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Six Fears You Don’t Need in Recovery – And What to Do About Them

woman in recovery worryingEntering recovery from drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction can be a scary experience. For many embarking upon this uncertain journey, the future isn’t something that looks all that rosy or promising. In fact, carryover fears can threaten to sabotage newfound sobriety just as the clean-and-sober lifestyle begins.

But being afraid isn’t an automatic by-product of drying out or getting clean. It also doesn’t have to derail your recovery – if you take precautions to understand what’s going on, what you’re afraid of, and get some practice learning how to effectively cope with such fears so they don’t stand in the way of you making progress in recovery.

Here, then, are six fears (and there are likely more that may be unique to your particular situation, but we’ll begin with these) that you don’t need in recovery. More important, we’ll let you know what to do about them.

#1 – Fear of Being Alone

This is a strange new environment that you find yourself in, no question about it. You may be among the newly sober who have been advised to let go of your old friends, former acquaintances that you hung out with in the bars, doing drugs, partying and gambling and doing all sorts of addictive behaviors.

The problem is, these were your friends – at least, you thought they were. Letting go of them is a cause for concern, not only because you’ve become used to being with them and around them, but also because you may feel like your identity is tied up with them. Without your friends to sustain you, the thought of being alone and lonely may fill you with dread.

First of all, you’re absolutely in line with many individuals who have just entered recovery. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t worry about the loss of long-time friendships. So you shouldn’t concern yourself that what you’re feeling is anything abnormal. It’s not.

That doesn’t mean that you can still hang on to those so-called friends (real friends don’t urge you to keep drinking and doing drugs). Still, knowing that you have to cut them loose is understandably upsetting. Even with all the common sense about how you can’t be around using friends any longer doesn’t lessen the sting.

Those first days of being home after completing rehab are probably the worst you’re going to go through – from the standpoint of not having your regular group of buddies around to lift your spirits and make you feel right at home again.

Keep in mind that the idea that you can somehow just hang out for a little while with your old pals is not going to work. This is actually a very slippery slope for anyone who’s tempted to thing they can get away with it and not jeopardize their sobriety. The reality is that you have to keep your distance, and that means for good – unless, of course, at some point in the future one or more of those friends makes the decision to get clean and sober. But that’s not what’s happening right now. Today, you need to figure out how you’re going to start your recovery journey minus your old using friends, and not be afraid to be alone in the process.

Recovery experts recommend that newcomers to sobriety become active participants in 12-step self-help groups. This is something you likely heard a great deal about and experienced first-hand during rehab. So, continuing to attend 12-step group meetings once you return home is just an extension of what you’ve already learned is an effective way to jumpstart your recovery.

But these are just drunks and druggies forced to go to some crummy meetings and drink stale coffee and sit around talking endlessly about their problems – is this what you think? The truth is that addiction and substance abuse affects people in every level of society, from all manner of professions, every race and religion and sexual and political persuasion, young and old, male and female, single, widowed, married, education level, rich people and poor ones and everyone in-between. Who are you to categorize them as a bunch of alkies and junkies?

Granted, going to self-help meetings isn’t likely to be high on your list of preferred things to do. But it will help you get yourself together and acclimate you to living a life in sobriety. The best recommendation is to attend several different groups over a period of time, giving each group about six visits to see whether or not this is a group where you can feel comfortable coming on a regular basis.

While you may not become bosom buddies with any of the people you meet, there is the possibility – borne out by countless experiences of others – that you will find something in common with one or more individuals you come across there.

There’s also a great deal of wisdom that is shared in the rooms of recovery, strategies and techniques and tips that you can use as you make your way in this new life of sobriety.

That and the fact that there is always a ready welcome and constant support and encouragement from 12-step group members and, after you’ve secured one, from your 12-step sponsor.

Remember: You are never alone when you have the availability of 12-step groups. These individuals and the group support can serve as an important lifeline in your journey of recovery.

#2 – Fear of Making a Mistake

Going through rehab was undoubtedly rough, a somewhat ragged and disconnected period that you may alternately have regarded as torture, a necessity, a hopeless undertaking, or the beginning of a new life. For many, it was all of these at one point or another.

You come out of rehab with a slew of conflicting emotions, raging doubt and uncertainty, and, worst of all, the profound and unrelenting fear of making a mistake – a big one that will land you in relapse.

Everything bothers you when it comes to being afraid of making a mistake, from little and seemingly inconsequential bad decisions to major blunders on your part. Lacking any recent history of making the right decisions, you may think that you’re destined to repeat your mistakes, even to the point where you think that getting clean and sober was just a blip, something that can’t possibly last – not for you, anyway.

