Everyone who is going through the addiction recovery process is on a journey to discover their own personal brand of courage.
Why is this? Because for years or decades, the struggling alcoholic has been living in fear. During our addiction we live in fear and we medicate that fear with drugs or booze, over and over again. We are running away from our fear, we are running away from something, and we are running away from ourselves.
The alcoholic grows to resent themselves because they know that they act selfishly when they drink to excess, and they grow to hate themselves for it. So what is the fear here? It is the fear of discovering who we really are, the fear of finding out what we have become in our addiction. So we keep running away and we continue to self medicate. We drink ourselves to oblivion because we do not like the person that we have become.
This cycle continues over and over again until we reach a point in which we finally hit bottom. In the case of drug addiction or alcoholism, hitting bottom really means reaching a point in which our pain and misery finally exceeds our fear.
There is a dynamic between your pain and your fear in active addiction. You live in misery and in fear, and the two are sort of at odds with each other. The alcoholic knows that they are suffering massive consequences due to their drinking, but they are terrified of stopping the alcohol and finding out who they really are. We know that if we quit drinking and taking drugs that we will finally have to face ourselves.
The really courageous moment in our lives is that moment of surrender, that moment when we finally let our fear drop away, when we let it all slide away from us and we agree to face ourselves, to seek help, to seek recovery. That is the defining moment of courage in our lives. If an alcoholic continues to avoid this defining moment of surrender then they simply stay stuck in their addiction until eventually (or suddenly) they pass away. The alternative is to finally reach that magic moment of surrender in which we drop all of our fears, or we stop caring about those fears, and we make the decision to face the fear and to get professional help. That is the only real courageous act that truly matters. Everything else builds on this act of surrender.
Now after the struggling alcoholic reaches a point of “true surrender” they will ask for help and begin their journey of recovery. At this point they will likely be directed to inpatient treatment at a rehab facility, and they will likely be introduced to a recovery program of some sort. There are many more opportunities to come in which the person must summon their courage, but the big hurdle has been crossed already. Going to treatment is the starting domino that will lock everything else into place (hopefully). At this point the person needs to be continuously willing to learn more and more about themselves and who they really are in their sobriety.
This is where the process of building courage comes into play. The recovering alcoholic has made a good start and they surrendered completely and they went to inpatient treatment. They were likely introduced to a therapist and a recovery program of some sort. They are working a program of recovery and they are attempting to remain clean and sober. So how do they go about building courage? What does that look like?
What happens in early recovery is that you start to figure out how to live a sober life. And so there are lots of situations that you encounter throughout your life–some of them more frequently than others–and you have to learn the new coping skills that will get you through those situations without having to resort to alcohol or drugs.
This is what recovery amounts to in the long run–seeking new solutions for your life. If you cannot find new solutions then you will eventually revert back to your old solutions (which was to self medicate).
And of course, seeking out a new solution and actually trying it out can, at times, require courage.
There are lots of reasons that this requires courage. For one thing, a lot of our defense mechanisms that we used during our active addiction are there for a good reason, and so we tend to defend those defenses. It can be threatening to us when we realize that our anger is just a shield that we are using so that others don’t see how afraid or hurt we might be. It takes courage to get real with our emotions, to get past the anger and figure out what the underlying emotions really are, and then to communicate those underlying emotions with the people who really matter.
This is an emotional journey for most of us. We used to get angry and use our anger as an excuse to self medicate. In recovery we need to figure out how to process our anger in a more helpful way, so that it does not drive us to drink or take drugs.
The problem with this is that the anger in our life that really matters always has to do with the people in our lives who we are close with. In order to process our anger with such people in the future we are going to have to be more vulnerable with them. For example, we are going to have to show them that we were either scared or hurt by what they did, and that this is why we got angry in the first place.
In other words, if you get angry in recovery then that is a risk that could lead to relapse. The solution for this is to process that anger, understand where it is coming from, and then communicate that to other people in a way that leaves you rather vulnerable. You are putting your real feelings–not your opinions–out on the table for everyone to see. That definitely takes courage.
If you do not know how to process your anger and communicate it in a healthy way, then you need to learn how to do this. Again, courage may be required. I would recommend that you seek out a skilled therapist, hopefully an SUD or substance abuse therapist, who can then walk you through the process of identifying and communicating your emotions.
When you think of what acts that humans engage in that might require a great deal of courage, none of them are so demanding as uncovering your true and raw emotions, and then putting them out there for others to scrutinize. But this is where the real freedom comes from–if you have anger bottled up inside then that is just fuel for a relapse. The only way to set that anger free is to confront it, identify the real emotions, and then communicate those emotions with the people who really matter. Anything less is going to put you in a position of risk for potential relapse.
It takes courage to process your emotions. The payoff is well worth the price though. Good luck to you in your journey!