Unrealistic Expectations Lead to Disappointment
Great things can and do happen when people become sober. This is not to say that life becomes perfect once people giving up drugs and alcohol. It is not as simple as that. To put it another way, recovery is a process and not an event. Escaping addiction provides the necessary environment for the individual to build a great life. But this takes time to implement. No one gets a free pass in life. Achieving success in anything requires patience and effort. Those who have unrealistic expectations will always end up being disappointed. The danger is that such disillusionment could lead to relapse.
The Importance of Realistic Expectations in Recovery
Realistic expectations in recovery are important because:
- It means that the individual will be better prepared for what lies ahead on the recovery path. As the old proverb points out, forewarned is forearmed.
- If people are expecting recovery to be too easy, they may become complacent. This means that they fail to do the things necessary to stay sober. Addiction recovery is a serious business and needs to be treated as such.
- If the individual does not know what to expect, they have no way of judging their progress. Those who have unrealistically high expectations may judge their progress negatively. They may worry unnecessarily that they are doing something wrong. Those who have expectations that are too low may fail to do enough to maintain sobriety.
- When things are not as fantastic as people imagined they become disappointed and lose motivation. This increases the chance of relapse.
- If the individual is not aware of the usual progression of recovery, they will fail to notice when they have gone off track.
The Stages of Recovery
In order for people to have more realistic views of recovery, it can be helpful to understand the phases of recovery. This description of how recovery progresses should not be taken as an exact explanation. Each person experiences recovery in their own unique way. This description does provide a general idea of what to expect. These are the primary stages of rehabilitation:
- The individual hits a point in their addiction where they become willing to change. This is often referred to as hitting rock bottom. Some individuals have a high rock bottom where their addiction has not yet managed to cause too much damage. Others have a low rock bottom where they lose almost everything.
- The addict begins investigating options for escaping their addiction. There is often only a small window of opportunity here for them to actually enter recovery. If they do not take action fast they can slip back into denial.
- At this next stage the addict actually takes action to end their addiction. This can involve entering rehab or just quitting the addiction cold turkey. Some people can enter this stage in response to coercion from other people. For example, they may feel cornered into agreeing to attend rehab.
- The next stage involves detoxification from the addictive substance. This usually involves dealing with withdrawal symptoms.
- Early abstinence can begin in rehab or at home. At this stage, the individual will just be adjusting to life away from alcohol and drugs. They often feel quite vulnerable. People tend to need plenty of support to make it through this early part of sobriety. Those who are in rehab will be particularly vulnerable when they are transitioning back home. These early months are often described as an emotional rollercoaster ride.
- During the first few years of recovery the focus will be on maintaining abstinence. There will be many problems to face along the way. The individual will be expected to develop effective coping skills for dealing with these challenges. This is also the time when the individual will begin rebuilding their life, repairing old relationships, starting new relationships, and finding new interests. It can be a very exciting time, but life is not always easy.
- After about five years, people reach a stage known as advanced recovery. They are not home and dry, but staying sober has become a habit. The individual will still need to put in significant effort to maintain their sobriety and build a successful sober life.
- Some individuals reach a stage of recovery known as serenity. They have worked hard over their years in sobriety to develop effective coping strategies. These individuals have now reached as stage where they handle most situations easily. They feel happy and at peace most of the time. The reason why most people fall into addiction in the first place is a yearning for this type of serenity. This type of peace is only to be found in recovery and not in addiction.
How to Maintain Realistic Expectations in Recovery
There is plenty that people can do to ensure that their expectations of recovery remain realistic including:
- Reading recovery literature provides clues about what to expect in recovery. These days, there are also some great resources available on the Internet.
- Talking to people who have been sober for a significant amount of time is beneficial.
- Joining an addiction fellowship such as AA makes it possible to spend time with people at different stages of recovery.
- Keeping a recovery journal allows the individual to chart their progress and set realistic goals.