Welcome to the brave new world of sobriety, the time of transition and new beginnings – and also of hard work and learning how to make sense of any mistakes or slips or missteps you make along the way.

Try taking to heart the recommendation to not be so hard on yourself. Everyone, literally every human being on the planet, makes mistakes. And that includes the many millions of individuals who are in recovery – the newcomers, like you, to the old-timers who have been clean and sober for many years. We all make mistakes.

It isn’t the mistakes you make, you will soon learn, but what you determine as a result of having made those mistakes. If you learn something from a slip-up, you have gained critical knowledge, a kind of wisdom that can make an immeasurable difference in your recovery journey.

Relapse is the dreaded elephant in the room, the big mistake that so many newly sober individuals fear the most. And this is with good reason, since relapse risk is frankly quite high the first three months of sobriety. But this doesn’t mean that everyone relapses. It also doesn’t mean that anyone who relapses is a total failure.

The key is not to obsess over your mistakes. Figure out what you’ve learned as a result of the mistake and incorporate that knowledge into your actions in the future. For example, you may find yourself getting depressed and anxious over not having friends, and this may precipitate a spiral into relapse. Knowing that you cannot isolate yourself, that sitting around the house and bemoaning your fate will lead you to thoughts of using again should be enough to convince you to take positive steps to make new friends, engage in new activities that bring you into contact with others, to learn something new that will occupy your time and your mind.

Remember: You need not fear making mistakes – as long as you make it a point to learn something from them so that you don’t repeat them.

#3 – Fear of Not Having What it Takes

Maybe what you fear the most, or is one of the fears most often on your mind, is that you don’t really have what it takes. Granted, you did make it through rehab without falling apart. That should give you some belief in yourself and your ability to follow through on a commitment.

Then again, maybe it’s not enough to convince you. The peculiar thing about many newcomers to sobriety is that they harbor the mistaken conviction that they absolutely don’t have enough of whatever it takes to remain clean and sober. This defeatist attitude takes quite a bit of working on to overcome, but it can be done.

Keep in mind that you have to start somewhere, and you’ve already done that by going into and completing rehab. If you are among the few who’ve tried to kick alcohol and drugs on your own and somehow, by the grace of God, made it, you still may believe deep inside that you don’t deserve it, that you’ll relapse any day now.

You’ve simply got to learn how to overcome this type of destructive fear, this negative self-concept that will, if you don’t take positive action now, chip away at your resolve and determination to remain sober, and jeopardize your recovery altogether. That is, until you decide once again that you are going to give it a go, that you will muster the strength and courage and perseverance to see this through.

Recognize that you will have a learning curve and give yourself time to get accustomed to this new life in sobriety. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it also won’t be so difficult that you cannot possibly endure it. The fact is that millions of individuals have begun recovery in much the same fashion as you: filled with doubt and uncertainty, riddled with fears, constantly battling cravings and urges, and that nagging fear that they weren’t quite good enough to make it in recovery.

Yet, somehow, they did. You can, too.

Remember that there is no secret ingredient that determines whether you will be successful or not in recovery. There is no one way or single path to recovery that works for everyone. Each person has to create his or her own path, the one that works best for them. Think of recovery as an ongoing journey of discovery, for that is exactly what it is. Some of the things that you discover about yourself will surprise and delight you, while others are things that you know you’ll need to work on.

You can overcome the fear of not having what it takes. After all, you’ve already demonstrated that ability by making the supremely tough decision to get clean and sober in the first place. Now, you’re just continuing that journey with a renewed commitment.

#4 – Fear of Failure

Who doesn’t have certain fears about being a failure? Whether it’s a fear of losing an important job as a result of your addiction becoming known, or the amount of time you’ve been away from the job and therefore promotions and key assignments went to someone else in your absence, or you are deathly afraid that no one will ever love you, a recovering addict.

In fact, the lists of failures that you could possibly obsess about are nearly endless, and they’re unique to each person. What one individual finds a sign or indication of failure may not even register in the mind of someone else.

Take a moment to think about what failure means to you. Is it something that you believe you cannot come back from? If this is the case, how did you ever get clean and sober in the first place? If you really believed that addiction was something you would always be saddled with, what prompted you to go in to rehab? Looking at it this way, you probably had some inkling, maybe in the deepest corner of your mind, that you could actually survive rehab, that it would make a difference, and that you’d at least have a chance at a normal life.

So, failure may have been a fleeting thought. It could also have been a constant companion, the first thing that popped into your mind the moment you woke up during detox to that last thing you thought of at night before you tried without success to go to sleep.

