Anyone who’s in recovery knows that things can get a little rough at times. Sometimes, it seems as though the situation is more bleak than hopeful. There’s a whole new way of life to get familiar with, schedules to make and keep, 12-step meetings to attend, trying to come back from many months or years of addiction, and just attempting to keep your head above water – one step ahead of the bill collectors – at one time or another. It can be overwhelming. For some, the tendency is to see the glass half-empty, instead of half-full. Others can’t get past how rough life is in sobriety. If you are among them, here’s how to get over the why-me syndrome in recovery.
Put Your Life in Perspective
Here’s one way to approach your current situation. Try putting your life in perspective. Where you are today is certainly a far different place than where you were in the height of your addiction. From that standpoint alone, you have made progress. That’s something to celebrate and be thankful for. There is no doubt that arriving at this point included a lot of pain, reliving painful memories, ditching self-destructive habits, removing yourself from former friends and acquaintances you associate with using. It is just as true, more likely than not, that you’ve lost much in your life due to your addiction. You may have lost your family, home, job, standing in the community, friends, health, gone bankrupt, or even spent time in jail. Any one or all of these are enough to cause any sane person to feel depressed, let alone someone just climbing out of addiction and beginning recovery. But remind yourself that you did make it. You did commit to and come this far. That is a true accomplishment. When you look at your life with this framework – where you were then and where you are today – putting your life in perspective helps you to begin to get over the why-me syndrome. It’s at least a first step. But much more needs to be done.
Talk it Over With Your Sponsor
You’re definitely not alone in feeling that times can be rough in recovery. One person who knows how you feel – having been there before – is your 12-step sponsor. This is the person who has committed to helping you navigate the Twelve Steps and to be there for you when you need someone to talk things over with. It’s never all a straight-line of progress. There are ups and downs in every person’s journey in recovery. You might think that your feelings aren’t something you should trouble your sponsor with, but that would be a mistake on your part. Of course, how you feel is important to your sponsor. If you allow the feeling that you’re put upon or somehow saddled with more than you can handle, you won’t be effective in doing the hard work necessary for your recovery. Sometimes it’s just a matter of letting it all come out, having your sponsor listen, and give you the benefit of his or her experience. What you get in your sponsor is a ready sounding board, someone who freely gives of his or her time in order to facilitate your recovery. The rest, as they say, is up to you. No one else, not your sponsor, your spouse or partner, your best friend, can change how you feel. But having the benefit of sage counsel is often enough to let a little “air” into your gloomy thoughts, allowing them to be swept away.
Maybe You Are Depressed
Don’t discount the possibility that you are depressed, or feeling depressive symptoms, as the medical terminology more appropriately describes it. If you are more than just sad, and it’s been going on for several weeks or longer, you should see your doctor or consult again with your counselor – if you still have counseling as part of your continuing care or aftercare program following substance abuse treatment. If you don’t still have counseling, go to see your doctor. Get a referral, if necessary, to a psychologist or psychiatrist to help in diagnosing and treating possible depression. Medications can be prescribed to treat depressive symptoms arising from addiction or an underlying mental health condition that pre-dates addiction. If medication is prescribed for you, be sure to take it exactly as the doctor directs. Don’t just quit because you think it isn’t working or not as well as you’d hoped. Prescription medication for depressive symptoms and for clinical depression takes time to be effective. There’s often a need to modify dosage or change brands before the right combination is achieved. Don’t just worry or guess. Have it checked out to determine whether or not you are depressed or suffer depressive symptoms.
Sitting around the house, moping about how rough you’ve got it, only contributes to perpetuating the why-me syndrome. An effective way to clear your head is to get active. There’s a good reason for this. When you are physically active, for example, you are burning calories and producing endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good chemical. It’s hard to stay blue for long when you feel the release of these endorphins. That’s why people say they feel a rush after a good workout. It’s safe, natural, non-addictive – and makes you feel good. Of course, if you’ve got a medical condition that precludes being too physically active, you’ll need to get clearance from your physician before you embark on any strenuous physical activity. No long-distance running, cross-country skiing, touch football or pick-up basketball games without the doctor’s okay. But when you do get the go-ahead, get out there and work off some energy. Hiking, fishing, swimming, gardening, biking – there are dozens of ways that you can become physically active. Start easy. Begin with a walk in the neighborhood 15 to 20 minutes a day, two to three days a week. Ramp up to about 60 minutes a day, four to five days a week. Walking briskly accomplishes what you need, doesn’t cost a dime, and results in great cardiovascular improvement, a lift in mood, burns calories, and tones your physique. It can also help you broom those why-me thoughts and get you back on track working your recovery.
