Getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable, is one of my favorite recovery sayings because I feel it really sums up what is necessary to live a life free from problematic substance use. Those who use chemicals to change their emotional state may have begun using, as a means of making a fun time even better, but once the consequences of use outweigh the benefits. The addictive behavior or chemical becomes the primary coping mechanism to avoid temporary discomfort. At this point it may not even be about fun, but an attempt to feel normal and function in day-to-day activities.
Choosing to reduce ones use, or to be abstinent, will inevitably push the individual to experience varying levels of discomfort since the body and mind have been conditioned to turn to the addiction as an attempt to relieve the discomfort. For those who have been through this, we know this relief is fleeting at best. The choice to stop this pattern is not an easy one and requires one to learn new ways of acting and thinking that will assist in developing tolerance of discomfort. While the minds initial response will want to be to run away from the discomfort and use whatever is quick and easy, following through with this method will only keep us in the throes of the addictive lifestyle we so hope to escape.
Understanding and accepting that discomfort is a natural part of life, and really any behavioral change, can be uncomforting during this process. Dietary changes, deciding to wake up earlier, exercise, communicating better with a spouse, are all examples of changes that will be uncomfortable at first and stopping or reducing a chemical addiction is no different. Remind yourself that change is uncomfortable at first, and over time this change will become more normalized which will therefore gradually reduce the discomfort as it becomes part of your new lifestyle.
Avoidance is a common feature of addiction and is the antithesis of engaging in the behaviors that will bring you long-term, sustainable happiness. We start using substances for a conduit to happiness, and paradoxically people choose to stop using substances to regain their happiness. Learning to cope with discomfort is mandatory to maintain positive changes because discomfort is what we seek to avoid by having a drink, taking a pill, or smoking something.
There are many ways to deal with discomfort in healthy ways and when done consistently become easier and easier over time. I have found acceptance, mindfulness, and engagement in distractions to be some of the most powerful tools to get through temporary discomfort. The mind will want to think about the future and how the discomfort will always be there, but how can you know what the future brings and how you will feel one day, one month or one year from now?
Almost everyone I know who has been living a sober lifestyle states the urges and cravings diminish over time and many have gotten to the point where their addictive substance no longer holds any sway over their life. By focusing on the moment at hand, and not projecting our current discomfort to how we will always feel in the future lessens its power and allows us to experience the transitory nature of all feelings. Here one moment and shifting the next. By learning to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable, we no longer make demands that “bad” feelings must be avoided and should not be tolerated. Instead, we accept life has ups and downs and are able to push through these moments without having to turn to a substance to give us short term relief, while incurring long-term consequences as a result of their use.