Up Against a Wall? How To Get Past Obstacles in Recovery

Don't we all know how tough it feels to be jammed up with problems and issues we can't seem to resolve? When we're in recovery, sometimes doesn't it just seem like there's one obstacle after another that we have to deal with? When will it ever end? What can we do about it?

Stop right now. Before you think another negative thought, give yourself a little time out to consider some of the following ways that might give you some breathing room and allow you to get past obstacles in recovery.

How Big is Big?

Let's first look at how big of a problem or issue you're currently staring at. What is it that's causing you to toss and turn at night or frequently worry during the day? Is it an issue that's just cropped up or one that you've been wrestling with for some time?

The reason it's important to start with this is that when you start looking at the specifics, sometimes it isn't that there is one single problem, issue or obstacle that's all that big to begin with but the combination of several of them is what tends to do you in.

Begin by writing down on paper all the things you believe are current obstacles for you. That's right, actually put them down on paper. You need to be able to look at them and analyze what's really going on with them. Next to each, make a notation that ranks them from one to 10 in terms of how big of a problem they are to you (with 10 being the most difficult). This will help in the sorting out process later.

After you finish compiling your list, scan through the items and see how many you've put as a 10 in terms of how big the problem is for you. If you only have one or two, that's a good sign. If you listed a half dozen as being the most difficult or problematic, then that indicates that you may need some help in reordering your priorities, getting some outside help in sorting out what's really important to tackle first, or something else.

The point is that everything can't be overwhelming. Even the most frightened, confused or uncertain of newcomers to recovery have some small part of their lives that they feel a bit more able to deal with. It may not seem like much, but just knowing you can handle this or that day-to-day issue winds up being a comfort as you begin to walk this new path of sobriety.

Group Obstacles

Now, look at your list of problems, issues and obstacles and see if any of them fall naturally into certain groups. While you can create any type of group you want, for purposes of this discussion, let's say you group them as emotional, financial, physical, social, work and family. You can, of course, add any that scream out at you as being necessary.

After you place the items on your list into the various groups, see where the bulk of them fall. Do you find, for example, that you have a predominant number in the emotional group? Perhaps you have an equal number in family. Or, you might find that your problems and issues are pretty evenly distributed across the groups.

Why is this exercise important? It is a simple and straightforward way of categorizing what's bothering you so that you can then begin to create some sort of plan for how to deal with them.

Note that for some of the issues you are facing, outside help, either professional or otherwise, may be advisable. We're not all fully capable of seeing past logjams to a clear exit, but others can help guide us - since they're not caught up in the problems and either have knowledge of the issue and how to resolve it or have had success in dealing with similar obstacles themselves.

Sit Down and Brainstorm

In order to figure out how to move past certain obstacles that you might encounter in recovery, it's often advisable to sit down and brainstorm solutions. If you have a spouse or loved one or other family member or close friend who's been supportive of you and your recovery, you may wish to ask this person to help you come up with creative solutions to your various problems, issues or obstacles.

There's nothing like sharing a conversation and spit-balling ideas to really get things going. To begin with, make a point of saying that nothing is off the table. There are no stupid ideas. One statement may seem totally off the wall, but it may spark another idea in response. Feeding off each other, keep on going, tossing out ideas that come to mind and writing them down. You may want to refer to them later.

Along with writing these down, include any requirements or necessities to get them off the ground. As an example, if one of your obstacles is that you have extreme difficulty interacting with your co-workers now that you've completed rehab and are in recovery, since you don't know what to say to them when they continually ask how you're doing or are avoiding you like the plague, jot down ways that you can give yourself more self-confidence in what you say to them and how you interact with them on a daily basis.

Again, nothing should be off the table. In the abovementioned example, you or your brainstorming partner might suggest that moving to another department, asking for a different job assignment, or looking for another job might be a workable solution. None of this means you are running away. It just is a suggestion for how you may deal with the problem.

On the other hand, there are many other ways you could approach dealing with co-workers. You could take a class in assertiveness speaking, or role-play certain responses that you would give to those who make thoughtless, hurtful remarks. Creating canned responses and role-playing your delivery also works in dealing with the obstacle of former friends trying to entice you to accompany them drinking or to get involved again using drugs.

Create a Plan of Action

After working up your list, ranking them in terms of difficulty, and brainstorming possible solutions, you're now ready to begin working on a plan of action.

You may wish to tackle the least intimidating problem, issue or obstacle on your list first. Why this one instead of the toughest one? You want to get a few successes under your belt. Generally speaking, this means going after an issue that's more easily overcome than dealing with the big mountain that's standing in your path.

