’ll find you can easily do this in therapy after entering our programs. Amethyst is proud of creating a recovery community in which our patients are able to bond with one another. For more information, contact us at your leisure. Learn to share your inner self while practicing some basic prayer and meditation when you can, and you’ll be on your way to spiritual growth in no time!