Find a Hobby
When you keep your mind – and hands – occupied, you’re not as likely to entertain thoughts about how rough your life is. Figure out what it is that you like to do. Surely there’s a hobby associated with that activity. It could be that you like working in the yard, gardening. There are clubs for people interested in growing roses, bonsai tree cultivation, floral arrangements. Like working with wood? Join a cabinetmaking group or get involved in carpentry. Model ship building, collecting toy trains, stamps, old teapots or china, you name it, there’s a club or organization you can join. While you’re involved in your hobby, you’ll be meeting others with like interests, making new friends, and sharing conversation and good times. You’ll also be taking a break from concentrating on how rough your life is. After a while, you won’t think about how bad things are much at all. You’ll be too busy getting on with your life in recovery.
Be With People
Isolation is your worst enemy in recovery. When you’re alone, your thoughts have a tendency to drift toward all the things that aren’t working well in your life, focusing on all the mistakes and failures caused by your addiction instead of tackling the work of recovery. Even if you are making an earnest effort to work the steps and be in the rooms, if you close yourself off from others, you only have yourself for company. And you know that you haven’t been your best counsel. When you listen to the thoughts in your head, it’s a quick route to getting down in the dumps. Break the cycle of endless negativity by making it a point to get out of the house and be with people. Of course, this includes the friends you make at the 12-step meetings, but being with people in recovery means that you have to make some new friends, sober friends that share your interests or with whom you can learn something new. Naturally, during early recovery, you feel a little too raw and vulnerable to open yourself up to strangers. No one expects you to. During the first weeks of recovery, limit your outside contact to the 12-step rooms and family. You will gradually be expanding your horizons to v venture into other areas where you will come in contact with individuals with whom you can begin to form a friendship. Remember that no one recovers alone. You need people, people who know and care about you, and people who will know and care about you.
Strengthen Family Ties
It has been said that for every person with addiction, at least six others – usually family members – are affected. Addiction is, therefore, considered a family disease. And, as it happens in many situations, family ties are severely strained or damaged as a result of addiction. For some, making contact with estranged family members is like climbing Mount Everest. If communication has been severed, only time will possibly allow reconnection. But even in the closest and most loving families, where family members are fully supportive of and encourage their loved one in recovery, there are gaps and long silences, trust to be regained, and new patterns of behavior to be accepted. If you haven’t yet done so, sit down and have an honest and heartfelt conversation with the family member closest to you – or with whom you feel that you can communicate. This may be your spouse or partner, your parent or older child. Ask for the person’s help in the form of support and encouragement as you work your recovery. Acknowledge that you have made mistakes, but you take responsibility for your actions. Assert that you have learned a lot in treatment, are committed to your recovery, and to regaining the love and trust of your family. In fact, without your family, your recovery efforts will be that much harder. That’s because the family and your 12-step group are your two most critical support networks. These are the people that lift you up when you feel down, that stand by you in time of need, help you see alternatives when you only see obstacles. Strengthen your family ties. It is one of the simplest and most rewarding things you can do to help get over the why-me syndrome.
Enrich Your Spirit
There are no answers as to why your addiction happened to you in the way it did – harder, perhaps, than it did for someone else you know or met in recovery. There’s no blame attached to it, either. That doesn’t necessarily make you feel any better about your current situation. Instead of beating yourself up over how bad things are, give it all up to your Higher Power. Ask for help from the God as you know Him. You are but a human being, prone to mistakes. God or your Higher Power can forgive everything. Certainly, you can ask for help in overcoming this temporary state of unease. Enrich your spirit in other ways by learning how to appreciate beauty, art, music, sunsets and sunrise, the laughter of children, how good you feel after you help someone else in need. When you step outside yourself and your immediate concerns to focus on others, you receive two benefits. First, your thoughts are diverted from self-absorption. Second, you give of yourself to others – and receive the glow of satisfaction from doing so. Just be sure that you give out of true generosity, not looking for anything in return.
Write it Down
Many self-help guidebooks and recovery experts recommend keeping a journal. This is also good advice for helping you to get over the why-me syndrome. By writing down what you are feeling on any given day, you will have a chronologic of what was going on in your life at the time. It will prove useful in the weeks and months ahead as you look back on your reflections at the time. If you are continuing to attend your 12-step meetings and work the steps, if you take the time and effort to reconnect with your family, meet new people, get active, engage in hobbies, enrich your spirit and begin to appreciate life, you will start to see the changes over time. That’s also the benefit of putting your life in perspective. Remember, you didn’t become dependent upon or addicted to substances overnight. You need to recognize that recovery is an ongoing and lifelong process. You have to give yourself time to heal. You will heal. You will get stronger. And you will soon no longer consume yourself with thoughts of how rough you have it. Instead of the why-me syndrome, you will be actively engaged in your recovery.