Facing Fears in Addiction Recovery
Getting sober can be a scary experience. In order to live a life that doesn’t include drugs or alcohol, you have to give up the substances that have been giving you at least some degree of relief from the uncomfortable feelings that often happen in life. You may also have to give up habits, such as stopping at the corner bar on the way home from work, or a circle of friends who aren’t sober themselves and aren’t supportive of your decision to give up drinking and drugging.
Sobriety, especially early sobriety, is often filled with intense emotions, one of which is fear. Before you get sober, you may be terribly afraid of giving up alcohol or drugs because they have been your only coping mechanisms and you’ve hardly ever faced life without numbing your emotions. The thought of feeling difficult feelings sober can be pretty terrifying. Once you have made the decision to get sober, you have made the decision not to run from fear anymore. It’s an emotion that you will need to learn to handle without picking up.
What Is Fear?
Fear is an unpleasant emotion triggered by impending danger, evil, pain, loss, etc. It doesn’t matter whether the impending danger is real or imagined; the emotion is the same either way.
An acronym for fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. An awareness that the intensity of your reactions may be inappropriate for what’s happening may help you keep the feeling from growing out of proportion.
Common Fears in Recovery
There are many possible triggers for fear in recovery. You may feel afraid that you won’t be able to successfully stay away from your drug of choice, afraid of the possible consequences if you pick up and especially afraid of disappointing your loved ones. You may be equally afraid that you will succeed at staying sober but that life will never be interesting or fun again.
One common fear in addiction recovery is the fear of asking for help. You may be afraid of speaking up at a meeting and let people know you need help. You may be afraid to approach someone and ask them to sponsor you.
The Dangers of Fear
There are times when feeling fear is appropriate, such as when you are faced with genuine danger. The emotion of fear can make you cautious at times when you should be cautious. But too much fear can cripple you and stop you from taking actions you should be taking, such as asking for help at a meeting. Feelings of fear can lead to stress and prevent you from thinking clearly.
To let fear consume you is to put your sobriety at risk. Like other intense emotions, fear is something you have to learn to experience without allowing it to take over your thoughts or cause you to begin craving alcohol or drugs.
Managing Fear in Sobriety
It’s unrealistic to think that you will be able to go through life without experiencing fear. But you can definitely learn to handle a variety of unpleasant feelings (including fear) without having to pick up a drink or a drug.
Overcoming fears requires you to be willing to face them. If you’re afraid to walk into an unfamiliar meeting or approach other people in recovery, you have to simply feel the fear and do it anyway. The more you face your fears without letting them stop you from doing the things you’re afraid of, the easier it will get to manage fear.
In sobriety, you can improve your ability to handle fear and other forms of stress by practicing different relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga or meditation.
Keeping a journal is a great way to sort through feelings of fear. When you read what you’ve written, you may be able to see that the things you’re afraid of may not be as big as they seem.
If you are unable to bring your fears under control, you may need to spend time with a counselor. With professional help, you will be able to get to the root of your fears and get past them. Whatever you do, don’t pick up a drink or a drug over your fears.