Creating an action plan doesn't mean that you have all the answers. But it does mean that you have somewhere from which to begin. It implies movement, since you need to actually do something to put the plan into effect. If you have an outcome that you desire, as in, being able to interact in a collegial, workable relationship with your co-workers and keep making progress in your recovery, you need to take the necessary steps to help realize that goal.

It's often been said that nothing succeeds like success and that is certainly apropos when it comes to how you feel after you've accomplished what you've set about. Before you began trying to get a handle on the obstacles that had you up against the wall in recovery, you probably were pretty down on yourself. You felt incapable, possibly incompetent or even worthless. With not much behind you with respect to accomplishments, you likely lacked self-confidence. You may have retreated into a shell, afraid to be with others for any number of emotional reasons.

And, let's be clear about it, emotional problems often take a tremendous toll on us. They may even require additional professional counseling and therapy for us to be able to effectively deal with them.

So, if your big ticket item is an inability to deal with emotional issues, maybe part of your action plan is to arrange for and take part in additional counseling. If you have depression that continues for several weeks, or are experiencing anxiety attacks, you may require medication prescribed by your doctor for some period of time as together you work out your emotional issues and become better able to handle them.

Increase 12-Step Group Attendance

When we're all jammed up with our problems, issues or obstacles in recovery, who better to help us begin to make sense of all this maelstrom than our 12-step sponsor and fellow group members in the rooms of recovery? The fact is that each person in the rooms has had his or her share of problems, especially as they first entered sobriety.

In the beginning, it's all new to everyone. You aren't the first one to experience obstacles in recovery, nor will you be the last. The sense of community and the shared goal of mutually helping each other to succeed in recovery is a tremendous boost to your efforts to work through any obstacles that you encounter or experience.

Keep in mind that you are never alone. It's often the weirdest feeling that you think you're by yourself dealing with this or that issue, that no one else could possibly understand what you're going through only to find that, yes, indeed, others have gone through something similar. Not only that, but they came through it successfully - with a little support and encouragement from their friends in the recovery rooms.

When things seem to be piling up, maybe it's a good idea to beef up your attendance at 12-step meetings. This isn't a forever thing. You could just start going to one or two additional meetings in addition to your regular weekly meeting.

Call your sponsor as needed to work out thorny issues in the interim, but don't lean on your sponsor as the sole provider of your support. Also make use of your network of family support.

If Everything Falls Apart

While it doesn't happen to everyone that enters recovery, it is true that some individuals have a particularly tough time of it at first. In fact, they may relapse one or more times before things finally seem to fall into place and they "get it."

Suppose this happens to you? Suppose that everything falls apart? What are you supposed to do then?

First, don't panic. Although this is extremely difficult to keep in mind when everything around you is in shambles, if you ask for help and want to come out from under the mess, you will eventually be able to do so.

It could be that you need to go back into rehab for a bit longer. Maybe what's missing in your life right now is some experience in handling various recurring issues, problems and obstacles that are common in early recovery. These include coping strategies for dealing with overwhelming cravings and urges, skills required to communicate with and interact with others, developing healthier lifestyle habits, taking care of physical and mental needs, and working out thorny family issues.

Your family members may also benefit from therapy, as they learn more about your addiction and how they can better support and encourage you in your recovery. Remember that addiction is called a family disease. That's because it affects every member of the family, not just the person with the addiction. If only you participated in rehab and no one else got any family therapy, they may be at a loss as to how to effectively support your recovery.

Bottom Line - Give it Time

Should you feel frustrated if you don't immediately come up with solutions that work to the obstacles and problems you've identified, don't beat yourself up. The truth is that it takes time to figure these things out. No one just arrives at miraculous solutions right off the bat.

In fact, when it comes right down to it, there are no miraculous solutions. There are only solutions, some workable, some not. Some are workable in combination with others, or modified from a formerly workable solution that is now less effective, but becomes effective when incorporated with other choices.

How long will it be until you're confident that you can get past obstacles in your recovery? That will depend on you, what the obstacles are, and how long you've been working at them. There is no set timetable, no single amount of time that's the same for everyone.

Here's one point to keep in mind and it should give you a good feeling about your prospects. The more you succeed, the better you will feel about yourself and your recovery journey. Remember that each success builds upon the other. This is a learning process, one of discovery that not only helps you learn how to overcome obstacles but to see the opportunities that are often hidden within.

Time is actually on your side. Since as long as you are breathing, you are alive. Work on doing the best you can today for yourself in recovery. Deal with what you can today. This will make you stronger and more self-confident in your abilities. Tomorrow will be today, just tomorrow. We live in the present. So, get up off the pile of obstacles and begin with the first step of learning how to get past them.

Posted on April 17th, 2012

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