Fear is normal at every stage of recovery. Many people enter rehab with some fear and trepidation, even if it’s their second or third time. Likewise, most people leave rehab full of fear. What will happen when they leave the one place they know with some certainty what will happen next. The predictability as they move from group to group and the familiarity of their community.
Mostly clients are discharged with a plan; but let’s look at some fears that could stand in the way of implementation of the plan.
Your fears are most likely linked to core beliefs which are formed in reaction to growing up in a shame and fear based environment. These are some of the more overwhelming challenges:
FEAR PART 1 – Fear of failure.
Many wounded souls are perfectionists who have difficulty accepting mistakes and taking risks with no guarantee of success. This manifests as the Fear of Failure. The core belief says “I am a failure”.
Whether you have one day sober or 10 years, recovery presents challenges. There are times when you’ll doubt yourself and get pushed outside of your comfort zone. There are times when you will fall short of a goal. At this point, you can either conclude that you don’t deserve it or have what it takes, or you can try again.
The flipside of the fear of failure is the fear of success. You most probably don’t consciously self-sabotage, but you may have a deeply held belief that you don’t deserve to succeed. In so believing, you may not really put forth your best effort.
These and other fears are based on things you cannot control: the past and the future. Instead of obsessing about what was and or catastrophizing what might be, practice being mindful of the present. Feel the fear and breathe through it without resisting it or trying to change it. Then notice how the fear begins to dissipate.
Stay with me and let’s explore Fear.
FEAR PART 2 – Fear of rejection.
There is an overwhelming fear that many people have but often don’t have the words to describe. Sometimes pride stands in the way of admitting it; because if I tell you I’m scared you wont accept me, you will have power over me. This is the fear of rejection.
This fear is primarily a symptom of being raised in an environment where significant others were emotionally unavailable to you. This could be due to an environment where parental addiction, including (process addiction) and mental illness exist. The belief internalized by a child is the same; I’m not good enough, “I am unlovable, “There is something wrong with me” and more.
Children develop these beliefs in an attempt to make sense of their environment. “If my daddy does not spend time with me, he’s perfect, there must be something wrong with me”.
Unless these beliefs are named and managed you may not take the risk of joining a fellowship and finding a sponsor. The underlying fear may be “if they get to know me, they will see that I’m fundamentally and hopelessly flawed”.
Fear of rejection can be overcome when you accept that you are in a group of people who also feel flawed. People who fear being judged and rejected for who they are, and it is this woundedness that makes them, and you, so beautiful.
The fear can be overcome by taking the risk of attending one meeting and raising your hand when they ask “are there any newcomers here today”. Four words could change the course of your life, “yes, I need help”.
Remember my friend, there’s a difference between attending and joining.
FEAR PART 3 – Fear of losing your place in your world.
What many people fail to realize is that there is a culture of addiction. For example, there’s the Cheers aspect – a place where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.
There are groups of lost and lonely perceived misfits who feel they can only belong with each other. Often they are the family black sheep and scapegoats who have found a group that accepts them and this bond is very strong. A sense of belonging is a primal need. (Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs coming soon).
Whether society approves or not, there is a feeling of camaraderie, a common purpose in gangs too.
If you embrace recovery you could experience this fear of losing your identity. After months or years of being fixated on substances/ gambling/sex/control and more these are some of the questions you may be faced with:
- Who are you if you aren’t the problem/black sheep of the family?
- Are you able (good enough) to be more and take on another role?
- What are your hopes, desires and values?
- What are your likes and dislikes?
When you embark on this journey wholeheartedly you may face some profound truths about yourself and life in general. A gentle reminder my precious, recovery is about progress not perfection and the answers will change over time as you accept every aspect of your being.
Whenever you feel you have arrived your GPS will re-route.
FEAR PART 4 – Fear of loss.
Now, let’s look at the fear of what you will lose; what you “have to give up”. People acquire many things in their lives, often as a result of long and hard work. This includes physical objects and intangible things such as relationships.
Sadly, as a result of “active addiction”, you may already have lost some physical objects and relationships. The thought of losing even more may be a source of distress for you. This fear of losing more may cause you to hold on so tightly that recovery can become as, if not more, unbearable than “active addiction”.
You may believe that this is because you don’t have the promise of sweet oblivion. If you take a moment to reflect you may see that this promise has over time become more and more elusive, until eventually, poof its gone. It may have been misguided but the magical thinking, the ritual is in itself a brief respite.
The other side of losing what you have is to not gain what you want and expect. In predicting the future (which can feel uncontrollable), some things are particularly important, in particular those related to achieving your goals. The thought of not gaining the things you have planned to gain is painful and may paralyze you.
Achieving goals is an amazing feeling but early on it may seem to be affected by your ability to control the world around you. By extension if you cannot achieve this, you may rightly feel threatened by it, and consequently fearful of it.
In a nutshell the fear of non-gain can be driven by anticipated loss, where you imagine gaining what you desire and then feel a sense of loss just by thinking about not getting it.
This an example of how your mind catastrophizes and why it’s crucial to practice the art of being present to what is as opposed to what could or should be. Mindful living requires practice over time, a lifetime, but your diligence in the moment will reap rewards right now.
Pause, breathe and remember your mind works for you, not you for it. Start instead to train your mind to be creative. Imagine what you could visualize when you use your mind for you wellbeing as opposed to self destruction.
Ban the words should/could/must/mustn’t from your vocabulary my angel. They stifle your creative soul. You don’t have to replace it with anything (too much stress). Instead think before you speak and don’t speak those words. In time will become natural, much like any new habit.
FEAR PART 5 – Fear of feeling.
Many people avoid their feelings but for most of the addicted population it appears to be more urgent, almost desperate. There is a direct link between childhood trauma and the fear of feeling which in most cases translates as a fear of vulnerability.
There could be evidence to support this core belief that being vulnerable equals disappointment and confusion. For example, “if my parents can’t meet my needs, who will”. Remember that children are unable to meet their own needs and their needs are basic yet life supporting. (Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs coming soon).
This is why you may struggle to:
- Identify what you need.
- Believe it’s wrong to have needs.
- Experience terror at the thought of asking for what you need.
The actual fear is of the pain that you may experience when you ask and you either aren’t heard or are surrounded by people who don’t know how to meet your needs. Pain hurts and extreme pain is excruciating.
It can be psychological as well as physical. Psychological pain is often felt in the body as tension and stress, and can be every bit as unbearable as that caused by physical damage to the body. Most fear is felt this way, which is why you may fear fear itself.
Your belief about pain may change as you progress in recovery. Simply put, you realize that pain does not come to kill, it comes to bring life. You may believe that it was “better when I was numb”. The question to ask yourself is, was I really numb or was I building a storehouse of unacknowledged and unmet needs.
So tell me please, how do I tackle what may now appear to be the monumental task of tearing down this storehouse? The answer is, brick by brick loving and patiently you turn it into a guesthouse. All your survival / defense mechanisms, like the storehouse, did help you to survive. They served a purpose and they still have a place but now it’s in the space you allow them.
This is how your past stops ruling you and instead you take charge of your life. Remember loved one, its one brick at a time, one day at a time. No more or less complicated. Not easy but simple.
The poet Rumi says..
This being human is a guesthouse.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes,
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all….