The emotions of unmanageability

This is the second part in a series taking a closer look at unmanageability. Part 1 is found here.

For a moment, think of unmanageability like the classic chocolate factory episode from I Love Lucy. Lucy and Ethel think it will be a breeze to wrap the chocolates as they come down the conveyor belt, but soon enough, they are stuffing the chocolates everywhere in an attempt to keep up. Their efforts fail, hilariously. 

The difference in unmanageability with substance use is that people can try to keep up or cover up, but fail miserably, with consequences that are harmful to themselves and those around them. 

The mind of someone with a substance use disorder can trick them into thinking they can manage their use. 

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives have become unmanageable.

Unmanageability means you can’t maintain the pace of the conveyer belt, and even though alcohol or drugs are the cause of the unmanageability, they are also seen as the only relief. And the problems keep coming down the line.

In Step 1, the admission of powerlessness puts the brakes on the line, but the chocolates are still scattered. While the substance use may have ended, the emotions of unmanageability remain. 

Unmanageability isn’t always about the outward signs of an unmanageable life – a job that’s been affected, or risky behaviour. Someone can be facing unmanageability while their life looks fine, even enviable, from the outside. But inside they are feeling negative emotions and turning to drugs and alcohol.

Man sitting on couch with head resting on hand.

Feeling the discomfort of anxiety, embarrassment, sadness, and anger requires finding healthy ways to manage them instead of turning to their previous unmanageable ways of coping. 

Even further on into recovery, the desire to distract from feeling emotional turmoil may be a sign of unmanageability’s unwelcome return, as people seek to escape negative emotions.  

In a past blog post, The Stages of Relapse, emotional relapse is described as a time when someone may not be thinking of using, but their emotions and behaviors are setting them up for a potential relapse and a return to unmanageability. 

If you feel you cannot manage life the way you used to, or if you’re concerned about a loved one, give us a call. We offer virtual and intensive inpatient addiction treatment. One of our qualified, understanding counsellors would be happy to discuss your situation and talk about treatment options.

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About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.