Failure and rejection often constitute blessings in disguise, but establishing a mindset that would allow you to see that is rarely easy. I mean, who can actually say that he’s grateful for not receiving a well deserved promotion? What bride thanks her lucky star for being left at the altar? Only after you realize, for example, that the promotion actually implied a larger workload or that the man you might have married that day was a violent, obsessive and insanely jealous person, can you perceive that the “failure” was in fact a streak of luck.
Recovering Alcoholics and Letdowns
It’s particularly dangerous for a former alcoholic to let failure cloud his mind for a number of reasons. During recovery, the addict is still working on boosting his self esteem and a letdown could actually shatter all that hard work. Therefore, as he perceives a setback as having “apocalyptic” proportions, he develops a fear of failing which, more often than not, will make him stop trying. Furthermore, returning to the former maladaptive behavior – be it narcotics, alcohol, etc. – as a way to silence the voices of fear and disappointment is quite probable.
My Experience with Setbacks in Recovery
My therapist often warned me about monitoring my perception of letdowns – no matter how small – during the first year of sobriety, but I didn’t think much of it then. She had enough experience with recovering alcoholics to know that even seemingly unimportant setbacks have the potential to trigger a relapse, if you blow it out of proportions. I had to admit she was right when I got all worked up about an available position for which I thought I was the perfect candidate; needless to say, I was not the one to get it.
Now, if I had paid a bit more attention to the details of the position, I would have realized that it was not a promotion at all. In fact, in addition to a strikingly similar salary, a desk on the same floor and a meaningless title, this job also implied a ton of responsibilities. It was basically a lot of stress and a high workload, so you’d have to be stupid to even apply for it, much less become frustrated for not receiving it.
Well, naturally I didn’t see it like that. I wasn’t counting my blessings for actually being allowed to keep my old job in spite of the time I had spent away from the office, in rehab. The self-centered behavior typical for the “alcoholic me” was emerging once more and I had to bite my tongue really hard that day not to badmouth the management. When I got home, I was so pale that my wife got worried something terrible had happened.
I did the right thing that day and scheduled an emergency session with my therapist, who was glad I called. I won’t bore you with the details of my session, but what really matters is this:
- Take the failure off your mind for a while and reexamine its true nature only after your emotional connection with it has dissipated.
- Humor is your greatest ally.
- Try to look at all the facets of a letdown and you might discover that it actually holds a hidden opportunity.
- Use the setback to learn something, whether it is about yourself, your approach to solving problems or the people around you.