“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
– H.P. Lovecraft
Fighting Fear in Addiction Recovery
It is completely normal to feel some degree of fear at many points during the recovery process. Many aspects of recovery will be entirely new and uncharted, and experiencing anything for the very first time is likely to arouse some feelings of trepidation and anxiety. Entering treatment can be scary, and it is normal to leave treatment with many concerns and unanswered questions. “Where will I go from here?” “How will I cope with the feelings that I have been numbing out for so many years?” “How will I build my life back from nothing?”
In many instances, feeling a manageable amount of fear is actually healthy and beneficial. Fear may motivate us to stay more alert when walking home alone at night, or keep us from diving headfirst into shark infested waters. However, if we are not careful, fear can consume us – paralyze us, and in some cases, lead us straight to relapse. In sobriety, we are liable to face many fears that we have never faced before. It is important that we acknowledge them and walk through them, rather than allow them to consume us and dictate the way we live our lives.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
7 Common Recovery-Related Fears
- Fear of Failure.
One thing that we will constantly be asked to do in recovery is step outside of our comfort zones. Pushing ourselves beyond our perceived limitations could mean falling short of personal goals, or being consumed by self-doubt. Failure is a part of life – if we succeeded at everything we attempted, we would never grow or learn from our mistakes. Falling short of a goal does not mean that we are undeserving failures, destined to continuously fail and flounder and embarrass ourselves. Falling short means that we have some room for improvement, and that we can try again from a different angle, or with a little more experience. Of course, because so many recovering addicts and alcoholics are perfectionists (and therefore their own worst critics), it is often difficult for us to accept our own fallibility, and allow ourselves the room for error that we so deserve. It is important that we do not let the fear of failure prevent us from trying – especially when it comes to long-term sobriety. Over 23 million Americans have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body.
- Fear of Rejection.
The fear that those we love the most will abandon or judge us may prevent us from reaching out for help for quite some time. Eventually, however, we will come to recognize that those who authentically love us will continue to do so no matter what. Being rejected can hurt, but experiencing regret and constantly wondering “what if” is often far worse. Once we become accustomed to pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones and continuously challenging our fears of rejection by consistently being honest about where we are at, we will realize that we are loved and accepted no matter what. As long as we do not reject ourselves, and continue to work a program of recovery even when we do not want to, we will overcome the fear of rejection. There is much research that shows that putting personal fears into words and expressing them to others helps to take away some of their power – simultaneously relieving anxiety and regulating emotional health.
- Fear of Sobriety.
This is a big one, especially for those who are very new to the addiction recovery scene. Chemical substance was our primary solution for years – we turned to the drink and the drug to carry us through innumerable uncomfortable circumstances and situations. Chemical substance helped us cope with loss, allowed us to socialize without fear, and was there for us when it seemed as if no one or nothing else was. Getting sober means nixing our primary coping mechanism, and replacing it with an entirely new set. Getting sober means feeling our feelings, and feelings are absolutely terrifying (at first, at least). We may begin to question whether or not all of the hard work will be worth it in the end. Will we ever begin to feel normal? It is important to recognize that staying stuck in the fear surrounding newfound sobriety usually entails staying stuck in addiction. In order to conquer fear, we must move through it. Sobriety is not scary. Sobriety is a beautiful journey of self-discovery and unimaginable blessings. Give yourself the opportunity to experience a truly fulfilled life – walk through fear of the unknown.
Fear is Always Grounded in The Future – Which is Not Reality
- Fear of Purposelessness.
We dedicated years of our lives to obtaining drugs and alcohol, getting high and drunk, making poor decisions, and attempting to remedy the inevitable consequences – and doing it all over again. For quite some time, being a heavy drinker or a drug user helped supply us with some sense of identity – maybe even with a sense of purpose. One of the greatest fears that many newly sober individuals face is the fear of not knowing who they truly are. When we sober up, we must not only adopt an entirely new outlook and way of life, but we must begin learning about ourselves – about who we truly are. What are our values and beliefs? What kind of music do we enjoy? What do we want to do with the remainder of our lives? The opportunities and possibilities are endless, and this can be overwhelming in itself. We may begin fearing the possibility of being unable to find a true sense of purpose. In this instance, it is vital that we begin to change our perspective regarding the situation. Rather than dwell in morbid worry and ceaselessly contemplate what could go wrong, let us look at it this way – we are being given the beautiful opportunity to redefine ourselves. We can develop new passions, explore new hobbies and interests. The world is truly our oyster, and we will find purpose as soon as we begin to fearlessly seek it!
- Fear of Success.
Many of us hold a deep-seated belief that we are undeserving of either success or happiness. We may have internalized this belief from a very young age, based on the environment of our upbringing and the views we were instilled with in early childhood. This belief may stem from the accumulated wreckage we caused while active in our addictions – the people we unwittingly hurt, the jobs we lost, the opportunities we ruthlessly sabotaged. Because we believe, deep down, that we do not deserve to succeed, we often fail to try. We condemn ourselves to mediocre lives because we are afraid to tap into our full potential – afraid that success will be too much for us to handle, or that we are essentially doomed to failure from the get go. Self-doubt can be utterly crippling, and it prevents many of us from tapping into the great things we are more than capable of achieving. In order to successfully combat the fear of success, we must give ourselves the opportunity to succeed. Rather than dwell on the past or fret over the nonexistent future, we must try to remain grounded in the present moment.
- Fear of Sadness.
As addicts and alcoholics, we simply hate experiencing any uncomfortable emotions. We work tirelessly for years of our lives to anesthetize any sadness, anxiety, or discomfort that threatens to crop up. Drugs and alcohol flood our brains with dopamine, and work to restructure our neuropathways. We tend to do real damage to our central nervous system after years of unrelenting substance abuse, thus it is completely normal to feel a little blue in early recovery. It is important to remember that our bodies and minds will heal, and once they do, any lingering feelings of sadness will dissipate. It may feel, at first, like the melancholy will last forever. It will not last forever. Remember that relief does not come from putting down the drink and the drug – relief comes from beginning to work (and continuing to work) a solid program of addiction recovery. This means enhancing our spiritual lives, constantly seeking self-betterment, and sincerely investing time and work into your slow self-reparation. You will attain joy and fulfillment – that is a promise – but only if you work hard to conquer your fears by walking directly through them, no matter how intimidating they may appear.
Walking Through Fear and Into Recovery
A life of recovery will truly prove to be a life beyond your wildest dreams – so long as you give it (and yourself) an honest and fighting chance. Just like any other journey worth taking, recovery will prove to be a series of ups and downs. Eventually, the ups will outweigh the downs, and all of the hard work you put in will truly pay off. Fear can prove to be a great obstacle when it comes to achieving long-term, meaningful sobriety. Remember that fear always resides in the future – never in the present moment. If we work hard to remain grounded in the very moment we are living, we will eventually be able to overcome fear. Fear also always revolves around loss, and constantly coincides with desire. If we can accept where we are, what we have, and what is happening, we will come to know true peace, serenity, and courage.
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”