When I was in active addiction and alcoholism I was living in constant fear.
It consumed my life. The reason I became addicted in the first place was that booze and drugs took the fear away. No anxiety. It medicated me perfectly.
Of course, eventually that stopped working so well as tolerance developed, and at some point I was living in fear even while drinking heavily. The drugs stopped doing what I wanted them to do.
And so instead of running away from myself and hiding from the person that I had become, I could no longer deny my misery. And that was the point at which I surrendered, when I could no longer escape from myself. I had to face the truth. And the truth was that I had become very unhappy and it was entirely my own fault. Drugs and alcohol were supposed to be my solution, they were supposed to make me so happy, and yet I was miserable all the time.
The anxiety that was once “cured” by my drinking was ever present now. I lived in constant fear and anxiety with no relief in sight. What was the point of drinking if it wasn’t doing the job that I wanted it to do for me? Alcohol had cheated me.
Moving beyond fear through the process of surrender and letting go
When you surrender to your disease you accept the fear. In fact, you walk right through it.
There is a balance within every alcoholic and drug addict between their fear and their misery. They are miserable because their addiction is making them unhappy. And yet they are also afraid and this is largely why they continue to self medicate. We medicate out of fear. We medicate our feelings, our emotions, and we medicate to escape the truth of what we have become. Most of us don’t particularly like ourselves in addiction. We try to escape from this simple truth through the use of drugs and alcohol. We would rather live in fantasy then to face reality.
So it is a really big deal to surrender and let go. What are we letting go of? We let go absolutely, and this means that we have to let go of the fear that controls us in addiction.
Most alcoholics and drug addicts are not going to admit that they are controlled by fear. In fact, just about no one will ever admit that. But once they are clean and sober they can look back and see that this was the truth. They really were controlled by fear in their addiction, and their daily use was a way to medicate their fears and anxieties. Or they would medicate their emotions every day because they did not want to feel their feelings. They preferred to be numb instead. This, too, is fear. They are not comfortable with their real emotions so they medicate them away.
When I finally surrendered to my disease I was close to being suicidal. I was very unhappy with my life and I did not really want to exist any more. Of course, at the same time I did not quite have the guts to off myself either. So I was stuck. And I was sick and tired of being afraid, of living in fear. It is also exhausting to live in fear but try to keep up this front with everyone else like you are not really scared, when in fact you are. That takes a lot of energy in the long run, to keep up that charade like you are not really living in fear.
And so when it came down to it I decided that I wanted to live, at any cost. So that meant I had to really let go this time, to take this massive plunge into the deep world of sobriety. I was scared for a number of reasons, but in the end I had to plunge into that fear. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Afraid to get sober, but willing to check into rehab.
I was scared to face life sober without the crutch of alcohol and drugs.
I was scared to discover the person that I had become in life because I had been drinking heavily for many years in a row.
I was scared to face the people in my life after getting sober.
I was scared to face the person I had become, and all the things that I had not achieved because I was drinking and using drugs.
I was afraid that I would get sober and hate my life and be miserable forever until I died. Quite honestly, this was my biggest fear. I was terrified that sobriety would be so boring that it would kill me. Seriously! Isn’t that strange? When in reality, sitting at home and drinking and using drugs every day is about the most boring thing in the world that you could do, and in reality sobriety is an open book where you could go on a unique adventure every day.
So I had all of these fears swirling around (and probably more) but I got to this point where none of it mattered any more.
None of mattered because I was so incredibly sick and tired of my addiction. I was tired of living in fear. I was tired of being miserable.
And I was so thoroughly tired of it all that I either wanted to die, or I wanted for it all to just go away.
So I chose rehab. I chose life.
I did not make this decision boldly. I was not super confident, mind you. I was still in fear. I was still overwhelmed with fear and misery. But I was willing to try something different, even though I had been to rehab twice in the past and it failed for me.
