6 common fears in recovery

Fear – it’s a constant companion of addicts and alcoholics while they are active in addiction. Fear of getting caught, fear of not having the drink or the fix when they need it next, fear of losing face, fear of facing reality, fear of the future and unknown fears…

However, it is ironical that fear is normal even in recovery, especially the early stages. Everyone enters rehab with some trepidation, even if they’ve been in and out of treatment for years. Likewise, most people leave rehab full of worry. What will happen when they leave the one place they know they can stay sober? How will they cope when the feelings they’ve been medicating come flooding back? Will their families ever trust them again? Will they get a job? How will they face society?

In recovery, fear can be a precursor to relapse. 

So how do we suggest an addict address his fears? The answer, of course, is faith. However, the addict needs to get simple, workable solutions to deal with his fears.

Here are some of the fears common among people in recovery, along with suggestions for facing them:

1. Fear of Sobriety

Getting sober means replacing your primary coping mechanism – drugs and alcohol – with new, unfamiliar ones. Will all of the hard work be worth it? Will I be able to live a life full of feelings without the help of alcohol or drugs? Will sobriety be boring? Staying stuck in this fear generally means staying stuck in addiction.

What to Do: Nelson Mandela said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Rather than running from it, feel the fear and then take one step forward anyway – go to rehab, meet with a therapist or attend a support group where other people in recovery share their success stories. Once you try it, you may find that sobriety is not as scary as you once thought.

2. Fear of Failure

Whether you are one day sober or 10 years, recovery presents challenges. There are times when you’ll doubt yourself and get pushed outside of your comfort zone. There are times when you will fall short of a goal. At this point, you can either conclude that you don’t deserve it or have what it takes, or you can try again. Terence Gorski calls these ‘stuck points’ in the process of recovery.

What to Do: Many addicts are perfectionists who have difficulty accepting mistakes and taking strategic risks. True, about half of recovering addicts relapse at some point. But the other half doesn’t, and if you relapse and learn from it, you haven’t failed at all. Others have succeeded in spite of fear, and so can you. Look around you – you will see so many alcoholics and addicts continuing to remain sober, despite their ups and downs. It’s possible!

3. Fear of Success

The flipside of the fear of failure is the fear of success. Most people don’t consciously self-sabotage, but they have a deeply held belief that they don’t deserve to succeed and, in so believing, never really put forth their best effort. Feeling doomed from the start, many allow self-doubt and fears of what others think to keep them from trying.

What to Do: Fear is an emotion that is based on something we cannot control: the future. Instead of fretting over what might be, practice being mindful of the present. Feel the fear and breathe through it without resisting it or trying to change it – and then notice how the fear begins to dissipate. Remember, past is gone and the future is yet to come…all you actually have is the present – enjoy it!

4. Fear of Rejection

Worried that they may be abandoned by the people they love or judged by others, some people refuse to admit that they have a drug problem or reach out to others for support. Yet without taking these steps, there can be no recovery.

What to Do: Fear of rejection can be overcome by pushing yourself to work a recovery program even when you don’t want to. Attend sober social gatherings, lean on family members and talk to people at support group meetings. 

Also, remember truth is always the best policy and least stressful (stress is a trigger for relapse). Read about well-known personalities who have recovered from addiction – politicians, film stars, music legends, writers – they continued to achieve greater success even after publicly admitting their addiction. In fact, many of them became a source of inspiration to others.

5. Fear of Losing Your Identity

After months or years of being fixated on drugs and alcohol, you have now created an image of yourself as a so-and-so type of person. Recovery means change, growth, and development. It begins by discovering that you are not what you thought yourself to be. This can be rather unsettling.

As you grow in recovery, you begin to discover yourself – and start discarding the negative aspects and build on the positive traits. The fear at this stage is “will I accept and will others accept the New Me? These are some of the most difficult questions in recovery, and the answers may change over time.

What to Do: In recovery, you have a unique opportunity to redefine yourself. Spend some time thinking back to who you were before you started using drugs and revisit old interests. Also try something new, such as volunteering or taking a class, so you have a chance to develop new passions. Each of these steps will not only help you maintain your sobriety, but also move you closer to the ultimate goal of figuring out who you are.

Ultimately, it’s your life!

6. Fear of Miserable Sobriety

Lurking in the minds of most recovering addicts is the question: What if I do the hard work of recovery and am still miserable? After drugs flood the brain with dopamine, some people find it difficult to feel pleasure from normally enjoyable activities. Others get clean and sober only to find that they still feel angry and depressed. Also known as “dry drunk,” these individuals erroneously believe that getting sober is where the hard work ends.

What to Do: Some of the damage inflicted by prolonged drug use will be repaired the longer you stay sober. Just as important as stopping the use of all mood-altering substances is actively engaging in a program of recovery. Only by investing in yourself and your relationships can life in recovery be truly joyful.

We notice that the beginning of enjoying sobriety begins in the rehab – the simple joys of getting natural sleep without medication or alcohol, being able to enjoy the taste of food, of feeling good physically with mild exercise and Yoga, of being able to have a conversation without arguing or feeling resentful, of being able to share one’s thoughts and feelings without shame or fear of judgment with a counselor…it’s an new joyful life!

Rahul Luther, Hope Trust India
Rahul Luther is Executive Director of Hope Trust – a premier rehab for treatment of addictions and dual diagnosis in India.