I can remember having one full year of continuous sobriety and thinking to myself: “I’m still not very confident in my recovery.”
And that was okay. At the time, I did not feel bad about this, even though I had secretly hoped that I would be far more confident in my sobriety much sooner than this.
Why was I not upset about this apparent lack of confidence?
Because I watched so many of my peers relapse due to over confidence. Everywhere I looked in early recovery circles, I saw people who thought that they had it all figured out. I even spoke with a few people who tried to convince me that my own approach to recovery was flawed, and that person soon relapsed. Later they said to me “I don’t know what your secret is….I don’t know how you do it.” But part of their problem was that I was practicing a genuine humility, while they were being confident to the point of even being cocky about it. This was really their downfall.
Recovery is a series of lessons that need to be learned. If you are overly confident then you are essentially saying to the world: “I don’t need any lessons, I’ve got this figured out, thanks anyway, I’ll be fine.”
And so this attitude of confidence gets us into big trouble. Why?
Because you are going to go through a wide variety of experiences in your addiction recovery journey, and as you encounter new experiences, some of them are going to be a threat to your sobriety.
Life will inevitably have ups and downs. Some of those events will be rather benign, and have no cause for worry at all. But some of the things that you go through in life are going to pose a threat to your recovery. That’s just the nature of the beast. You will be tempted at some point, and if you remain clean and sober for the long haul, then you will be tempted over and over again.
Problems in recovery fall into two categories: The kind of problem that you anticipate, and the kind that smacks you in the forehead, completely out of the blue. You will experience both kinds of problems in your future, of this much we are certain. The problems that you anticipate are rarely a big deal, because you expected them and thus you could prepare for them.
But we will all–given enough time and life to live–experience unexpected problems that catch us completely by surprise. We will all face such trials at some point in our journey. It is inevitable.
And this is why you cannot get too cocky about your recovery. Sure, you went to an AA meeting today, and you talked with your sponsor last Tuesday, and you got this day to day recovery thing down, we get it. But what about when life throws you a curve ball? What about when the unexpected problem drops a five hundred pound weight on top of your life, and you don’t even know how to think for that particular crisis? What happens when it all goes sideways and you simply were not expecting any of it? Will you maintain sobriety through it all, with no issues or problems?
It is easy to sit here today and argue that we are rock solid in our recovery. It is easy to convince ourselves that we are okay, that we got this, that we are strong. But unless we are taking the action to improve ourselves and our lives, unless we are digging deep with our sponsor and our therapist and really trying to grow and learn as a person, then we could be coasting into complacency.
It is a little bit like the serenity prayer and the dynamic that it exposes: Do we want to grow and learn through this challenge, or do we just want to kick back and accept reality as it is for now? Which is it? And do we want to be confident today, or do we want to be humble and open ourselves to a new learning experience? Which is it, humble or cocky? Because it can’t be both.
And so if you are serious about your recovery and you want to make something better of your life, my advice to you for today is to forget about the desire for confidence. Just forget about being confident and instead focus on humility, focus on learning the lesson that is in front of you right now, focus on becoming a better and better version of yourself. When I was a year or two into my recovery I wanted to be confident, and I just wasn’t there yet, and so I kept pushing myself to learn, to take advice from my therapist, from my sponsor, and so on.
In the long run, believe it or not, confidence will take care of itself. You don’t have to worry about it. If you have to force it then it isn’t real anyway.
Confidence will come to you once you have done the work, once you have lived the work, once you have pushed yourself to learn and to grow and to figure out the person that you are really supposed to be in recovery.
At one point, several years into my recovery journey, I was able to take a step back and look at my overall life and my recovery and actually say “I feel pretty good about my recovery today, and I don’t feel a need to defend my recovery program to anyone, and I am just grateful and happy to be a sober person today, doing the work that I can do, and trying to help others.”
That was a natural level of confidence that I think still included a healthy dose of humility, because I am humbled to be able to help others, I am humbled to be working in the field of helping others with addiction, because I know first hand that it is important and vital work.
Another aspect of this confidence problem comes with social interaction. When I was drinking and taking drugs I justified it because it allowed me to be confident in social situations, whereas I was naturally quite shy.
When I first sobered up, I questioned whether I would ever be able to be assertive and communicative with people in a natural way, or if it would always feel forced.
Well, it has been a long journey but I would argue that I have definitely become far more assertive and less passive in my communication, and I can get up and speak in front of groups of people in a way that I could never imagine doing when I had one or two weeks sober.
Getting from that point of being shy to this place where I am now assertive has been a long journey of faith and hope. I had to listen to therapists and counselors and sponsors who sought to guide me to healthier communication. More than anything, I had to be willing to trust in their suggestions and to take their advice. I had to feel some fear and move forward through that fear anyway, to take some risk, to put myself out there. In doing so I have been able to become far more confident in social situations, but it has taken some work and a whole lot of willingness to get to that point.
What I would suggest for you is to start out with professional treatment if that is an option for you, and then have the willingness to work a program of recovery and to live by the advice of a therapist, a sponsor, and of treatment professionals. If you are willing to put in the work and you just leave the results up to themselves, then one day you will look back and realize that you are, in fact, confident in your recovery, as well as in social settings. Good luck!