This is the jumping off point. When you are so miserable and so sick and tired of your addiction that you no longer care about your fears. I was so miserable that I was willing to face my fears. I was so sick and tired that I did not really care about the outcome of my life any more. I just knew that drinking and drugs was no longer working for me. I had finally accepted that truth, I had finally broke through that piece of my denial.
And there was a second piece of denial that I broke through as well. That piece was the part about the solution. I knew that I needed a new solution in my life, and my own ideas were NOT up to the task. So I became willing.
I became willing to ask for help. I became willing to go back to rehab, to move into long term treatment, to go to AA meetings, to face all of those fears and more.
Getting sober is scary. Going to meetings and getting honest with yourself and pushing for changes….that stuff can be scary. And I finally realized that if I did not face those fears and find a path to sobriety that I was going to die. I really was going to die. Because I was so miserable at that point that I actually wanted to die!
And that scared me. Now I was feeling some real fear. When you no longer care for your own life, you know it is time to do something different.
And it was that fear that spurred me into action. I was so miserable that it had driven me to that point of desperation. I was tired of being afraid. I was tired of chasing happiness and getting nowhere. I wanted something different in life. So I became willing to take that plunge into the unknown.
Recovery is scary because you don’t know what is going to happen. Will you be miserable without your drug of choice? You won’t know until you take the plunge. I can sit here and tell you that you won’t be miserable, and that you can find real joy in sobriety, but why would anyone believe that unless they actually experienced it?
This is why sobriety always comes down to a leap of faith.
Because you are tired of living in fear, but it is scary to embrace the unknown as well. So you just have to go for it. You just have to surrender, ask for help, and then go for it. “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” That is what sobriety is like in the beginning. You are not going to know for sure if it will work or not, if it will be worth it or not. There is no way to convince you of that. So you just have to do it, and realize that no matter how badly your sobriety may turn out, it has to be better than the fear and misery of your addiction.
What have you got to lose in early recovery? There has to be something better out there than misery
I had reached a point in my addiction when the misery of continuing to drink every day was finally greater than facing the fear and trying to get sober.
In other words, I had nothing to lose by attempting sobriety. If I checked into rehab then I wouldn’t be able to drink for a few weeks. But then again, I finally realized that I would be completely miserable while drinking for those few weeks anyway, so what was the point? I may as well take a chance on sobriety, even though I did not really believe that I could be happy while sober.
The fact is, every therapist, every counselor, every recovering alcoholic that I spoke with was telling me the same thing….they were telling me that I could be happy, joyous, and free in sobriety.
I did not believe them.
I thought that I was different. I thought that I was unique. I thought that I was the only person in the history of the world that had ever truly loved alcohol.
Of course there were other alcoholics who had come before me who loved alcohol just as much as I did and they were able to get sober and live a happy life.
But when you are stuck in denial you just won’t believe that. And I totally get that. Because I lived it for many years. I refused to believe that I could be happy in sobriety.
And it was all fear!
All of it was fear. I was terrified of losing alcohol and drugs. I was terrified of losing my crutch in life. How would I deal with anxiety and fear? How would I cope with stress? How would I have any fun? I would get the courage to talk to other people if I couldn’t drink?
Those were the fears that kept me stuck in my addiction.
But I got to a point when the alcohol was no longer helping me from a social standpoint. Now, instead of giving me that boost of courage to talk to others, alcohol was making a fool out of me in public. Now I was a total mess, a sloppy drunk, a blacked-out menace. Too much of a good thing.
And so I had nothing to lose by giving sobriety another chance. So what if it didn’t work? I could always go back to drinking later on. So what if I was miserable for 28 days while in rehab? I was already miserable while getting drunk every day anyway. So really it would just be a change in setting. I could be miserable while in rehab with no alcohol, or I could sit on the couch at home with alcohol and be miserable. But either was I would be miserable. So might just as well try it sober, and see if something good might come of it. Maybe a miracle would happen, and I could find a way to be happy while sober.
