When you first start recovering from a substance use disorder, whether you enter treatment, start going to 12-Step meetings, or some other method, you’re taking your first steps into unfamiliar territory. You’re never quite sure if you’re doing the right things or if you have any chance of succeeding. It’s normal to look around and compare your progress to others to try to reassure yourself or at least estimate your progress. However, making these kinds of comparisons only make you feel worse and endangers your recovery. Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t compare yourself to others while recovering from addiction, or, really, at any other time.
Teddy Roosevelt famously said that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” In our hearts, we know this is true. You might be thrilled with your new car until you see your friend’s new car, for example. There’s always something better out there that can ruin our enjoyment of what we have.
What’s more, there appears to be something inherent in comparisons that makes us unhappy. One pair of studies found that spending more time on Facebook correlated with more feelings of depression. Perhaps more to the point, the second study in the pair found that people who made more comparisons on Facebook had worse depressive symptoms, even when they felt they were the same or better than the people they were comparing themselves to.
Perhaps this effect is a mix of uncertainty, self-consciousness, and critical judgment. Either way, making fewer comparisons is an easy way to protect your mental health. This is especially important for addiction recovery, given that at least half of people with substance use disorders have a co-occurring mental health issue, chief among which are mood disorders and anxiety disorders.
It’s important to keep in mind that pretty much everyone who enters treatment is deeply ambivalent about staying sober. You feel obligated to say and act like you want to get sober and you might even believe it, but the addicted mind is tricky.
One common problem people face early in recovery is called “terminal uniqueness” in 12-Step circles. It’s the belief that you’re unlike everyone else there in some fundamental way. For example, you may see your own substance use issues as situational and temporary while seeing your peers in treatment or in the rooms as “addicts.” Therefore, you feel you shouldn’t have to engage with treatment in the same way as others. This can be a huge barrier to progress.
On the other hand, you may see someone doing very well in recovery and feel like that person has some fundamental advantage that you lack. You can’t imagine that person starting where you are and ending where they are. You feel like you’ll never be that person, so you might as well quit. Addiction is always looking for a way to get back into the game and comparisons—good and bad—provide that opportunity.
If comparisons are estimating your own position, progress, and potential, they are not even particularly helpful for that. No one ever enters recovery in the exact same circumstances. They have different addictions, different mental health issues, different personal histories, different personalities, and different resources. There is an essentially infinite number of combinations, which is why it’s so important for treatment to be individualized. However, it also means any comparison you make is not going to be accurate or valid.
What’s more, you’re always making comparisons based on limited information. Not only do other people have different advantages and disadvantages, but you never really know what those are. And you never really know how they are doing in recovery. So much of recovery is in your head. Someone may outwardly appear to be doing well but inwardly feel like a train wreck. Furthermore, the future is inherently unpredictable. You never really know who is going to end up having a strong, lasting recovery.
Aside from helping you figure out where you are, you might hope that comparing yourself to others might prove useful in some way. However, that’s typically not the case. While you should certainly listen to others and learn what you can, it’s crucial not to make the mistake of assuming you will have the same needs in recovery as anyone else. Again, this is why individualized care is important. You have to be aware of your own priorities in recovery and stay focused on those, rather than trying to win someone else’s race. It hardly matters if you outdo someone else in some area if it doesn’t help you achieve your own goals.
Finally, it’s important to remember that recovery is not a competition. Recovery should be about cooperation and mutual support. The more connected you feel to people in your sober network, the more likely your recovery will last. If you want to undermine that connection, one of the fastest ways is to regard all of your peers in recovery as rivals and feel diminished by their successes. In fact, the opposite is true. When one person in your sober network succeeds, it helps everyone. Not only does it show that recovery is possible, but feeling happy for other people’s success improves your sense of wellbeing.
Comparing ourselves to others is one of those things we all do sometimes but we would all be better off if we stopped. Comparisons make us unhappy and don’t provide us with any useful information. It’s far better to focus on the things that matter to us and the things under our control.
At Enlightened Solutions, we know that joy and happiness are essential to living a sober life. Our holistic programs combine evidence-based treatment with spiritual and wellness practices that help our clients live more fulfilling lives. To learn more about our programs, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.
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