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Fear of Recovery – Part Two

By Pat Mandryk


Identity is a big fear for a lot of us that come into recovery. So big is the fear of loss of identity that so many of us bring our well-crafted addictive identity into the rooms with us. Many times I walk into what I think is an AA Meeting or NA meeting; but find Ego Anonymous, Drug-a-logue Anonymous, or War Stories Anonymous. (No thanks, I already know how to drink and use unsuccessfully! You aren’t teaching me anything I already know how to excel at!) We are so scared to be anything but the identity we have created in our addiction. Big tough biker, brawler, flirtatious to garner attraction, independent, well-to-do, important drug dealer, super smart, gang banger, helpless, slut, predator, messiah, victim, thrill seeker, rule breaker, princess, different, and so on. The problem with remaining in those identities is that recovery becomes so much harder, harder than it really needs to be. It’s difficult for us to accept being anything other than the cover we needed to hide our true selves, our fears, our vulnerabilities. And people die in recovery again and again because the identity was more important to them than the act of recovery was. In our addiction we were always apart from, in recovery we become a part of. That simple metamorphosis goes farther than most things in recovery towards being successful in recovery.

The identity fear also includes our social surroundings. We impressed and blended with our friends better. Now we may have to give up some of our friends. I would have to question the whole friends concept. The word friend is actually of German origin and loosely translated means someone who cares for you, loves you and respects you. There’s a saying in the rooms – “You want to find out who your friends really are, get clean or sober. You’ll find out very quickly who your friends really are.” It’s amazing how many people discover that once the drugs and alcohol are removed that they really did not have that much in common with their “friends”, except the drugs and alcohol.

In recovery, you get the opportunity to connect with others that have much more in common with you than you think. We are survivors in recovery, we all have the same growing desire for a full rich life. We’ve all suffered the same pain in addiction. The circumstances may differ but pain is pain. A wise man once told me that there hasn’t been a new emotion on this planet in over 5000 years. Rich, poor, black, white, red, yellow, old, young, male, female – it doesn’t matter. Pain is pain! And as we all grow in recovery, we connect more deeply, more meaningfully, and cultivate a sense of comradery that is unparalled. People truly have our backs when it matters the most.

When asked about their fears in recovery, so many stated that they have a fear of failing, of relapsing. I would argue that! I think the real fear is success. If clients are successful in recovery, that would mean responsibility, accountability, moving away from the aforementioned illusions of freedom and identity that their addiction gave them, dealing with the real world, caring about people and things other than just themselves. Failure has always been easy and the usual method of coping. It will always be there and it’s familiar, down right comfortable for the most part. Failing is the easiest part of leaving a treatment, especially if the individual doesn’t want to take responsibility and blames the treatment center for failing them. Recovery is hard, it means that the individual will have to take responsibility for themselves.

The reality of recovery is that people have to recover someone else’s way. That’s hard to admit to. Almost all failures in recovery are because individuals are attempting to recover on their own terms, their own way. “I’ll do this, but I won’t do that!” it doesn’t work like that. If I like a cake, ask for the recipe, and then try to make my own recipe instead of following the one given to me, the cake will not turn out the way it was when I tasted it. I need to follow the instructions precisely in order to create the cake I desired.

The final fear, for now, that people have when entering recovery is the whole God thing. They come up with a pre-conception that Spirituality in recovery means God. As my sponsor told me, religion and spirituality are in different places in the Dictionary for a reason. What I tell people is that if they want a religious program – Go To Church! Spirituality is very different than religion. Think of this, religion is based on the belief of something outside of you that enters you – spirituality is a belief in something in you that travels outward. I know lots of religious people who are most definitely not spiritual. I know lots of spiritual people who are not religious. And I know some that are both. Recovery is not religious! If you are like me, I simply refused the whole God concept when I came into recovery because I didn’t want to let him know where I was, I figured he would catch up with me on all the horrible things I did in my life. I was trying to be in witness protection from God. The ‘God’ people in the rooms scared me and made me very uncomfortable. Then they told me that I had turned my will and my life over to a Power Greater than myself long before I ever came to recovery. I turned my will and my life over to addiction with complete abandon and willingness on a daily basis. I was willing to turn all that over to something that was killing me without hesitation, yet when faced with the gift of life, I had to debate it!? God is just a word, that’s all. Yet we work so hard to make it something more than that, and better yet, an excuse as a reason why we don’t qualify for recovery. Its garbage and it just doesn’t wash. Alcohol used to be our God! Drugs used to be our God! Why can’t recovery, just simple recovery, be your God now?

There’s a Zen Quote I love around fear. “The more you run away from fear, the bigger it gets. When you turn and face the fear, the smaller it gets.” There also a simple limerick I like, “Fear came knocking at the door, courage answered, and there was nobody there.” Does your fear control you? Does it want to keep you on the precipice of death? Or are you willing to control your fear and live?

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