Making the decision to stop drinking or using can be scary. So scary, in fact, that many report that getting clean and sober was the most frightening and challenging experience of their lives. With Halloween just around the corner, we’ve asked several people in long-term recovery to share the fears that nearly prevented them from getting help. I was afraid admitting I had a problem meant that something was wrong with me. “In the beginning of my addiction, my pride and denial stopped me from getting the help I needed. I wasn’t able to admit I had a problem because I believed admitting that meant there was something inherently wrong with me. Toward the end of my active addiction, I was scared to get help because I had forgotten how to function without the use of drugs and I believed I was beyond helping.” – Ari C. The Reality: Addiction is a disease. You wouldn’t say something is “wrong” with someone for developing cancer, depression or a nut allergy—a substance use disorder is no different. I was afraid I wouldn’t have fun anymore. “I was afraid of losing the culture—if you can call it ‘culture’ (people, places and things). But after I got sober, I realized the opposite was true. I had a lot more fun in recovery than before.” – John Seeland, CEO of Las Vegas Recovery Center The Reality: Being sober allows you to have more fun because you’re now clear-headed and no longer suffering through chronic hangovers. Plus, people in recovery are some of the most fun people on the planet. As sober blogger Allison Hudson explains on It’s a Lush Life: “We didn’t end up in recovery by sitting at home reading. We were “those people”…the life of the party. Taking away alcohol doesn’t change that.” I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to function without using. “What scared me most was not knowing how I was going to live my life clean. For years my using controlled all aspects of my life. I could not work without being high. I couldn’t be social without being high. I couldn’t hold a conversation without being high. It frightened me that I was going to have to be genuine and honest again. Initially this seemed like an unattainable goal. I had no idea how to get back to being the person I was before drugs took over. Those first few weeks and months being clean were truly terrifying. However, with time, I noticed the fear slowly started to drift away. And the more I was able to live my life clean made me realize that I actually had nothing to fear. Life can certainly be challenging and difficult. But, in reality, it’s never scary… especially when you’re clean.” – Anonymous Clinical Associate at Las Vegas Recovery Center The Reality: It’s true; the journey to long-term sobriety isn’t easy. Addiction recovery is about more than just stopping drinking or using. It’s about learning how to live a life that’s so healthy and balanced that you no longer feel the need to drink or use. Mastering the life skills necessary to make this happen takes time, however. Be patient with your situation and yourself. I was afraid about having to start over again. “What scared me the most was learning a new way of life without the use of substances. I grew up in an unhealthy environment with all forms of abuse.” – Tiffany, Clinical Associate at Las Vegas Recovery Center The Reality: You will have to start over again and the process won’t be without its challenges. But it can help to remember that many people have started over again from situations just like yours. They managed, and so can you! Reality is rarely as awful as we imagine it will be. I was afraid about what people at work would think. “What scared me the most was that I wouldn’t be able to stay clean. I also worried about what would happen if I tried. I was working in the addiction field at the time and I knew making that announcement in public would make feel vulnerable. I was afraid about what everyone would think.” – Mel Pohl, addiction specialist and Chief Medical Officer at Las Vegas Recovery Center The Reality: Everyone has the parts of them that they keep hidden away from their work colleagues and acquaintances; the parts they’re too ashamed to show the world out of fear they’ll appear “less than”. By being courageous and showing your “less-than-perfect” side, you’re showing others that they don’t need to feel ashamed. It can also be helpful to remember that your colleagues likely won’t care nearly as much about your substance use disorder as you think they will. They’re likely too wrapped up in their own inner trauma to be able to devote much time to thinking about yours. I was afraid of detox. “My biggest fear was knowing I was going to have to go to detox. Opiate withdrawal is awful and I knew it was going to take a long time to start feeling better, sleeping better. It takes months.” – Josh Koop, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Public Affairs at Central Recovery The Reality: As addiction specialist Dr. Mel Pohl has said, detox isn’t a “cake walk”. But by detoxing in rehabilitation facility, you’ll be surrounded by nurses, doctors and counselors 24 hours a day. They’ll keep you safe and see to it that you’re as comfortable as possible. I was afraid I’d become ‘boring’. “I was terrified that I would be really lame, too. I was always the girl at the bar buying shots. I was the one who plowed onto beaches tearing off my clothes getting my girlfriends to run naked with me. I was Beyonce on the dance floor (check, I thought I was). And I was Aretha on the mic at the Mint. (check check, I thought I was). I stayed out until 4am playing beer pong, I partook in something called whiskey slapping. I was terrifically awesome when I was drunk. Shenanigans. All the time. So there felt like there was a lot of personality to lose.” – Holly Glenn Whitaker, writer at Hip Sobriety The Reality: Removing addictive substances from your life will make you clean and sober, not boring. One has nothing to do with the other. Whether or not you live an interesting life is entirely up to you! Think about the sober people you read about who are scaling mountains, winning Oscars and launching businesses—their lives are from boring.
How to Overcome Your Fear of Quitting Drinking or Using
Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” What makes recovery so frightening is that in order to recover, we must take that first step into uncertainty without knowing where we’re going or if we’re making the right decision. This puts us in a place of vulnerability, which can feel excruciatingly uncomfortable. This is why trust and faith play such pivotal roles in recovery—we must trust in a force greater than ourselves and know that deep within ourselves exists the courage and ability to survive whatever lies ahead. Remember: life wasn’t meant to be easy; it was meant to provide us with the challenges necessary for us to grow and evolve into the best versions of ourselves. If you’re thinking about giving recovery a try, don’t worry about the whole staircase. Just focus on that first step: Ask for help.