Empaths & Alcohol: using substances to escape empath intensity

by Lindsay on November 18, 2017

in Empath, Miscellaneous

Setting: 2007. 2am or thereabouts. My basement apartment bathroom. Dim lighting. No windows.

Crouching while seated on the toilet, I leaned forward to place my head in my hands in an attempt to steady myself as the room I was in spun around me. But instead of placing my head in my hands as intended, I leaned forward and smacked my face squarely on the shelving unit in front of me. Defeated, I lay on the floor and wept, wondering where I’d gone wrong and why I couldn’t stop. Why couldn’t I stop drinking? Why couldn’t I just keep the promise I made to myself every morning and stop finding excuses? Why did I have to feel everything so intensely and why did I turn to alcohol to numb all of it?

At the lowest point in my life, I was drinking alcohol way too often, whether alone or with friends. I had a stalker. I was entrenched in my own intense emotions as well as those of the people around and connected to me. I was miserable. And I felt so lost. I really wasn’t good to myself, but I knew I could – and would – do better.

After my tears dried, I gathered my wits about me and winced at my reflection, horrified at the gash on my nose and the already purple bruise forming in the center of my face. In that moment, I promised myself I would get my shit together. I had to. Each morning I woke up, my wound was a reminder of this promise (and my shame). Shortly after the bruise – my visible reminder to be good to myself – faded away, I found myself in a Goodwill, holding the book that would change the entire direction of my life.

Over the years, I’ve had a large number of requests to write about empaths and alcohol. I’ve written about empaths surviving the holidays, empaths at work, empaths living out our life purposes. But empaths and alcohol? Until now, I’ve avoided the topic because writing about empaths and their relationship with alcohol requires me to write from a state of honest vulnerability. I could write about empaths and their relationship to alcohol without adding my story to the article, but something is telling me to share.

Because someone reading this might need it as much as I needed to find that book in a Goodwill all those years ago. I saw myself within the pages of that book in which Colette Baron-Reid described her own abuse of substances before she knew she was an intuitive empath. Maybe someone else needs to hear my story of healing too.

I’m an empath. And I have turned to alcohol to numb everything that comes with that in the past. Not anymore, thanks to some serious soul searching, energy healing and self-love. But it was an internal battle I had as I was going through my Saturn Return. In order to ‘survive’ a party amongst friends, I had to get intoxicated. I was an empath but I didn’t yet know what that was or what it meant for me. All I knew is that being in crowds was too intense for me – I could feel everything. Energetic protection was something I had not a clue about at this point.

Now, I know what being an empath means. I’ve learned how to protect my energy so I don’t have to absorb everything. I have a toolbox of things I do before I go places with a large number of people (though if I’m being honest I avoid this more and more as I age!) so I don’t ‘have’ to get intoxicated to get through it. I know myself well enough to avoid going to malls (thank the Universe for online shopping!) or anywhere else that will have a lot of people in a small space with too much to absorb.

If you are an empath and struggling with substance abuse, know you are not alone. A lot of empaths struggle with this as we navigate our way out of absorbing everything and learning to protect ourselves. This Reddit thread is a discussion amongst empaths about the substances they use to ‘turn off’ their sensitivities. It’s more common than you may think!

Because of the overwhelming emotions of others, we often look for ways to numb, to cope. This is where addiction or escapism sometimes rolls into the picture. Because we are not aware that we have collected everyone else’s energy into our already overloaded systems, we melt down and look for a way to become comfortable. With no awareness or tools to understand what being an empath means, many of us look to numb ourselves because it is overwhelming. I used to feel like I was crawling out of my skin in large groups, completely overwhelmed by feeling what everyone in the room was feeling but not saying. (Try lying to an empath – go ahead, just try it – they’ll know instantly even if they say nothing!).

As an empath, you feel everything, and there’s no way to stop this sensitivity: it’s just who you are. All the feelings and emotions of other people and all other Universes of energy, plants, objects, and even places are felt by you.

Judith Orloff, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA says:

Empaths actually feel other people’s emotions and physical symptoms in their bodies, without the usual defenses most people have. Empaths feel things first, then they think [about them], which is the opposite of how most people function. Empaths sense other people’s emotions in our bodies without the usual filters; we can hear what they don’t say.

Being an empath has its benefits – it’s something I love about myself. It brings with it greater intuition, compassion, creativity and a deeper connection with other people. But living in this state of high sensitivity also comes with its challenges, such as becoming easily overwhelmed, over-stimulated, or exhausted, or absorbing stress and negativity from others.

Given these risks, it’s not surprising that empaths are particularly vulnerable to developing depression, anxiety, emotional burnout and addictions.

If you’re an empath, one of the keys to protecting your physical and emotional well-being is to avoid absorbing other people’s stress and negative energy excessively. There are different strategies that can help with this. Experiment and see what works best for you.

  • Learn to set boundaries: If someone is draining your energy or emotional reserve, limit the amount of time you spend with him or her or keep the length of the conversation to a minimum. Remember that “No” is a complete sentence. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry but I don’t have the time or energy to talk right now,” or, “I’m not up for going out tonight; I’m too wiped out.” Protecting your energy isn’t selfish – because ultimately, you’ll have more energy to give support after you’ve filled up your own ‘tank’.
  • Stay in tune with your emotions: When you feel a sudden shift in mood or the onset of emotional overload, ask yourself whether the new feeling is genuinely yours or belongs to a loved one or someone around you. Chances are, if you hadn’t felt anxious or depressed or sad before, the discomfort you’re feeling likely belongs to someone else. Acknowledging that what you feel doesn’t belong to you can help dissipate the feelings you absorb from other people — or prevent them from having as deep or draining an impact as they might otherwise have.
  • Alone time:  Empaths need to spend time alone to regroup and centre ourselves. For me, just sitting alone in silence is what I need. Find what works for you, whether it’s sitting quietly, breathing slowly and deeply, meditating, or listening to soothing music. I also find water healing – I either go for a walk near a body of water if possible or even just stand in the shower for a few minutes to wash any emotions that don’t belong to me off.
  • Spend time in nature: Sitting underneath a tree and letting her absorb my energy is always healing for me. Use your senses to experience the sights, sounds, smells and physical sensations of the grass, soil, plants around you, etc…
  • Put some distance between yourself and others (whether real or imagined): Don’t be afraid to set healthy boundaries between yourself and others. Even those you love most, you still need breaks from. Be honest and vocal about how you’re feeling whenever possible. I find most people understand when I need a break from it all and if I word it gently enough, they are willing to give me the space I need in order to regroup and center myself.
  • Create your energetic shield: Something I like to do when I feel overwhelmed by my empath ‘feelers’ is to visualize separating myself from other people’s energy. I put up an energy ‘shield’ around my body that prevents other people’s negative emotions from reaching me. This allows me to stay physically present but have an invisible boundary that helps protect my energy.

With healthy coping mechanisms, I no longer turn to alcohol to numb myself. Because it is no longer a habit, the temptation is no longer there, but when I was first finding healthier ways to manage being an intuitive empath, I had to really fight the battle within myself to get and stay healthy. Now, I use the tips suggested above and have a healthy relationship with myself, with alcohol (I can drink a couple drinks and not abuse it!) and others.

Are you an empath who has experienced substance abuse or used something to escape? I’d love to hear your story. If you have any coping mechanisms, I’d love to hear that too!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Michelle December 8, 2017 at 12:11 am

Thanks for this. I’m trying to find healthier ways too. But so far, nothing works… especially shielding. Takes too much concentration and exertion to shield. Not sure what to do. I know alcohol is hurting my body, but I’m tired of feeling so much all the time.


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