Is fear holding you back in your recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction?
Most of us lived in fear during our active addiction. We self medicated in order to avoid having to be afraid.
Eventually the drugs or the alcohol stops working so well, and it becomes more and more difficult to medicate our fear away. We live in constant fear, worry, and anxiety. The only time that we get any relief from this fear is when we get lucky to medicate ourselves to just the right point (not too much that we pass out but enough to eliminate all fear and emotion). It is a bit of a balancing act and therefore we will not get it right every time (in fact it becomes quite rare later in your disease). This is why we live in fear during our addiction.
It is possible to live in fear during your recovery as well. The biggest happiness killer is “preparing to live.” You tell yourself that you will stop worrying and let go of your fears and anxieties after certain conditions are met, but once those conditions arrive you just set the bar further out. Thus you become “addicted” to living in fear, even in recovery. You propel your life forward using anxiety and fear.
Obviously we want to find a better way to live.
But first we need to understand how fear can keep us stuck.
How fear keeps us stuck in our addiction
If you are stuck in addiction and using drugs or alcohol every day then you are living in fear.
Most people will not admit this. They will not want to admit that they are afraid. No one wants to admit that they are afraid.
So they will make excuses (alcoholics are great at making excuses) and say things like “If you had my problems you would drink every day too.” Or they will say that they are medicating physical or emotional pain. And so on. But they will not generally want to admit that they are driven by fear.
But we are. Fear is what fuels an addiction.
We are afraid of life itself. We are afraid to live courageously. And most of all, we are afraid of facing life sober again.
This is the fear that keeps the alcoholic stuck. This is the fear that prevents them from taking the plunge into recovery. We don’t want to feel afraid and uncomfortable in early recovery. We don’t want to expose ourselves and become vulnerable by getting sober and going to rehab, or meetings, and so on. We would rather stay in our comfortable little shell and continue to drink.
When you are stuck in addiction your life is very predictable. You know what you are going to get. This is part of what helps to medicate the fear–you keep drinking every day and you keep getting the same results over and over again. It is predictable. So there is less fear because at least you know what the outcomes are going to be. You will get drunk and either pass out or black out. There might be a little chaos involved as well but at least you know what to expect as far as your emotions go.
So this is what you are really running away from in addiction:
Having to feel your emotions.
This is what is “predictable” when you get drunk or high every day. You are running away in fear from the fact that sometimes we have to feel certain emotions in life. The addict or alcoholic does not like to have to feel their emotions, because they have been medicating those emotions away for so long. This is what is “predictable” when you drink every day. You know that if you get sad or angry or scared or frustrated that you can pretty much kill those emotions by simply drinking enough alcohol or using drugs. Thus you will not have to feel uncomfortable by being forced to feel emotions. You can medicate those unwanted emotions away.
This is what people are really talking about when they talk about living in fear. It is not the fear of people or of certain events that they are afraid of. It is the fear of having to feel their emotions, without being medicated. And they know that if they get clean and sober that they are going to have to deal with serious feelings and emotions at some point. And they also know that they have basically forgotten how to do that (if they ever learned in the first place). Their ability to cope with emotions and feelings has become rusty with disuse. This creates an even bigger fear of sobriety.
Becoming sober is like basically saying: “I know that I am going to let my shields down, I am going to let go of the alcohol and the drugs and I will face the world stone cold sober now. I know that I will have real feelings and emotions come up and I will have to deal with them without alcohol or drugs. I will have to feel fear, and be afraid, and be hurt at times. And I can’t medicate it away, I have to learn how to work through those feelings, and deal with them.”
Most people who try to get clean and sober do not have any idea that this is really at the heart of the challenge. They will never realize or admit that it has anything to do with their feelings or their emotions.
