Bad Expectations: How a Negative Outlook Can Ruin Your Recovery Chances

You’ve heard of self-fulfilling prophecies, right? Well, when it comes to recovery from addiction, going around with a sour outlook is not only a miserable way to exist, it also can put a serious crimp in your recovery chances. Naturally, you want to do all you can to both jumpstart your sobriety and to ensure long-term success. It’s not always easy, what with having to deal with recurring cravings and urges, learning new coping behaviors, and adopting a healthier lifestyle.

So, given the fact that you’re bound to have some off days, times when things are just plain awful, how does a negative outlook ruin your recovery chances? Let’s take a look.

Setting Yourself Up for Failure

Right from the get-go, when you enter treatment for substance abuse or process addiction, if you think that it’s not going to work, guess what? You won’t be giving treatment your full attention or commitment. That means that you can’t possibly get as much out of rehab as you could or should. Why would anyone in their right mind shut off the possibility of getting clean and sober? That’s just it. When individuals go into treatment, they’re usually not coming from a very good place.

Not only do they have to contend with the whole detoxification process even before active treatment begins, but they’re also likely to have other things on their mind. Being separated from loved ones and family, worry about whether the job will still be there after treatment, concern over treatment costs, co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder considerations, or other medical conditions either pre-existing, brought on by or exacerbated by substance abuse, and fear of stigma attached to being labeled a substance abuser or addict are some of the things people bring with them into treatment.

While it’s true that you don’t have to voluntarily go in for treatment in order to benefit from treatment – since some rehab is court-ordered, while others go in as the result of an ultimatum from employer or family – you have to be “present” in mind as well as body in order to get as much out of rehab as possible.

So, if you’re planning to go to rehab for substance abuse or process addiction, or co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder, go with a positive outlook. Believe that you will learn how to overcome your addiction, and give treatment your complete and unswerving commitment and dedication. Remember, if you think it’s not going to “take,” treatment won’t stand a chance – and you’ll ruin your recovery chances.

Listening to Others’ Bad Experiences

Where do many people considering rehab get their ideas of what’s going to happen during treatment from? For some, the Internet is the first choice for information. Others rely on word of mouth, referrals, or the experiences of friends or acquaintances. When the “expert” you rely on is someone who badmouths the whole rehab process, however, it tends to color what you think about treatment. Chances are that individual didn’t go in fully committed to overcoming their substance abuse problem, couldn’t stick with it and left early, or suffered one or more relapses following treatment and blamed it on rehab.

The truth is that every person’s treatment experience is unique. Just because two friends or acquaintances both have a problem with the same type of addiction doesn’t mean that their rehab will be the same.

There are many factors that are taken into account when someone enters residential treatment, for example. Each person undergoes a comprehensive interview and evaluation, during which complete medical history is taken, and the admitting professional inquires about substance use, type, duration, frequency, family history of substance abuse, and many other areas. In addition, various tests are taken, notably blood and urine – to test for the presence of drugs and alcohol, as well as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.

After the interview and tests are completed, each patient is thoroughly evaluated by a team of professionals and a personalized treatment plan is created. In the best residential rehab facilities, those with certification and accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), each patient’s treatment plan is monitored and modified throughout the treatment program.

So, just because someone you know had a bad experience, you can’t take that to heart and lump all drug and alcohol treatment programs together and conclude that they don’t work. It’s simply not true – and you could sabotage your own chances of effective recovery by giving up on treatment before you even start.

Never Been Able to Succeed Before

Here’s another example of how a negative outlook can cut your recovery chances dramatically. Let’s say that you’ve had a history of some pretty unfortunate situations. Whether they were of your own doing (as in caused by your substance abuse) or the result of trauma, physical or sexual abuse, how you were brought up, illness, poverty or other reason, when you have had a number of misfortunes in your life, you’re bound to think you live under a dark cloud.

Some people believe that they can’t possibly be clean and sober. Each misfortune, each negative incident or tragedy just reinforces their belief that they don’t deserve to succeed, they’ve never been able to be a success, and they won’t be able to succeed now. If your mind is closed to the possibility of sobriety, there’s not much chance of positive messages getting through.

How do you counter a lifetime or many years of bad experiences, failures, self-defeating behavior? You have to give yourself a chance. Yes, it’s hard – you might even say impossible – to dream of a future where you’re able to live a life without being a slave to alcohol or drugs, but it’s not impossible. Millions of people in recovery today are a testament to the fact that sobriety is an achievable goal.

It won’t come easy, however. But nothing worthwhile and lasting ever comes to fruition without effort.

For now, ditch the thought that you won’t be able to make it through treatment or be successful in your goal of sobriety. Allow the possibility that you can achieve sobriety, and then do what it takes to get there.

Nobody Cares for Me

Most alcoholics and drug addicts don’t really like themselves very much, if at all. Considering the often-despicable things they’ve done, there’s good reason for their self-loathing. But carrying this self-hatred and overwhelming negativity over into treatment is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Bad expectations will jam you up quicker than the ground flies up to meet you.

If you feel that nobody cares for you, most likely it’s your addictive behavior that’s largely the reason. Of course, you didn’t choose to be an addict. No one does. But you are addicted, nonetheless, and it’s something that you need to deal with responsibly.

