Is Fear of Change Holding Back Your Recovery?

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.


What Should You Do After a Relapse?

What Should You Do After a Relapse?

Relapse is unfortunately common when you’re trying to overcome a substance use disorder. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people will relapse within a year of treatment. Although relapse can be dangerous and discouraging and should be avoided if possible, it’s also nothing to be ashamed of. The nature of addiction is that it’s hard to quit. The good news is that people do sustain recovery even after several relapses. Here are some tips for getting back on track after a relapse.

Reach Out for Support

First, reach out to someone you trust. Your reflex will probably be to isolate. You may feel ashamed or embarrassed. You may feel like you can get it together and no one has to know. Fight that impulse and ask for help. There are two primary reasons for this. First, shame, deception, and isolation are habits of addiction. Cutting yourself off from your support system, whether from shame or a misplaced determination to be self-reliant only takes you further in the wrong direction. Owning your mistake, being open about it, and asking for help can be hard but it’s a firm step in the right direction.

The other reason is that you actually do need help. No one recovers alone and this is especially true following relapse when your situation may feel even more hopeless than it did the first time you got sober. Reach out to your therapist, your sponsor, your 12-Step group, or a friend or relative you trust. It’s easier to get back on track if you have someone on your side and it also gives you a greater sense of accountability.

Limit the Damage

After a relapse, a lot of people take the view of, “Well, I’ve ruined my recovery already, so I might as well go all the way.” This is a classic case of all-or-nothing thinking, one of the common cognitive distortions identified in cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. It is frustrating to feel like you have to start over and some aspects of 12-Step programs, such as starting over on your sober days, make it feel like nothing you accomplished before relapse matters.

However, it’s important to ask yourself, “How can I improve my situation now?” Although you may have slipped and had a few drinks with dinner or maybe gone on a week-long bender or whatever, continuing in that behavior will only make your situation worse. The sooner you are able to get sober again and assess your situation, the better position you will be in to resume your recovery.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

One of the biggest challenges of bouncing back after a relapse is dealing with the challenging emotions and self-criticism. You may be thinking something like, “How could I be so stupid?” or “I’ll never be able to stay sober,” or “What’s the point of even trying?” It’s normal to feel discouraged but it doesn’t help. On the other hand, “chin up” sort of thinking doesn’t really help either. Trying to stay positive sometimes only adds to your frustration. Instead, try acknowledging the facts: About half of people relapse after treatment and many of those people are able to stay sober on subsequent attempts.

Next, try extending yourself a bit of compassion. Compassion is not about pretending everything is fine, but rather about acknowledging that you can make mistakes and still be worthy of love and happiness. Instead of beating yourself up over a relapse, imagine how you would treat your best friend who had just relapsed and felt awful about it. Try extending some of that compassion to yourself too.

Analyze What Went Wrong

Perhaps the most crucial part of bouncing back after relapse is not losing the lesson. There are many potential hazards in recovery from addiction. Some of them are foreseeable and others aren’t. Analyzing what went wrong can provide valuable information for your next attempt. It might help to write about what happened. Where were you? Who were you with? How were you feeling? What were you thinking about? What was going on in your life more generally? Had you been sticking to your recovery plan? If not, why not?

You may discover that it was something simple like you got too busy at work and started skipping meetings. Or it could be something you had little or no control over, such as the unexpected death of a loved one. Sometimes you’re just not ready for what life throws at you. The more you can learn, the better you can adapt your recovery plan to account for those possibilities.

Look for the Silver Lining

It’s frustrating to feel like you have to start all over. A lot of people feel like they don’t have it in them. However, it may help to think about what you have going for you that you didn’t have last time you got sober. For example, you probably have some sober friends, you know what to expect at 12-Step meetings, you may have a therapist already, you may have resources at your disposal from the treatment program you attended, you may be aware of a mental health issue that needs attention, and so on. In short, it’s not your first rodeo. Thinking about everything you have going for you will give you more confidence going forward.

Try Again

Finally, when you’ve assessed your situation and figured out how you might do better in the future, try again. Exactly what you do will depend on your individual situation. If you had a minor slip, you can probably just go back to your recovery plan--with the proper modifications--go back to attending meetings, and so on. If you had a more extensive relapse, you may need to consider going back into treatment at some level.

Relapse is always a setback in recovery from addiction but it doesn’t have to be a failure. Plenty of people have to try several times to get sober but eventually succeed. Whether or not you ultimately have a long recovery depends on how you respond to a relapse. If you learn from your mistakes and try again, your long-term chances are good.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that recovery is a process that never ends. We do everything we can to help our clients learn the skills they need to stay sober and help them transition back to normal life. We offer partial care, intensive outpatient services, relapse prevention, and sober living services to help make recovery last. To learn more, call us at 833-801-5483.


The Challenges of the Holiday Season

The holiday season is most commonly associated with cheer, joy and nostalgia. Our cultural traditions are intended to bring us together with family and friends to celebrate gratitude and appreciation with loved ones. For many of us, however, this time of year brings with it some very real challenges that can make the season stressful rather than joyful. We can be filled with fear, anxiety and sadness rather than with the merriment the holidays are traditionally known for.

Some of the challenges we face with the holiday season come from the fact that we don’t have the family or other close relationships that other people are joyfully celebrating this time of year. We can feel an acute sense of loneliness seeing other people with their loved ones when we aren’t able to be with ours. For some of us, we have isolated ourselves so much that we no longer have close relationships to benefit from. Our addictions might have caused so much damage to our relationships that we are now totally estranged from them. We might have lost our loved ones, and this time of year serves as a painful reminder of our grief.

The sadness and loneliness we feel are some of the emotions we grew accustomed to avoiding through our addictions. The holiday season can make us want to return to our old behaviors to escape the pain we’re feeling. We might find ourselves feeling anxious and afraid that we’ll relapse. We can find ourselves tempted by the holiday parties and celebrations that are often centered around alcohol. We might be spending time with people who themselves are not sober and who might not realize the difficulties we’re having. The heightened emotions and temptation surrounding the holidays can be overwhelming, and we might find ourselves increasingly worried about relapsing.

There are some ways we can handle the challenges of the holiday season. One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to prepare and plan ahead. We can plan which parties we attend and choose events hosted by other sober people in recovery. We can plan ahead to attend extra meetings whenever we’re feeling particularly challenged. We can make a plan with our sponsor to communicate more than usual. We can ask our loved ones to support our efforts and make parties more inclusive of people who don’t drink. The holiday season can be overwhelming, but with preparation, we can allow ourselves to partake in its fun and celebration rather than becoming depressed and risking relapse.

At Enlightened Solutions, we believe that every addict can recover. We want to help you remember that life can be full of happiness and enjoyable experiences. Call (833) 801-LIVE today.