Yet just look at the person who relapses, who finally picks up that first drink after being sober for a few months. Their hand is shaking when they pick up the bottle. Why is their hand shaking? Emotions. Feelings. They don’t relapse because they are bored. They don’t relapse because they had some random thoughts enter their mind. Their relapse is 100 percent emotional. They are brimming with emotion. When they lift up that first glass of booze to their lips they are shaking with emotion. And if they had learned how to deal with their emotions and learned how to process them (and maybe talk them out with other people?) then they might not have had to relapse.
Fear is what drives addiction. It is also what drives a relapse. Therefore, if we want to learn more about our sobriety and how we can stay clean and sober, we need to learn how to deal with our fear. Emotions and feelings drive relapse, not “thoughts.” You don’t just think a thought such as a “trigger” and then go relapse. Instead, you become emotional, and those emotions drive you to relapse.
How fear keeps us stuck in our recovery
Once you get clean and sober you have a new set of problems to deal with.
In order to get clean and sober you must surrender first. This involves overcoming a great deal of fear–the fear of living sober. The fear of facing your feelings. (This is just one of the many things you will need to know to get sober.)
So once you have made this giant leap (the only way is to surrender completely), you now have a new set of problems in front of you.
You must learn how to live sober and how to process your emotions.
They say that early recovery can be like a roller coaster. The reason they say that is because you are not used to feeling your emotions.
Addiction and drinking was actually like a roller coaster as well. Life is like that, whether you are drunk or sober. It always has ups and downs, both in addiction and in recovery. But the reason that they say early recovery is like a roller coaster is because that is when you NOTICE the ups and downs. Because you are feeling your feelings for the first time in a long time, and it is like a giant smack in the face. And this was part of the fear that kept you from taking the plunge into sobriety.
Long term sobriety is generally not a roller coaster though, so what changed? What changed is that people who remain clean and sober learn two things:
1) How to deal with their feelings and emotions. How to process them and communicate them.
2) How to life a more peaceful life with less drama. In other words, they fix their life situation and improve it. Less chaos as a result.
In early recovery you have a challenge. You must learn how to feel your feelings that you used to medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Some people relapse because they never learn how to do this. One way to learn how to handle your feelings and emotions is through AA and working the steps.
This is not actually they way that I learned it myself. Instead, I was taught how to process my feelings (by analyzing them internally) and then to communicate them if it was important to do so. How did I know if it was important to communicate something? It was generally important if the feeling persisted and would not go away. If that was the case then I knew that I had to talk to other people about it. And if someone else was the source of a negative feeling, then I knew that I had to tell that person as well. This was really hard to do but it also gives you the most freedom if you can do it honestly.
For example, if someone makes you angry during your recovery journey, you basically have two choices. You either let the anger go and forgive the person, or you hang on to the anger and keep feeling it over and over again (resentment). If you cannot let the anger go then you have some work to do. The “work” in this case can be as simple as figuring out what is underneath that anger (fear or hurt) and then communicating that to the person. The trick is not to turn this into a yelling match, but to simply state what your true emotions were at the time (not your opinion, but your emotion). This takes practice and it is not easy to do and you won’t always get it 100 percent right. But if you communicate those negative feelings on a consistent basis then this will lead to real freedom. You don’t want negative emotions to take root in your life during recovery, or it could eventually drive you to relapse.
Personal growth options–whichever thing has the most fear for you, that is also your biggest opportunity for growth
If you want to know what your greatest opportunity for personal growth in recovery is, simply look at your greatest fear.
Whatever your biggest fear in life is, you must face it head on and conquer it. That will be the best possible way for you to make personal growth as well.
For example, the recovering alcoholic who continues to smoke cigarettes has a big opportunity. They are clinging to this last crutch (smoking) and they are afraid to face life completely clean and sober. They already gave up alcohol and other drugs, but they continue to cling to nicotine addiction as their last source of self medicating.
If they look deep inside they will realize that they are afraid to be 100 percent clean and sober. They are afraid to give up the nicotine.
So this fear gives way to a new opportunity. Wherever your biggest fear lies is also your biggest opportunity for growth. If you can finally quit smoking in this situation then it will be the biggest possible boost that you can get in your recovery. No other action would give you as much freedom, joy, and happiness because you are essentially eliminating your greatest fear in life (at the time).
