Do you actually fear your recovery?
Anyone considering a journey down the road toward addiction recovery commonly has some familiarity with feelings of “loss” or with the more profound emotions associated with genuine grief. We learn to deal with “loss” as children, and it can be felt over something as minor as a broken toy or as potentially significant as a parental reprimand. Grief is a deeper wound that we experience with the death of a loved one, a broken romantic relationship, or the loss of employment.
Many who suffer from addiction have an enduring fear of entering recovery. When you’re in the throes of addiction, it’s common to have had difficulty overcoming childhood feelings of “loss” and to have later suffered multiple periods of understandable, rational grief. Because the disease of addiction is connected to every facet of an individual—mind, body, and spirit—the problematic behaviors and emotions actively driving one’s addiction present themselves not as symptoms, but as innate personality traits, inclinations, or attitudes.
The addict’s dysfunctional habits become that person and defines the addict’s self for himself or herself and for everyone with whom they associate. Actively and willfully making the decision to finally do something about addiction requires courage and the strength to face what will actually be a departure from the former “self” and the inevitable sense of loss and grief that will follow.
When one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they’ve established an intimate relationship with their choice of intoxicant, stimulant, or depressant. Considering the erosion of relationships and the negative lifestyle implications that commonly accompany addiction or alcoholism, the addict’s connection with drinking or drug use is often the only “close” relationship they have left. Because that bond becomes trustworthy—the addict knows that drinking or using will provide a sought-after relief or momentary comfort—when doctors, family, or friends confront someone about their disease, the reaction is usually defensive or angry. When told they have a problem, addicts will often say or do anything to shield themselves and their relationship to their substance of choice, now ingrained as element of their ego, from perceived attack.
Drugs or alcohol hold the power of dependency over the addict; abstinence causes pain, stress, depression, or any one of a long list of mood disorders. Coupled with a fragile ego, using drugs or alcohol becomes an active constituent of the addict’s personality. The addict literally becomes the addiction and exhibits behaviors that have a single purpose: to protect the addicted “self.”
Given the tight knot of pain-relief-addiction-guilt and all that it entails, it’s important to understand the courage required to take the first steps toward addiction recovery and, ultimately, sobriety. Entering recovery is nothing less than the addict’s daring to surrender the addicted version of themselves (and the highs that come with using) and the identity they’ve assumed in their dependent relationship with drugs or alcohol. Moving away from the addiction lifestyle can create a dramatic sense of personal loss, followed by a period of despair, panic, confusion, and genuine fear.
Is it any wonder so many people avoid or postpone treatment in search of addiction recovery? This sense of loss and the failure to anticipate and deal with feelings of bereavement are often at the root of failed attempts at sobriety. In the short run, it may simply appear easier to relapse back to the comfort of the “self” of addiction. In the long run, of course, the implications of giving in to the addicted self are ultimately disastrous.
Engaging in any recovery program involves letting go of coping mechanisms and habits which provide relief from emotional or physical pain, or allow temporary escape from anxiety, depression, or a range of mood disorders. Letting go of what we know to embrace what we don’t know is never easy. For the addict who has “a friend” that can be depended on—no matter how problematic the consequences of that relationship may be—leaving that “friend” behind can be a genuine source of fear.
Moving into recovery and entering professional treatment may not be easy. Fear is common, but it can be overcome. Once confronted, fear may turn into grief…but that too will pass. When your “addiction friend” is hurting you, when your continuing relationship with drugs or alcohol holds destructive consequences, it’s time to face the pain of losing that friend and to find a new relationship with your true self…a better self.