Overcome Common Obstacles in Early Recovery that Could Lead to Relapse

Overcome Common Obstacles in Early Recovery that Could Lead to Relapse


Yesterday we looked at the idea that the only thing you have to change in addiction recovery is everything. Today we want to look at how you might overcome some common obstacles in early recovery that could cause you to relapse.

First things first: What are some of the common obstacles in early recovery?

1) Aversion to treatment.
2) Aversion to 12 step meetings/program.
3) Social anxiety.
4) Lack of funding for treatment.
5) Lack of knowledge about recovery solutions or even that rehab exists.
6) Lack of follow through after leaving treatment.
7) Having reservations and not committing fully to recovery.
8) Not taking suggestions from others.
9) Not taking enough action and expecting recovery to work with only minimal effort.
10) Overconfidence

Aversion to treatment

Lots of people just have a fear of going to rehab. I experienced this myself and imagined it to be much more horrific than it actually was. The idea of being deprived of my drug of choice while being “locked up” was scary enough to make me want to avoid treatment for years.

The way that I finally overcame this in my own life was to get miserable enough in my addiction that I no longer cared about my aversion to treatment. That might sound a little strange, and it is. I had to become so sick and tired of the life that I was living that I became willing to laugh in the face of my greatest fears and throw caution out the window.

I am not sure if there is a better way to overcome an aversion to rehab, but the way that I used definitely works. The problem with this method is that you have no real control over the timing. You cannot just decide to surrender fully and therefore get over your fear of treatment.

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If you have something against the idea of rehab then you simply have to become open to the idea somehow. It takes what it takes. For some people this will mean that they have to try and fail to get sober on their own several times. At some point you may have to admit to yourself that what you are doing is no longer working. There really is no other way to become open to the idea of treatment. There are no shortcuts to willingness. You are either willing, or you are not.

Addiction has a way of progressing, such that eventually even the proudest and most stubborn addict will realize that they need to try a new approach. The problem of course is that many addicts and alcoholics end up in jails, institutions, or dead before they ever figure this out. The progressive nature of the disease forces the issue eventually (though this can have devastating consequences for those who refuse to see a need to get professional help).

In short, there is no magic bullet if someone is dead set against rehab. All you can do sometimes is to offer the help, let them know there is a solution available, and try your best not to enable the person. Sometimes people are just strong headed enough and so stubborn that they want to sink their own ship. In such cases there may be no answer or solution that can help them. Working in a rehab for 5+ years I have seen evidence enough of this happening. For example, people who are scheduled to come into treatment but who always back out at the last moment, etc.

No easy answer. You are either willing, or you or not.

Aversion to 12 step meetings/program

Now this is an interesting problem because it is one that I had myself in early recovery. The way that I solved it was two fold and had to happen in two separate stages: One stage was how I dealt with AA meetings in early recovery, and the second stage was in how I dealt with them after finding stability in recovery (long term sobriety).

In very early recovery I did not have much choice, nor do I believe anyone else does. If you want to get clean and sober then you have to “play the game,” to some extent. For a long time I was outraged that my hand was forced and that I had to endure the AA program if I wanted to embrace recovery. I was angry about this. Why were there no alternatives? Why were there no other solutions for recovery that did not involve group therapy, speaking in front of groups, sponsorship, and so on? Why was I being forced into the 12 step program?

My anger did not matter. It only kept me stuck. The game is rigged and the dominant solution in our world right now is the 12 step program.

Here is what I am telling you:

Deal with it. Get over yourself. Just accept it and move on.

That is essentially what I had to do. And don’t think that this was not difficult for me, because it absolutely was. In fact my aversion to AA almost killed me because I am so stubborn. I was terrified of AA meetings and therefore I vowed never to go back to one in an attempt to get clean and sober.

I eventually had to drop that anger and suck it up and face the meetings. I eventually lived in long term treatment where I was forced to go to a 12 step meeting every single day in order to keep living there.

My solution was to face my fear and go to meetings. This was the hard truth that I tried to avoid for so long. Looking back, I still think this is probably the best way for most people in early recovery. You want support, you gotta go to where the support is at. And right now that is at 12 step meetings. It is a tool, you may as well use it (even though meetings may not be perfect).

