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Is Fear of Change Holding Back Your Recovery?

There are many reasons people fear getting sober. They fear the pain of withdrawal, they fear they’ll be lonely in treatment, they fear being vulnerable during therapy, and so on. Another common fear is the fear of change. It may seem like if your life is falling apart because of drugs and alcohol, you would welcome change. And you may really want to change but you can still be afraid of it. What if you fall back into old habits? What if being sober means you’ll no longer have a way to cope with painful emotions? What if people expect too much from you when you’re sober?

There are many possible reasons you might fear change. There may also be no particular reason at all. The unknown is scary. Many people prefer a bad but familiar situation to an unknown situation. The subconscious reasoning is, “My situation is bad, but at least I’m alive and I know what to expect. Who knows what will happen if I change something?” Fear of change can create a lot of friction when you need to be making substantial changes pretty quickly. If fear of change is holding you back, the following strategies might help.

Acknowledge What You’re Feeling

Often, fear of change shows up as resistance. It might be that you’re procrastinating on some important action, such as seeing a therapist or researching treatment options. Or maybe you get angry with a loved one when they raise certain topics. You might not recognize that you’re actually experiencing fear of change. When you experience these moments of procrastination, indecision, or friction, ask yourself if fear of change might be the cause. If so, accept that what you’re feeling is normal.

Identify Your Assumptions

Typically, it’s our thoughts about a situation that upset us, not the situations itself. Fear of change is no different. When you fear change, there is typically some unidentified assumption behind it. For example, you might imagine that if you get sober, you will turn into a kind of person you don’t like. You might even have a specific image in mind, like Ned Flanders, or something.

However, that is a cognitive distortion, most likely all-or-nothing thinking. Or you may have some vague belief like “It would be awful if I couldn’t drink with my friends.” Even when things we worry about actually happen, they’re almost never as bad as we expect them to be and we can typically cope. Identifying the distorted thinking behind your fear makes it easier to manage your fear.

Let Go of Perfectionism

Some people’s fear of change is rooted in their perfectionism. They want to do everything just right or not at all but whenever you try something new, you won’t do it very well at first. Fear of change is just one of the many ways perfectionism can make you miserable. If you’re afraid of doing something badly or looking foolish, you’ll never try new things and you’ll never grow. Accept that there will be a learning curve but that if you keep working on it, you will inevitably get better.

Approach Change with Curiosity

For most people, fear of change is rooted in their natural fear of the unknown. As noted above, we often prefer the certainty of a bad situation to the unknown. The unknown always causes anxiety because you don’t know what challenges you might face. One way to deal with this anxiety is to treat it like excitement, which, physiologically, is nearly identical. Instead of fearing the unknown, be curious about what will happen, and be excited to find out. Treat change like an experiment that might allow you to unlock new knowledge and skills.

Separate Behavior from Identity

To some extent, nearly all of us need a sense of identity. This is often complex, woven from our personal histories, our friends and family, our likes and dislikes, our skills, our interests, where we’re from, our political affiliation, what sports teams we support, and on and on. For many people, drugs and alcohol are woven into their identity. They affect how they relate to friends and themselves.

They are just as much a part of their identity as they are part of their daily routine. As a result, changing that behavior can threaten your sense of self. However, it’s important to realize that your behavior is not your identity. At best, it’s a small part. One way to minimize the sense of threat of change to your identity is to write about your core values. Research shows this makes you less defensive and more open to positive change.

Focus on Process

When people think about making a life change, they typically have a mental model of either transforming into someone else or arriving at a destination. You’re sort of letting go of what you are in order to become something else. That feels threatening for the reasons discussed above. A more accurate way to think about it is acquiring a skill. For example, when did you change from a non-reader to a reader?

The question doesn’t really make sense because you gradually learned to read better through years of daily practice. You can think of other changes in the same way. You’re not changing from a person with a substance use disorder into a sober person; you’re practicing the skills involved in staying sober for as long as you want to.

Remember that No Change is Permanent

Part of the fear of change has to do with your implicit assumption that you can’t go back or that you’re stuck with whatever change you make. In reality, change is inevitable. Sometimes changes are reversible and sometimes they change into something else. Either way, you’re almost never stuck with any change you make. In fact, sustaining a new behavior takes quite a bit of work at first and for most people seeking help for a substance use disorder, the real challenge is making positive changes last. The good news is that whatever you fear about change will be transient at best.

Change is always hard because we like the familiar and predictable. Even when it’s bad, we know what to expect and how to deal with it. However, when we fear and resist change, we also cut ourselves off from many great possibilities. You can overcome your fear of change by acknowledging it, examining your assumptions about change, and replacing your faulty assumptions with more objective thinking. This isn’t easy and may require help from a therapist, as well as a lot of practice, but it will be worth it in the end.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that overcoming a substance use disorder will probably be the hardest change you ever have to make. We use many evidence-based methods to address the challenges of recovery on many fronts, including the latest therapeutic methods, family involvement, spiritual development, and transitional support. To learn more, call us at 833-801-5483.

