What is the secret to achieving fearless self improvement and personal growth post-addiction?
The key is in taking action, of course. But the question is: “How exactly do you inspire yourself to do that, in the face of what may be a paralyzing fear for some people?”
I have at admit that when I first got into recovery the amount of fear that I had in my own life threatened to block me entirely from achieving sobriety. I was almost too scared to attend AA meetings at all and I had to force myself to go sit through each one of them. I had a level of anxiety that threatened to isolate me completely.
Early recovery is not even the biggest challenge in this regard necessarily, as many people end up relapsing down the road when they fail to grow in their recovery. They stagnate, they stall out, they stop going to meetings, or they go to meetings but they are not engaged in active growth. Whatever the case my be, many people end up failing in recovery because they do not push themselves to make the growth that is necessary in order to stay clean and sober.
Part of the problem is that you don’t just have to face one fear in recovery and then move on. You have to keep facing your fears, over and over again. Each fear that is tucked away in your life is going to keep popping up until you deal with it. And each of these fears is a growth experience just waiting to happen. If you avoid them for too long and too consistently then you run the risk of relapse due to a total lack of growth. The alternative is to face the fears that you have head-on and conquer them, thereby experiencing much positive growth and change in your life. When you face your fears you gain freedom.
How to face the fear and do it anyway
I used to hate this phrase because my therapist in early recovery used to use it on me all the time. She wanted me to take action when I was stuck in my recovery and wanted to just play it safe and not face my fears.
She was right though, and the solution was to simply face the darn fear and move forward with my life anyway, in spite of the fear. If you really want to experience personal growth at an amazing level then you have to get really honest with yourself, search through your life and find each one of your fears, and one by one you have to face them individually and conquer them completely so that they are no longer fears for you.
One example of this in my own life has to do with the balance between interacting with other people (socializing) and isolation. In early recovery I tended to want to isolate, so I stayed in quite a bit and read books all the time. This was not really healthy for me because I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I wanted to play it safe rather than to get out there and interact with other people and learn new things.
Another example that I had was the fear of speaking in front of other people. Eventually I was forced by my university to take a class in speech and then I had to get up in front of a class and make several speeches throughout the semester. Again, being forced to face the fear directly and move forward in the face of it led to huge growth. Just getting up there and doing it is what gives you the positive results. Even if you give a bad speech, you still get a huge amount of progress and growth because you realize that there was nothing to really be afraid of. This is one way that we can grow in recovery–we face our fears one at a time and with each experience we learn something new about ourselves.
How to get stuck in recovery and not make any growth at all
Play it safe. Just make sure that you don’t take any risks or put your neck out on the line for any reason. Just keep playing it safe and make sure that you do not expose yourself to failure in any way at all.
This is how to play it safe, and it is almost always a mistake. This is not how you were meant to live in recovery. It was not how anyone was meant to live, period.
We were born to take risks….healthy risks. To face our fears and to learn and to grow through them.
If you want to get stuck in recovery then just insist that you don’t need to learn anything new about yourself, that you already have all of the knowledge that you need, and that you can not possibly benefit by facing one of your fears even if you have an excellent opportunity to do so.
If you want to get stuck then simply refuse to face your fears. This is the path that will lead to complacency and eventual relapse. Obviously you do not want to get started down this path, no matter how “safe” it may feel to avoid all of your fears all of the time.
The safer path is actually to learn to confront your fears, to take some risks, to push yourself a little bit.
Why you must seek feedback and advice from others on a continuous basis
What is the best way to push yourself to face your fears in recovery?
My opinion (and experience) is that the best way to keep pushing yourself forward is to seek continuous feedback and advice from others.
This is important because if you just rely on your own judgement then you will fall into the trap of feeling comfortable in your recovery and you will stop facing your fears. You will get lazy because you will continuously reassure yourself that you are doing well in your recovery. Therefore you need other people in your life who can help to move you forward towards more growth.
If you have a sponsor or other peers in recovery who know you, they will be able to see your challenges and fears at times when you are actively ignoring them. They will be able to poke and prod you to figure out what your real dreams are and why you aren’t chasing them yet. Your peers will figure out what you most need to do in life and then they will encourage you to get started on that journey.
You should be in the habit of asking for this feedback as well. Go to your sponsor, to a mentor, or your peers in recovery and ask them: “What do you think I should be working on in terms of personal growth? What do you think my next major step in life is?”
When I did this in early recovery everyone told me that I had to go back to college and finish my degree. I did not want to hear this answer because it felt like a risk, I felt too safe in my little recovery zone and I did not want to venture out into the real world and take on this new challenge.
So when one person suggested this to me I could safely ignore it. No problem. I went back to feeling safe and secure. But then more and more of my peers were suggesting to me that this was surely the right path for me, and I could no longer deny it. When everyone is suggesting the same thing to you, then you KNOW you have to take a strong look at it. This is classic denial, when everyone knows that you should be doing something, and you are the last person to realize and accept it, right? This is how I was with the decision to go back to school. Everyone in my life knew that this was the best path for me, even though I did not necessarily want to accept the idea right away.
How to run out of excuses and face the challenges that you really need to face
In order to face the fear that you most need to face, you have to make an agreement with yourself to stop making excuses. You have to face reality and face your fear directly and stop wiggling out from under the situation.
