First, let’s look at the addict who is in his or her active disease and in denial about his or her addictive thinking. At the heart of that thinking is the need for problems. As long as there is a problem, there is a reason or excuse to use. Also central to addictive thinking is the need to externalize problems, that is, to blame others for what is wrong in the addict’s life. With these two facts in mind, let’s see how unhealthy expectations fit into addictive thinking. First, when someone has unspoken expectations, others are always falling short of the mark, and this allows the addict a continuing, unlimited source of resentments, problems, and reasons to remain in conflict, blame others, and continue to use. Secondly, since another aspect of addictive thinking is a self-centered view of the world, much of the addict’s thinking, including his or her expectations, is unrealistic, and again provides fertile ground for conflict, resentments, hurt, and fear. Remember, in the midst of active addiction, the addict will cling to the role of victim or of being bitter about life with little insight. One of the more common examples of unrealistic expectations for an addict is when he (let’s call him Will) is in twelve-step inpatient drug rehab for ten days and, during that time, breaks through much of his denial and painfully surrenders to being powerless over alcohol and other drugs. He begins to work earnestly in a one-day-at-a-time program in treatment and is given positive feedback by the staff and his peers. He decides to call his wife Jenny and tell her about his progress. When Jenny answers the phone, Will says, “Hi, it’s me. I just wanted to call and tell you what’s happened. Since I’ve been here, I’ve cried more than I have in ten years. I’ve admitted I’m an addict, and I know now I have a disease and I’m powerless. I’m so sorry for all the things I’ve said and done to you and the kids. I would do anything to take it all back, but I promise things are going to be different.” There is a pause on the other end of the line. Then Jenny says, “I don’t trust you,” and hangs up. What is Will’s unrealistic expectation? It is that just because he knows he has experienced a profound breakthrough toward entering recovery, his wife will believe him and trust him. Obviously, Jenny has heard Will make promises in the past and then be unable to keep them. Trust isn’t lost in a day, and it certainly won’t be gained back in a day. This is difficult for the addict because impatience is a primary characteristic of his or her disease. The only thing that Jenny, like any other family member, will be able to trust is changed behavior over time. Unhealthy expectations also play a major role for the family members of the addict. Unrealistic expectations are so common because many family members, at least initially, see addiction as a moral weakness and not as an illness. Therefore, expectations such as “if you just love your wife and children enough you’ll quit” are only natural. The problem with this is that it implies that willpower is the solution. Addiction is a disease, and no disease can be managed successfully with willpower alone. Therefore, this is an unrealistic expectation. Another unrealistic expectation is that addicts can successfully control or cut back on their behavior so that it doesn’t cause problems. By definition, addiction means continued use despite negative consequences; therefore, this, too, is an unrealistic expectation. The addict will often relapse because of the unrealistic expectation that his or her family will understand that he or she has a disease. I remind patients that family members are surrounded by a society that generally sees addiction as a moral weakness, and that all it takes to quit is to try harder. Also, the family often has not had the benefit of the education and treatment that the addict has received. Addictive thinking may be the real underlying problem. It’s in these times of confusion, fear, denial, blame, and resentment that two things should be very clear: • To the addict, “No one person or one thing is so powerful that it can make you take a drink or use.” • To the family member, “You are not so powerful that any one thing you say or do will make the addict drink or use.” For all of us, and especially for the addict, a major tool of recovery is to try to have no expectations of others. Keep in mind that the goal of recovery from addiction is to have peace of mind or serenity. Common sense says that the fewer expectations we have of others or of situations today, the more likely we are to be at peace. Also, in terms of addiction, unhealthy expectations feed addictive thinking and behavior. Therefore, letting go of expectations reinforces recovery. This blog post is an excerpt from Finding a Purpose in the Pain – A Doctor’s Approach to Addiction Recovery and Healing – by James L. Fenley, Jr., MD; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).