Six Keys to Persistence in Addiction Recovery

Long-term recovery is all about perseverance. Some common reasons why people enter addiction treatment include being desperate for any sort of change, wanting to appease loved ones, or being motivated by avoiding jail time. During treatment, there’s often a period where these individuals feel motivated and optimistic about their long-term prospects. However, recovery goes on and on. Perhaps the biggest challenge is keeping at it when your lowest point is a distant memory and there’s no end goal in sight. There is no shortcut to perseverance; you just have to persevere. However, the following tips can help keep you going.

Create a compelling vision for recovery.

The first key to persistence is to create for yourself a compelling vision for your recovery. Too often, people focus on what they don’t want to happen. They think about their lowest points in active addiction, how awful and ashamed they felt, and how they never want to go back there. There may be times when this is a good motivational tactic, but ultimately, it’s not helpful to constantly think about what you don’t want for your life.

Instead, think about what you do want out of recovery and out of life. Allow yourself to think about what your perfect life might look like and how being sober will contribute to that vision. Perhaps most importantly, identify your key values. Perhaps it’s family, learning, or being of service to your community. Take some time at regular intervals to write about your highest values and how sobriety helps you honor those. Having a compelling vision and clear values can give you extra motivation when you don’t feel like working on your recovery.

Know that it may take a while.

When you have a compelling vision for recovery, keep in mind that it may take a while. Addiction is deeply ingrained, and progress just takes time. Typically, it gets much easier after one year and after five years. Expecting the process to take a while saves you from a lot of disappointment when things don’t turn around immediately. Just remember that if you keep doing the right things, you will eventually get the results you want.

Create habits and routines.

If there’s a cheat code for perseverance in recovery, then it’s creating healthy habits and routines. When you do this, you automate healthy decisions so you don’t have to make good choices through sheer force of will every time. This takes a bit of effort at first, but it will save you a lot of effort in the long run.

Pick one new habit at a time—perhaps you want to start exercising. Know that you’re going to have to keep at it for probably two months before it feels automatic. Pick an activity that you already do every day or almost every day and anchor your new habit to that. It might be waking up in the morning or coming home from work, for example. Next, start small. You might come home from work and immediately change into your exercise clothes and that’s it. Later, you might change into your exercise clothes and then walk for five minutes, then 10 minutes. When you are first forming the habit, you don’t want it to feel challenging; you just want to tick the box until the habit is set. Then you can gradually ramp up the challenge. After a while, it takes effort to not exercise or not go to meetings, or whatever habit you have created.

Set goals.

Since there’s no real endpoint for addiction recovery, it helps to set goals so you have some definite aim. These should support various aspects of recovery. So, for example, one common goal is to attend 90 12-Step meetings in 90 days. This is also a clear example of a SMART goal because it is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-limited. Your goals might include finishing your degree or attending all of your kid’s soccer games. It depends on your own situation and priorities.

Accept that you’ll have bad days.

Another major key is to accept that you’ll have bad days, possibly a lot of them. After a really bad day where everything seems to go wrong, you might feel like you’ll never be able to sustain recovery, that there’s no point, that life is just too bad, and that some people are just doomed to misery and addiction.

Everyone who has ever recovered from addiction has felt like this at some point. Some days just feel like total failure. Remember that even if all you can do is hang on, then the day was a success. You can try again tomorrow and if tomorrow is bad, you can try again the next day. Often, it’s hard to see progress from day to day, and you only really notice when you look back over the last month or the last year. If you’re willing to go from one bad day to the next, those bad days will gradually become less frequent and less bad.

Create a strong support system.

Finally, it’s crucial to have a support system. Remember the old proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. There will inevitably be times when you don’t feel motivated, when you don’t really care if you stay sober, or when you feel like you have everything under control, so you don’t have to worry too much about your recovery plan. Having a sober network and being engaged will help keep you on track when your internal motivation is weak. A support system creates a greater sense of accountability and ensures you have someone to lean on during hard times. It’s a way of using peer pressure to your advantage.

Perhaps the most daunting thing about addiction recovery is that it goes on forever. That’s too much to think about all at once. If you want to persevere, you have to create some kind of structure for yourself by identifying your values, creating good habits, and setting goals. Having reasonable expectations and social support will help keep you on track. Above all, you have to be patient with yourself and be ok with just making it through the day.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that treatment isn’t a quick fix. That’s why we emphasize skills, lifestyle changes, and follow-up support to help our clients succeed long term. To learn more, call us today at 833-801-5483 or explore our website.

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