Fear is the biggest barrier to change, even if that change is for the better and will improve our lives.
There is no doubt that getting sober is a daunting prospect — it’s terrifying. Anyone in recovery will tell you that we all had fears about life in recovery: How will I survive without leaning on drugs or alcohol to cope? And, will people still want to hang out with me now I’m sober?
However, many of us realized there was no perfect timing for when to quit. Life had become painful enough to see those fears for what they were: barriers to the life that we deserve. More often than not, it was the fear of change, or of the unknown, that was far worse than the reality of taking a step toward sobriety.
While life in recovery can be challenging, it is infinitely better than staying stuck in the alternative.
Common fears about recovery
Most fears that we faced were about our relationships and how they’d change, how we’d cope, fear of failure, and the fear of change itself.
Some of the most common fears we faced in approaching recovery were relational: how others would relate to us and our decision to find recovery:
Will people still want to be my friend and hang out with me if I’m sober?
Will my partner leave me?
How will my family deal with my decision?
Will my old drinking buddies shame me by reminding me what I used to do when drinking?
What will others think of me if they learn that I have a drinking problem?
Here is the truth: Any relationship worth having will support your decision for a better life. Once your loved one — whether that’s a romantic partner, friend, or family member — understands that your relationship with drugs and alcohol had started to cause you harm, they will support you. Anyone who silences you, or minimizes the problem, is not truly respecting your desire to get help and create a better life for yourself. You should never have to justify your reasons for caring for yourself.
The other major relational fear is how we will relate to ourselves as a person in recovery. Many of us questioned who we would be without alcohol, and how we would relate in the world. What is our purpose now that we no longer focus on getting high or drunk? The thing is: you don’t have to know right now. All you need to know is that you just need to take the next step toward recovery. It’s true what they say — more will be revealed. I can tell you this, though: life in recovery makes you wonder why you waited so long to get sober.
Another common fear is how we will experience life once we’re sober: Will we be able to have fun? Or will it be boring? Will I be boring? we ask ourselves. In short, the answer is that you can have fun — so much fun — and no, life in recovery is not boring. The truth is, once you remove numbing agents from your life, you can actually experience joy! You can still go to parties and concerts, and you still get to dance. The bonus is that you’ll remember it and won’t feel like death the next day! Also, I’m not sure about you, but at the end of my addiction, there was nothing fun about sitting on my own in my apartment and drinking all weekend until I was physically sick and depressed — that was boring!
Many of us feared how we would deal with setbacks without drugs and alcohol: What if something terrible happens — how will I cope? The thing about stress is that it is still going to be there whether we drink or not. And by drinking and taking drugs, we’re not actually dealing with stress, we’re only numbing ourselves. Living in recovery gives us the tools to be able to cope and actively manage stress.
Life will happen. People you love will die, you will move, you may experience the end of a relationship, and you may even lose your job. Drinking or using drugs doesn’t make the pain of any of this go away — at best you may numb your feelings, but they’re still there when you sober up. Grief and loss are painful, but using doesn’t help it just prolongs the agony.
I lost my brother, I moved to another country, I left AA, I bought a house, and I started a new career as a writer working for myself — all incredibly stressful events and circumstances. But I coped and I feel infinitely stronger for doing it on my own without drugs and alcohol to inhibit my progress.
Fear of change
The idea of starting recovery feels huge initially, especially if you drank and/or used drugs everyday. We may even have fears about how we will start along the path to sobriety:
Will I have to go to AA?
Do I have to stop drinking forever?
I’m not sure it’s the right time to stop.
I relate to all of those fears. I think my most paralyzing fear was that I felt I couldn’t stop. I started using at 12 years old, and drank every day by the time I reached recovery that stuck at aged 32. I tried many times too. It took five years of attempts to find recovery. I hated the idea of having to go to AA. I didn’t see myself as having that much of a problem, and that I didn’t fit the stereotype of a person who went to AA. The time that I spent denying the severity of my alcohol use disorder only made it progress: I drank more, caused more damage — to my relationships and my mental and physical health — and ultimately took longer to achieve the life I always wanted.
While I did initially use AA to get sober, once I did a little research, I saw that there were many pathways of recovery. Today I use a patchwork of therapy, social support, holistic and naturopathic care, exercise, and mindfulness for recovery. Here’s the thing: your pathway recovery can be anything you want it to be. No one way is the right way and if the thought of going to AA turns you off recovery, find a way that feels more suited to you. However, you should know that recovery isn’t easy and any pathway that works will, at times, feel uncomfortable. But it’s a whole lot less uncomfortable than the painful and unrelenting reality of addiction.
Fear of failure
Fear of recovery not working and that you will return to use is real. In fact, for many of us returning to use is a reality of recovery. By its very nature, substance use disorder is referred to as a relapsing condition. It took five years for it to stick with me. I would much rather fail and keep trying than stay stuck on a one-way path to destruction. And worrying about what others may think if you return to use is outside of your control. You focus on you and the people who are supposed to be in your life will support you along the way.
One thing I’ve learned in my seven and a half years in recovery is that we all have fear, and we all overcome those fears, instead choosing recovery. What I know from this side of the fence is that life in recovery gives us everything that we had looking for at the bottom of a bottle.