Guess what? You made it. Despite the fear you had of failure, you completed rehab. You got clean and sober. You emerged with at least the beginnings of a knowledge base from which to proceed in your personal recovery journey.

And that was a hugely important first step.

Now, however, you’re faced with learning how to live in your day-to-day life with some semblance of normalcy, trying to hold it together while attempting to deal with cravings and urges and night terrors and flashbacks and missed opportunities and having to mend relationships fractured or decimated by your addiction.

It’s a tall order, indeed, and you are understandably afraid of failing.

Once again, you’re not alone if you feel this way. It is, in fact, quite common among those newly sober. What will make a difference is giving everything you’ve got to your recovery plan of action. And, we do mean action. You will only get more self-confident and vanquish your fear of failure by taking constructive action, by never giving up and never giving in.

Little successes – the 30-day sobriety chip, the feeling of pride that you’ve been able to tackle a tough project or task and were successful – will start to add up. Over time, rather than worrying about failure and fearing that you’ll only have more of the same, you’ll begin to look forward to your next success, and the one after that, and so on.

Remember, the only failure you can’t come back from is when you stop breathing for good. While some difficulties and challenges may seem to take your breath away, breathe in deeply. Focus on the issue or problem at hand. Make your best decision on a course of action given what you know about the situation and your capabilities at the time. Then, act. Whatever the outcome, learn from what happened. This will help you avoid feeling like a failure – no matter the result.

#5 – Fear of Success

The opposite of failure is success, and this is almost as common a fear as the fear of failure. What does success mean to you? Is it getting a result that you think is a gift? Is it something that just happens, and could just as easily happen to someone else as you? In a way, we’re all guilty of thinking that success is some nebulous concept, that it’s random or the result of luck or being in the right place at the right time.

But allowing our thoughts to drift in that way does us a great injustice. For one thing, it makes success almost an impossibility, certainly nothing that you can count on. For another, if success is random or the result of luck, where is the motivation to work hard to achieve any kind of goal?

Fortunately, success doesn’t work like that. Okay, maybe some few individuals seem to have been bestowed incredible good fortune without seemingly having had to work for it, but if you were to look closer, there’s probably more to it than meets the eye.

For most of us, success comes as a result of the hard work we put into it. It’s not by accident, but more by design. We know it takes a certain amount of work, accomplishing certain steps along the way, in order for us to attain the result we so desire. Whether that is making it to our six-month of sobriety or landing a job after a long period of unemployment or mending an important relationship, we know that it will take time and effort on our part to achieve it.

Yet, the fear of success will continue to hang on in the minds of many of us. We don’t think we deserve to succeed, so we don’t put forth our full effort. That’s called self-sabotage, and it harkens back to what we did to ourselves in the throes of our addiction.

Other reasons we fear success include that we don’t think we’ll be able to handle it, that others will be jealous or steer clear of us, that it will require us to take on a lot more responsibility and we don’t want to or are afraid of that, and a number of others.

Overcoming the fear of success, like all of the great fears in recovery, takes time – and hard work. There it is again, the declaration that recovery requires hard work. There’s just no getting around it.

Remember that fearing success is common among the newly sober, but it doesn’t have to stick around. Be grateful for every little success and take pride in knowing that it comes as the result or your own hard work to get there. You not only deserve to succeed, but you deserve to be happy about your success. It’s another sign that you are making good progress in recovery.

#6 – Fear of Living

While the fear of living may sound contradictory – after all, you are alive, so how can you be afraid of living – it’s really another common fear in early recovery. It’s also one that’s probably the hardest to get a handle on.

When you’re afraid of living, you don’t put yourself out there. You decline social invitations. You isolate yourself, deprive yourself of little moments of joy, and may be prone to sacrifice many comforts and pleasures. Why? This gets back to the root of much of our deepest fears – that we don’t deserve happiness, that we’re only going to fail anyway, so it’s pointless to try, or that we really don’t have what it takes.

All of these fears, as we’ve already pointed out, are ones you really don’t need in recovery. Just as important, you can do something about them.

But the fear of living – how do you overcome that? In a word, you overcome them by living – really living. This doesn’t mean going out and having a blow-out party or tossing in the towel and resorting to using again. That’s not living, that’s regression. The point is not to move backward but to keep moving forward. With momentum, there is progress, learning, the opportunity for success – and the chance to enjoy happiness, peace, friendship and love.

In short, living is more than just mere existence. Living in sobriety is more than the sum of its parts. There is joy in life, and this is something that is ready and waiting for us to discover.

Remember that to embrace recovery truly means to embrace life with all its possibilities, the twists and turns and the chance to really live up to your full potential.

Posted on September 16, 2012 and modified on April 26, 2019

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