If you ever want to repair damaged relationships, earn back the respect of others, and be able to give and receive love again, you have to do an end-run around your self-pity and fear that nobody cares for you. They won’t if you don’t prove that you’re serious about giving up your addictive lifestyle. And if they’re similarly addicted and refuse to go in for treatment, neither you nor they are likely to see sobriety anytime soon.

Figure out what you really want. Is it a life where you experience happiness and joy, love of family, close friends, meaningful employment, good health, and being able to achieve your dreams? If so, get over the feeling that you’re unlovable and do something about it. Go in for treatment and start on your recovery journey.

It’s Too Lonely Here

There’s no doubt that you’ll feel lonely at times during treatment. After all, this is a whole new experience for most individuals. Even if you’ve been to treatment before and come back after a relapse, each time is a different experience. There will be times when you feel overwhelmed by all the things that you’re going through.

Personal revelations and realizations you discover during counseling may be painful and difficult to accept. You may feel alienated and alone in the presence of others during group sessions or activities. You may miss your family so much that you cry yourself to sleep at night.

But these feelings should only be temporary – and your counselor can help you to work through them. The best antidote to feeling lonely is to immerse yourself in the treatment process, interact with others you meet, and participate in group activities such as recreation and leisure choices.

Do not call your family or loved ones and demand that they come get you. That puts an unnecessary burden on them and ruins your recovery chances. If you’re only thinking about getting out of rehab, you’re not committed to overcoming your addiction. Your mind is only half there. How can you absorb anything meaningful to help in your recovery? Resolve to stick it out. Give treatment your utmost attention – even when the going gets rough. It won’t last forever and it’s the best chance you’ve got to have a positive outcome and be on your way to recovery.

Don’t Like the People

While there are some very luxurious and first-class residential treatment facilities, the so-called executive or celebrity rehab, not every treatment center is a vacation paradise. In fact, despite the exotic or lush location, 800-thread count sheets and all the amenities of a five-star resort, no treatment facility is a vacation.

The fellow residents – others who, like you, are in the process of learning how to overcome their addiction – may come from many different walks of life. You may be in a co-ed treatment facility or one that offers treatment for special groups, such as women-only, adolescents-only, gay or lesbian-only, all seniors, and so on.

Some of the people you meet during treatment you may not like – or they may have a dislike for you. While this may be of your own perception and not reality, the fact is that if you don’t like the people in the treatment facility where you’re in a rehab program, this is something you need to work on and get past.

Perhaps it’s your own feelings of shame, distrust, remorse, guilt, and secretiveness that lead you to this mistaken conclusion. It could also be fear. People fear what they don’t know, including people they don’t know.

What’s the remedy? Give it time. Concentrate on your counseling sessions that you have one-on-one with your therapist and discuss your difficulties in communicating with or interacting with others during treatment. Together, you will be able to work on strategies that you can use so that it won’t be so hard to co-exist in harmony with fellow residents or treatment facility participants.

It’s Too Hard

Learning about the disease of addiction, learning and practicing coping strategies, communicating with others during group counseling sessions and group activities, remembering, identifying and recognizing triggers, coming up with a workable relapse prevention plan is hard work. There’s no getting around that. Sure, it feels like too much at times. It does for everyone.

Even though chronic alcohol abuse and alcoholism result in serious long-term damage to various areas of the brain – those involved in planning and decision-making, judgment, thinking, memory, and other cognitive functions – the good news is that most alcoholics show at least some improvement in cognitive functioning within a year of abstinence. Some long-term drinkers, however, may take longer to recover from alcohol-related brain impairment. Clinicians consider a variety of treatment options to help patients stop drinking and recover from alcohol-related brain damage – and tailor those treatment options to individual patients.

There are also new therapies and medications being developed that can help prevent alcohol’s harmful effects and promote the growth of new brain cells to take the place of those damaged by alcoholism.

Once again, you have to give the treatment program time to work. You get better with repetition of exercises. Medications that your doctor prescribes for you may help, either during the detoxification phase or to assist with ongoing cravings and urges, depression, anxiety or sleeplessness.

Above all, don’t give up. You’re here in treatment because you want to learn how to live a meaningful and enjoyable life without being dependent on substances or other addictive behaviors. Think about the outcome you desire. Envision the future – even if that picture looks a little fuzzy right now – and put your whole heart and soul into doing what it takes to overcome your addiction.

I’m Too Old

Who says that age has any bearing on whether you can or should live a life in sobriety? If you think you’re too old, you’re selling yourself – and your loved ones – short. Why deprive yourself and them of whatever time you have left on earth that you could be spending in sobriety?

 There’s no sense lamenting the years that you spent drowning your sorrows in drink, shooting up, popping pills, gambling away the family finances – whatever your addiction cost you in terms of relationships, job, friends or family.

Now you have the opportunity to turn that all around. True, it may take quite some time to repair the damage your addiction has caused, and you have to be willing to take responsibility for that and give it the time necessary to mend fences, make amends, and start fresh.

You’re never too old to begin your new life. Every day is precious, a gift, a time that can never be repeated.

Don’t allow bad expectations and a negative outlook to ruin your recovery chances. Instead, move forward with treatment and then on into recovery with open eyes, a willing heart, and a firm determination to succeed.

Ask for and take the help and support that’s offered to you by your family and 12-step sponsor and fellow members in groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Methamphetamine Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and so on.

Bottom line: You can achieve sobriety – but you must believe that you can and do the hard work to get there.

Posted on March 5th, 2011

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