Whether you’re in recovery or not, if you suffer from alcohol, drug, or behavioral dependency, you’re acquainted with fear.
Fear comes in a wide variety of thoughts, inhibitions, emotions, and anxieties, some of which are perfectly reasonable and rational. Others may not be so well grounded, but a wide range of fears are still a perfectly normal part of life. The question becomes, then, how we manage those fears and whether we allow them to control the choices we make.
Fear is a primary component of addiction, and it comes in several varieties, including fears of:
- Going without a drink, a hit, or a fix.
- Being identified as an addict.
- Destroyed relationships.
- Legal problems.
- Health problems.
- Loss of employment and financial impacts.
- Loss of control over your addiction.
- Being unable to find help.
- Isolation from friends who are addicted.
- Never “enjoying” things again.
- Asking for help.
- That the help you get just won’t work.
- And…perhaps the most insidious of all…the fear that the help you find will work and you’ll lose your “best friend”, your habitual relationship with drugs or alcohol.
The habit of fear dies hard.
Every one of these concerns is natural for anyone considering recovery or engaged in it. Just as drug or alcohol dependency has a brain chemistry component that enforced addiction, fear has its own brain chemistry mechanisms. Both systems need to be addressed and ultimately modified to manage and eliminate the fears standing in the way of recovery.
Fear is learned, and it can be “un-learned”.
The key to achieving freedom from fear starts with understanding their origins and their basic elements:
- Fears are feeling-based. It’s a feeling that can impact the thinking of anyone, even those who are not addicted. On its own, fear actually has no power until you give it power. The first step toward controlling and eventually eliminating this feeling is understanding that they are merely an emotional reaction to a stimulus, a thought, or a temptation (the drink you’re offered), and that it’s completely within your ability to balance and manage your thoughts and emotions.
- Fears are fed by your needs and desires when they come into conflict with the belief that your needs won’t be met. Needs and desires frequently create unrealistic expectations when we have inflexible notions of life as “it should be” that aren’t met by the realities of how life “can be.” Life happens. Circumstances are what they are. Constantly fighting for control over those circumstances creates frustration and the nearly tangible feeling that we’re unable to control any aspect of our lives. Fears are mitigated with the perspective that we only have control over ourselves, not over past events, not over the behaviors, actions, or reactions of others.
- Fear is driven by the potential for loss or unwelcome and unexpected changes when we value “other things” more than we value our capacity to love. Understanding that true security only comes from finding a balance within ourselves between our needs and our values, and not from the externals of possessions, money, or the judgments of others is essential to conquering fear. Coming to appreciate yourself eliminates the anxiety that drives dependency and fear.
- Fear is not in this moment, but in our “what if” future. Anticipation of the unknowns in life actually generates chemical reactions in the brain. Certainly unpleasant things may take place in the future, but once we recognize that the future is not yet here, we still have time to do something to prevent or prepare for those unpleasant things. Nothing in the future is inevitable as long as we understand our personal worth in this moment and our ability to affect the future by making the necessary changes now.
The Serenity Prayer summarizes the two primary sources of fear. Fear about things that we care about but can’t control…and fear of failing to control the things we should. In the second line it reads “Courage to Change”. When we are afraid, that’s the time to ask for help.
Sobriety is not for sissies. It takes courage to face our fears…and to ask for help to overcome them.
It can be done.