Now in long term sobriety I dealt with this aversion a different way: I basically figured out how to stay clean and sober without meetings.

Even though I forced myself to go to several hundred meetings in the first year of recovery I never really started loving them or anything. I still wanted a different solution and so therefore I found a way to reduce my dependency on meetings completely.

I did this very carefully and somewhat slowly. The result was a bunch of ideas that I collectively call “the creative theory of recovery” and talk about extensively on this website. I would also argue that my approach to recovery without reliance on 12 step meetings is a more holistic approach than what AA offers. But to each his own, and please do whatever works for you.

The bottom line is that I had to embrace meetings in early recovery and then I had to work hard and push myself to grow enough so that I no longer relied on them to maintain sobriety.

Social anxiety

This goes along with the fear of treatment and meetings, therefore the solution is basically the same. You are either willing to fight through your anxiety or you are not. If you are not willing then you stay stuck where you are and probably have no real chance at making growth.

One thing that I noticed is that it never got easier as quickly as I would have liked. Therapists and counselors encouraged me to share at meetings, telling me that the more I did it, the easier it would get. This never happened for me, to be honest. I went to meetings and I became fairly comfortable in doing so, but actually speaking at the meetings and sharing was a different story. I also noticed that I did not get much benefit from just sitting in the meetings and staying silent; I had to share out loud in order to make it worthwhile.

So for a long time I pushed myself to share in meetings. This was agonizing for me and it never got any easier. Perhaps I did not try for long enough or did not push myself hard enough? I don’t know for sure. I just know that it never got easier and so at some point I decided that I would push myself much harder in terms of personal growth outside of the meetings in order to find another path in recovery.

I did not want to be dependent on “sharing in meetings” in order to stay sober. The fear was too great for me and I could not seem to reduce that fear by forcing myself to share. I did force myself many times and it never got easier. So I gave up and found another path. That was about ten years ago and I have been clean and sober ever since, in spite of the fact that I gave up on “fixing” my aversion to speaking in front of groups.

Am I a scaredy cat who is headed for relapse? Well, it has been ten years now since I gave up in search of another solution. And that “other solution” was to push myself to make positive changes in my life every day, so I do not think the trade was too bad.

I never overcame that particular fear but I believe I found a path in recovery that works well for introverts. Instead of smashing straight through the problem I stepped around it.

Lack of funding for treatment

There are times when there is no good solution for this. Treatment is not free and no one should expect it to be free.

Unfortunately the cost of health care in this world is skyrocketing and fighting against us. At the same time, most addicts and alcoholics are not in a good financial position (typically).

If you cannot afford to go to rehab then my primary suggestion to you is to get on the phone. If you are truly relentless in seeking help for your problem then it is likely that you will find a way to get at least some help.

For example, in my particular location people who have no health insurance and cannot afford to pay for rehab can still get help, they just have to apply for it. It is a process and there are some calls you have to make but if you are serious about getting help then there is still help available. Of course this will vary depending on where you live in the world and what resources are available to you. The bottom line though is that you need to thoroughly explore all of the available resources and keep reaching out until you find a way to get the help that you need.

If you are desperate for help (and you should be) then you will not be picky. If you are serious about wanting to change your life then you will do anything to get just about any level of help.

Get on the phone and make tons of calls. Don’t take a flat “no” for an answer, instead, keep digging deeper: “What would it take for me to get help there? How much money would I have to put down to come in? Who can I call in order to get financial assistance for this?” And so on. Don’t be rude, but don’t just take a flat out rejection either without some sort of new lead to follow. Stay on the phone all day or all week until you have a workable solution. Be persistent and be flexible and be extremely nice to everyone you speak with. If you do these things then you can get some sort of help eventually.

Lack of knowledge about recovery solutions or even that rehab exists

Rehab exists and treatment exists and they can help you to change your life and overcome addiction.

There, now you know. But of course not everyone knows this, and that is a serious barrier to getting help.

