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Right now, are you looking forward to personal life changes that are strong and positive—yet scary? When you’re fresh out of detox, the prospect of lasting sobriety can look terrifying. Will you be able to resist temptation? Will you get a reputation for weakness or prudishness? Will your friendships or career suffer?
While the scares of Halloween are all in fun, in everyday life we often see only the negative side of fear. Yet anxiety needn’t rule us, and can even be a starting point for the thrill of positive anticipation.
Here are hints for coping with six common recovery fears:
Fear of Facing up to Guilt
Somewhere along the path of recovery, we all realize that no matter what others have done, no matter how unfair life has been, no matter how powerless we became—there are still plenty of things for which we bear the blame ourselves. And like it or not, that’s where we have to start. Six of the 12 Steps focus on admitting our wrongdoings and making amends: not one Step mentions seeking reparations for ourselves.
If you fear that others will reward your openness with contempt, consider that the people who attract the most contempt are the ones who’ll do anything to avoid admitting a mistake.
Admission of wrongdoing—coupled with a sincere apology and an offer to make amends—actually earns you new respect, which is the first step in rebuilding healthy relationships. And while your pride may initially protest at owning up to your failures, in the end you’ll also respect yourself more.
Fear of No Longer Being Pampered
If you’ve been addicted a long time, your family may be in the habit of picking up your pieces. Hopefully, your loved ones are involved in your treatment and recovery—but while this puts them in a better position to help you, it also means they may stop “helping” in familiar ways, and start expecting you to clean up your own messes. Adjusting to that can be tough and unnerving.
Have a long family talk (preferably with a therapist as facilitator) to clarify what will be expected of everyone. Write down the final agreement and post it prominently in your home.
Fear of Major Life Changes
You probably know that to keep from being tempted back into addiction, you’ll have to give up some longtime buddies and old-favorite leisure activities. Depending on what temptations lurk in familiar venues, you may even have to find a new job or a new place to live.
Major transitions—even positive ones—are by nature stressful and scary.
To keep transition anxiety from becoming overwhelming:
- Keep your strength up—take care of your physical health.
- Be gentle with yourself. Ease back into regular life rather than taking your full workload back immediately. Don’t berate yourself for small mistakes. Ask for help when you need it.
- Don’t change more than you actually have to. Keep up existing healthy patterns in your exercise, sleep routines, and family activities.
Fear of Setting New Goals
While the “don’t change too much” principle includes not rushing to take on new responsibilities, sobriety also brings a fresh appreciation for goals and dreams.
However, this tends to mix with thoughts of “I haven’t a chance; I’ve already wasted the best years of my life.”
Well, the idea that great dreams must be pursued from youth is a myth. The majority of fulfilled achievers get that way through ten or twenty years of hard work that might or might not have been consciously recognized as relevant to a life passion. (The book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport discusses this truth in detail.) What’s more important is to keep learning and developing new skills, and to think about ways you can give wholeheartedly to others.
Fear of Our Own Minds
It may be monstrous urges surfacing unbidden. It may be old pains or misdeeds we don’t want to look at again. It may be “just can’t get it right” guilt, beliefs we dread the consequences of questioning, the emotional agony of challenging our comfort zones, or all the above—regardless, “I’m my own worst enemy” is never so true as when our conscious wills collide with what other parts of our brain are throwing at us.
Nearly everyone in addiction detox needs an initial psychiatric evaluation, if only to determine whether the patient has a co-occurring mental illness. Most likely, you’ll need longer-term therapy as well—and most likely, therapy will require confronting your own thoughts in ways that feel about as pleasant as dental surgery without anesthetic. Some of this can’t be helped, but having the right therapist can go a long way toward easing the pain and keeping up your courage to see the process through.
Find a therapist who:
- displays a high level of empathy
- doesn’t try to rush you through anything
- encourages you to think for yourself and come up with your own ideas
- is someone you can easily relate to as one human being to another
- helps you set short-term and long-term goals
Fear of Failing to Stick to It
Speaking of the long-term: as they say, life is a marathon, not a sprint. When it first dawns on you that recovery means permanent abstinence, the prospect of “never a drop, never again” is terrifying. Even if you’re reconciled to giving up the “good times” with the bad, it’s hard not to think, “I could never hold out for ten years, twenty years, fifty years!!!”
Remember, you don’t have to live fifty years’ worth of days all at once, any more than you have to drive a 3,000-mile road trip in five minutes. All good support programs emphasize “one day at a time.” Today is all you have to work with, so concentrate on making the best of the present.
No question, transitioning to a sober life is a major adjustment and a scary prospect. But you’ve come this far, and you have a perfect record of living to talk about past challenges. Take up your courage and go forward!
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