One way to do this is to take your life off of auto-pilot, and start challenging yourself to trust in other people. This has to do with self/will and God’s/will. You need to learn to get out of your own way and trust in other people who may be trying to help you.
The reason that this is helpful is because our fears are not typically rational. For example, I was afraid to go back to college out of fear and anxiety from dealing with other people, but the potential upside was huge for me. I was good at school and my peers could see that and so they encouraged me to go back to that environment where they knew I would thrive and do well. But I was afraid to go back and this fear was not rational at all. It made no sense for me to be afraid.
So how can you overcome an irrational fear? You may think that the answer is that you need to overcome it with logic. But if you have ever dealt with a small child who is terrified you probably know that logic is not always going to do the trick. In fact it almost never helps to explain why the fear is irrational.
Therefore we need another approach.
In my opinion that “other approach” that cannot be based on logic could be the idea of “trusting in God’s will.” If you don’t want to trust in a higher power you can still get past your fears by simply trusting in other people (i.e., God speaks to us through other people, etc. Just remove the God part and start trusting in others).
I actually did this in early recovery and I made a deliberate effort to NOT follow my own advice in each situation. Instead, I whenever I was facing a fear or a decision of any kind, I deferred to my peers in recovery (or my sponsor) in order to seek advice and see if there was perhaps a better way.
My way worked a lot of the time but obviously it was not always perfect. My way had got me drunk. My way was not always helping me move forward. My way tended to cower in the face of fears and therefore I was not as likely to make personal growth in every situation.
Therefore I needed help. I needed insight to know when to play it safe, and when to face those fears head on. Without this additional input from other people I could not consistently make the right choices in my life. When I relied entirely on myself in order to make decisions I was no good at it. Eventually I would screw up and isolate rather than to face my fears and move forward and make growth.
Pushing yourself to learn more about yourself (“peeling back more layers of the onion”)
Every time that you face a fear in recovery and come through it without dying (let’s face it, that is every time that you face one of your fears, period!) then you sort of peel back another layer of yourself and learn something new.
This is a powerful way to live because then you realize that you don’t have to live in fear, that you can learn new things and reach out and interact with others and grow from gaining new knowledge.
Every major growth breakthrough that you make in your addiction recovery journey will initially start out as a fear. The bigger your fear is to begin with, the greater the growth experience will be.
To be honest, I hate this. How could I not hate it, I am only human! None of us love to face our fears. None of us love to confront the difficult situations in life. It is hard work and it is also scary to do so. So I don’t blame anyone who chooses to isolate and avoid the had work of facing reality and making tough choices. I don’t blame you at all but I do want you to know that you are on a slippery slope if you do so that may eventually lead you to relapse.
The answer of course is to take charge of your fears and start to face them.
Get honest with yourself and ask for feedback from others.
Go ask your friends, family, peers, and sponsor: “What do you most think that I should be doing in my life right now, and what is the next growth challenge that you think I most need to face?” If you ask everyone this question then you will probably get a bunch of different answers.
If you get the same basic answer from nearly everyone, then you should probably not even hesitate and do whatever it is they are suggesting (They can’t all be wrong!).
If you get a bunch of different answers and you hear some answers that you like and some answers that you do NOT like, then guess what? The stuff suggestions that you really like are probably not that helpful to you. But the suggestions that you do not like are probably your biggest growth opportunities in disguise. And the reason that you don’t like those suggestions are because they scare you in some way. So that is probably what you should confront head on if you want to make some serious growth.
I had this fear that if I were to take suggestions from other people and ignore my own ideas that I would be like “the hole in the donut.” I was terrified that this would cause me to become a non-person somehow.
But the truth was that I did not become an un-person in any way. I started taking suggestions from others and I got out of my own way and things started to get better and better. I faced a fear or two and I did not die or anything. Things got better. I realized that I had a choice: I could take my own will back and start using my own ideas again, or I could keep taking suggestions from other people and live my life according to their design (rather than my own). In order to do this you have to make a leap of faith. You have to trust in others, in the idea that you will not suddenly self destruct or become miserable just because you are no longer following your own ego and its directions.
I noticed that when I was “getting out of my own way” and taking these suggestions from other people, I really was still in control. This was sort of my own little secret, because I suddenly noticed that I really was still the ultimate decision maker in my life. Even though I was getting feedback from others and I was doing what was suggested to me, I was still actually the one making decisions. I had just fooled myself for a while into thinking that other people were really directing my life. But in the end it was me who was directing my life, because I was ultimately responsible to implement or reject their ideas for me.
How to build confidence in your recovery
Start by facing your fear of sobriety, and dive head first into abstinence. The best way to do this is to go to an addiction treatment center and go through detox. Start your new life in recovery by pushing your ego out of the way and taking suggestions from other people. “Let someone else drive the bus for a while,” as they say. If you do this then you will realize that your life is getting better and better. People will suggest that you make real growth and face your fears in order to move forward in a healthy way. If you follow through with these changes then your confidence will grow as you see the positive results of your actions.
Each time that you face one of the fears in your life your strength and confidence will grow. Each time you push yourself to peel back another layer you will learn more about yourself, and possibly gain understanding of others too. In the end you are reclaiming your right to be human–to learn and to grow and to love others. This is the path of recovery that everyone must take eventually. Facing your fears and growing through them.