There is a great deal of wisdom in the old saying, life is as hard as you make it. This truism definitely applies to life in recovery from addiction. The attitude and behavior of the individual will make a real difference to how they experience things. Those people who think negatively and resist change are like to find their new life to be a bumpy ride. On the other hand, those individuals who hold a more positive outlook, and are willing to do the right things, will find that life in sobriety is full of happiness and adventure. It may even be possible to predict the likelihood of success in recovery based on the person’s attitude – but of course attitudes can change.
There are a number of ways by which people can make recovery harder than it needs to be including:
* They resist change and this causes the individual to become stuck. When people are stuck in life they begin to experience discomfort.
* The individual is overly concerned with the symptoms of withdrawal and this makes these symptoms appear more severe.
* Another reason why people become stuck in recovery is that they are faced with challenges that they try to ignore. Until the individual deals with such challenges they will not be able to move forward.
* The individual expects life in recovery to be difficult so they create a self fulfilling prophecy. By expecting the worst the person is helping to ensure that this is what they get.
* The person engages in excessive negative self talk. This unhelpful internal commentary means that the person never feels they are good enough or that life is good enough.
* Some people have expectations that are unrealistically high so that they put themselves on a path to disappointment.
* If people are demand resistant they will automatically rebel about any expectations and demands placed on them – this includes their own expectations and demands. This type of attitude can mean that the person sabotages their own recovery.
* The individual can make their life in recovery harder through their own choices. An example of this would be the alcoholic who still goes to the bar to be with their drinking friends.
* The individual has an ambivalent attitude towards recovery. So long as they still hold onto the idea that they will one day be able to drink or use drugs again they will not be able to settle comfortably into sobriety.
A common reason for why people suffer in recovery is that they resist change. This causes them to become stuck in recovery and things begin to feel unsatisfactory. Rather than dealing with the issue and making the necessary changes the individual may turn to maladaptive behaviors such as workaholism or exercise addiction. This only further increases their problems. As the discomfort increases the person may be tempted to return to alcohol or drug abuse. They are in a precarious position and their recovery will be in jeopardy until they make the necessary changes to their life.
When people make the decision to give up alcohol and drugs they can become preoccupied with fear of withdrawal symptoms. These fears are usually exaggerated because it is rare that people experience anything worse than minor discomfort – less than a mild flu. The benefits of making it through withdrawal and into sobriety make such initial discomfort worth it. If the person is overly concerned about these symptoms they will appear to be severe. This occurs because the individual is so focused on their body that they start to panic at the slightest twinge. Those individuals who are less focused on withdrawal symptoms will tend to find them much easier to manage.
A self fulfilling prophecy refers to a type of prediction that causes the event being predicted to become a reality. This happens because as a result of the prediction the individual changes their behavior, and it is this change of behavior that makes the prediction come true. Those people who expect their life in recovery to be miserable will usually find that this is what they experience. It is their own pessimistic attitude and resulting behavior that causes this to happen.
The worst critic that most people will have to deal with in life is their own inner dialogue. This negative self talk can make even great achievements feel like failures. This is because the inner critic is never happy. If people allow themselves to entertain this running commentary of negativity they will never be able to find comfort in recovery. Instead they will keep talking themselves out of happiness.
One of the most common ways that people sabotage their recovery is that they have unrealistic expectations. They believe that once they become sober their life will become perfect right away. This is unlikely to happen so the individual is setting themselves up for disappointment. Not only will this mean that they find life in recovery to be unsatisfactory, but they can also use it as an excuse to relapse. If people have expectations that are too high it means that they will be unable to appreciate the improvements in their life. They will also fail to do the work that would make their expectations a reality.
Some individuals can be classified as demand resistant. This means that their automatic response to any demands and expectations is to rebel against them – this happens subconsciously. The individual who is demand resistant will not only resist satisfying the expectations of other people, but they will also sabotage their own expectations. This tendency to rebel against any type of authority is thought to arise when children grow up in homes where expectations were too high. The child realizes that they are unable to live up to their parents expectations so they cope with this by rebelling. In later life they subconsciously react the same way to all types of authority. Demand resistance can make life in recovery difficult because it can mean that the individual resists doing the things they need to do to make their life successful.
Probably the most dangerous attitude a person can have in recovery is ambivalence. This means that they have not completely given up on the idea that they will be able to use alcohol and drugs again. The person who is ambivalent is only half committed to their recovery, and this means that they are unlikely to remain sober for long. Even if they manage to remain sober it will not be a fulfilling life because they will be treating recovery like a prison sentence – this type of attitude is known as white knuckle sobriety.
There are things that the individual can do to make their life easier in recovery including:
* The person needs to develop a positive attitude towards change and never resist making alterations to their life when it is required. When the individual is experiencing a great deal of discomfort in their life it is usually a sign that change is needed.
* Those who are dealing with withdrawal symptoms should try to keep themselves distracted. This is because by focusing too much on their symptoms they will be exacerbating these symptoms.
* An optimistic attitude in recovery does make a difference. The individual may not be able to wish a Ferrari into existence but a positive attitude means that the individual will not fall into the trap of negative self fulfilling prophecies.
* It is possible to turn off the internal critic and replace this with a more encouraging inner voice. The individual can begin this process by challenging any negative self talk as it arises and deliberately thinking positively.
* When people give up alcohol and drugs their life is going to improve significantly, but they need to have realistic expectations of what is possible. Getting sober is only the first step and it is going to take time and effort to build a good life in sobriety.
* Those individuals who are naturally demand resistant will need to fight against this tendency. They can do this by developing the habit of saying yes to things unless there is a good reason to say no.
* It is vital that the person gives up any idea that they will ever be able to drink alcohol or use drugs again. The individual will not be able to get comfortable in sobriety while this ambivalence persists.
* Spending time with positive and inspirational people can make a difference to how people experience life in recovery. The optimism of these individuals can be contagious.