And of course that is exactly what happened. It took years of struggle. It took 3 trips to rehab. I took talking with several counselors and therapists. But I was finally able to find peace in sobriety, and to become joyous and free in life.
And really it all came down to facing those fears. Walking through the fear.
The fear was still there when I surrendered, it had not gone away. The difference was that I no longer cared about the fear. I was done caring. Because I was so miserable.
Experiencing self love in recovery and how that can conquer fear
Once you get clean and sober you may still have some fear in your life. That is probably normal.
What you will find though is that you can overcome those fears by practicing self love, and love others.
In early recovery I would suggest that you start out with self love before you focus on loving other people. You can’t really do a proper job of loving others anyway until you can love yourself.
So how do you learn to love yourself?
Here is what I would suggest:
1) Ask for help and get clean and sober. Go to rehab if necessary.
2) Adopt a solution. Embrace a program. Start doing the work. Get a therapist, a counselor, a sponsor, whatever. Do the work. One way to do this is to work the 12 steps of AA. There are other ways though.
3) Focus on personal growth. Improve yourself and your life. Do this by prioritizing and setting goals. In the beginning, use others to help you do this. Take advice. Listen to peers, sponsors, therapists, etc. Take advice and follow through with real action.
4) In long term sobriety, focus on holistic health. That means taking care of yourself in every way possible: Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.
This is how I have learned to love myself. I did not understand why I started exercising at one point, but later I could look back and see that this was part of self care. The same was true when I left a toxic relationship that was no good for me. I could not see the reasons at the time but in retrospect it was part of what I had to do to take care of myself.
So over time if you take consistent action then you will start to build up self love. Even if you don’t feel like you really love yourself, you can change that feeling through consistent action. Start taking care of yourself and doing the right things and over time this will change your self esteem. If you consistently take good care of yourself then naturally you will start to care more and more for yourself. Consistent action can lead you to change your feelings.
Cultivating love through your daily routine
At one point I started exercising every day, and that has made a huge impact on my self esteem. I cannot imagine going without this physical exercise any more because I know that it is healthy for me in so many ways.
When you embrace a daily practice like this that empowers you then it gives you the confidence and the courage to know that you are doing the right things.
I write in a journal every day as well. That is part of my routine, part of what keeps me emotionally healthy. If you can dump the contents of your mind out on the page every day then it can do a great deal towards keeping your inner balance in a healthy state. But of course, you have to find what really works for you. Perhaps instead of writing in a journal and jogging you will find that you like seated meditation and yoga. Or maybe you will find that sharing at AA meetings is what keeps you healthy in recovery. And so on. There are lots of different tactics that you might explore in recovery and all of us are responsible to find the ones that work for us.
I think being grateful is a big part of sobriety, and it is also a big part of moving past the fear.
When you lack gratitude you are selfish, and your fears are running rampant. When you have gratitude you conquer the fear because you are filled with love. Being grateful is a state of love. You are loving the universe and everything that it offers to you in that moment. When you are grateful you are not complaining to the universe, instead you are doing the opposite.
I believe that everyone’s daily practice should involve gratitude in some form or another. Maybe this will mean saying prayers of gratitude, or maybe it will mean writing out a gratitude list every day, or maybe it will mean having visual reminders throughout your day of why you are grateful.
If you are find yourself living in fear, focus on gratitude for a while. Sit down and write out a list of why you are grateful. You can’t feel both love for the universe and fear at the same time. They are not compatible. Being grateful cures just about anything.
Complacency is a form of fear
When we get lazy and complacent in recovery this is also a form of fear.
Sometimes we need to push ourselves a bit to get back into positive action. Or we need to challenge ourselves to make the next logical step in our personal growth journey.
Again, when we get lazy and stop pursuing personal growth, this is almost always out of fear. We are avoiding the hard work, the tough decision, because we are afraid to do it. Fear holds us back.
The solution is to embrace new changes, take positive action, and push ourselves to find the next level of personal growth.
What about you, how do you deal with your fears, both in and out of addiction? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!