This is really what defines a good recovery from addiction–you start identifying fears in life and you eliminate them, one at a time. In doing so you continue to grow and make positive progress. Life gets better and better.
How to be happy in recovery (eliminating negatives)
Many people do not realize what the source of happiness is in recovery.
They think that happiness is “out there” and that they have to find it, stumble on it, create it.
In fact, happiness is peace. You already have happiness inside of you, it is just blocked most of the time due to all of the negative stuff.
But you don’t lack anything. You are not missing out on something that you need in order to be happy. You simply have to decide to be happy, and let peace and joy shine through in your life.
The problem is that we have so much negative stuff going on inside when we first get clean and sober that we block our own happiness from shining through.
Happiness is peace and freedom. We have this inside of us. We just need to realize it.
We block ourselves from this freedom and happiness when we have negative stuff clogging up our lives.
For example, drug and alcohol addiction is usually the biggest culprit of this. So we become clean and sober, and in doing so we take a huge step forward towards releasing all of that negative stuff.
But there is always more. This is why recovery involves “doing work” in order to become joyful and happy. Because there is guilt, shame, anger, fear, and so on–all buried inside of us and swirling around with negativity. Our job in recovery is to figure out what that stuff is (identify it) and then do the work to eliminate it.
If you don’t do this sort of work in recovery then that negative stuff will always be there inside of you, holding you back from real joy. You can go chase other positive goals in life, and you might even achieve them, but if you have not done this work to eliminate the garbage inside of you, then you will never be truly happy and at peace.
And this is usually all about fear. The negative garbage inside of you when you get clean and sober is all about fear. It is all driven by fear. So you have work to do, you must confront these fears and talk with other people in recovery and figure out how to overcome this negativity. You must learn how to release all of the negative stuff so that you can be free again and find real peace.
This is a little bit counter-intuitive. In order to find true happiness, you have to focus on the negative stuff. You have to find the negative things inside of you and then actively work on them to eliminate them. This is the only way to really be happy. If you work through the 12 steps then you will go through the process of finding and eliminating all of the negative stuff. But you can also do this work without the formality of the steps. The key is that you are honest with yourself, that you can look inside of yourself, and that you can do the work that will bring you to real freedom.
Don’t live in fear
If you are living in fear, whether in addiction or during recovery, then you know there is an opportunity.
Obviously we don’t want to live in fear. It holds us hostage and it limits our joy and freedom in life. If you are constantly afraid then you are never really free. You are a slave to negative thinking and emotion.
In order to overcome your fears you may have to ask for help. There is nothing wrong with doing this and there is much wisdom to be gained by seeking help from others. Many people have dealt with the same sort of fears that you are experiencing, you can be sure of that. There are no “new fears” in this world. Everything has been done before when it comes to fear and negative emotions. So find someone who has overcome their fears and who is living a life of total freedom, and ask them to help you. This is essentially how sponsorship works. Because they have overcome their fears they can teach you how to do the same. They can walk you through the process.
Never settle for living in fear. If you live in fear for long enough then eventually it will drive you to relapse. Remember that someone who relapses is someone who is full of emotions and feelings and they cannot deal with them all. In order to live a long and healthy recovery you are going to have to learn how to deal with your fears and manage them. Talking about them with others is a good start, but you need to go beyond that and do the work that can eliminate them even further.
Total freedom does not mean that you live without fear or emotion, but it does mean that you live in such a way that those negative emotions no longer have power over you. This is a wonderful place to be at and therefore you should not hesitate to “do the work” in recovery that will lead you to this freedom.
Your freedom in recovery comes not from a lack of fear, but in knowing that you can deal with fear and overcome it when it arises.
Ask yourself: “Are you living fear today?”
“Have you done the work in order to release your fears and find true freedom?”
And, if not, are you willing to embrace the path that will lead you to this freedom? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!