There is no direct way to fix a problem like this other than to spread the message, share knowledge, and inform your peers about the real problems that people are facing today. The mainstream media has helped this cause in recent years by touching on the topic of addiction and alcoholism in many different ways. But the bottom line is that you have to know that a solution exists if you are going to try to embrace that solution.

Lack of follow through after leaving treatment

This is a big one and in fact is probably the thing that causes 90 percent of people to relapse in early recovery.

They simply fail to follow through.

This is a lot like willingness: you either have it, or you do not. There is no in between, no way to fudge this one. You are either following through and doing the things that you need to do in recovery, or you are not. One leads to an awesome new life and the other leads to relapse.

I went to rehab three times in my life and obviously the first two times were a total failure. The reason that I failed was because I did not follow through after leaving rehab. I was not willing to take action and do the things that I needed to do in order to stay sober.

The third time I went to rehab I was very willing to follow through. In fact I asked if I could possibly live in long term rehab and they said that I could. So I ended up living in treatment for almost two years straight. That is follow through. This set me up for a better life in recovery and it led to all of the success that I have experienced since then. I do not know that I would still be sober today if I had not followed through so thoroughly back in the beginning.

Having reservations and not committing fully to recovery

If you have a reservation about recovery then it means that you are hanging on to the idea that you might one day be able to drink or use drugs again successfully. There is no way to deal with this than to mentally reason your way through it, give yourself a chance, and see the true benefits that recovery is giving you.

It may take a few weeks or a few months before you realize that recovery offers you so much more than your drug of choice ever did. At some point you have to put the idea to rest that you might go back to it some day. And as always you can keep taking things a day at a time in terms of maintaining abstinence.

Not taking suggestions from others

This is a trust issue. In early recovery you have to find some level of trust so that you can reach out to others and benefit from their wisdom.

Let’s face it, in early recovery you do NOT have all of the answers. But someone does, and there are dozens of people in recovery who are at least happy in their lives while also being sober. Is this not what you want for your own self? Sure it is. You just have to reach out and learn from their experience.

It was the strangest thing for me to actually do this in recovery. To ask for advice and then take it. That was so weird for me. And the results of this were amazing. Not because the advice actually worked, or because the advice benefited me. That was not what made it weird. What made it so weird was that I did not lose my identity in doing so. What made it weird was that I did not become a non-person by taking this advice from others. I honestly thought that I would cease to exist or turn into a robot or something if I were to what others told me to do.

Again though, this is not something that you can learn from a thought experiment. You have to actually ask for advice and then take a suggestion and implement it in your life. It is only by actually doing this and following through with it that you will learn and benefit from it.

Don’t just think about it. Actually take advice and implement it.

Not taking enough action and expecting recovery to work with only minimal effort

The solution for this may be limited to just trial and error.

What I mean by that is this: Most people who try to get clean and sober have to size up the challenge a few times. Most of us believe that getting sober will be of average difficulty, based on the other challenges that we have faced in our lives.

In other words, getting sober should be an average challenge that requires a modest effort, right?

The truth is that getting clean and sober is usually the toughest thing that most people have ever attempted. EVER.

Therefore a modest effort is doomed to relapse.

So most people who approach recovery for the first time do not put in nearly enough effort. It is not that they think it will be easy, per se. It is just that they believe it will be of “average” difficulty. Maybe a little tough, but nothing they can’t handle, right? This is the attitude that sets people up for failure.

The key is to realize that you are in for the fight of your life. Instead of putting forth a modest effort, you should instead be thinking about using the concept of overwhelming force. This is why I did well by living in rehab for 20 months straight. I did not just meet my goal, I crushed it. You should find a way to do the same.

If you try to slide by and “just barely do enough to stay sober” you are never going to make it.


People who are cocky in early recovery nearly always relapse. That’s just the way it goes.

Experience has a way of teaching us humility. The only way to short cut this is to slow down, look around, and realize that you are not Superman. Realize that no one in recovery is Superman. We all need help in early recovery.

Now is the time to ask for help. Tell yourself that “you can be cocky later on, once you’ve got some clean time.” Of course, once that time rolls around you will realize that there is no room for being cocky in recovery, period. The disease keeps us on our toes for the rest of our lives……(and that’s a good thing!).


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