I felt sick. I pulled my head from the toilet and collapsed on the floor. I knew I needed to change. I didn’t want to admit it, but I had a problem with alcohol. I felt the cold panic of fear engulf me. I felt desperate. I knew, if I didn’t make a change right then, I would lose the people and things in my life that truly mattered to me. I reached a crossroads. I had to make a decision and I finally admitted defeat. I had tried over and over again to change and I had failed. I reached bottom. I accepted that I couldn’t do it alone.
Have you ever felt fear? I mean the kind of fear that overtakes you and makes you wish you could run away from life. Just disappear for good. I suspect you have, especially if you wrestle with addiction.
At that moment, with my head in the toilet, I don’t know which option I feared more. I was petrified that I would keep drinking and that my wife would leave me. If that happened, I would lose my children, and, if I kept going, I would eventually lose my business too. But, the fear of living life without alcohol was equally frightening. I couldn’t imagine life without booze. What would I do if I didn’t drink? How would I deal with my problems? Would my drinking buddies still hang out with me? How would I get through the shakes and withdrawal pains that always came when I tried to stop? How would I relax? How would I have any fun? I couldn’t imagine life would be better without alcohol; I thought I would only be harder.
Fear is a real challenge, especially for people with an addiction. Just like me, you may be afraid because you can’t imagine what life will be like without your drug of choice. The changes you are facing may seem too overwhelming, too frightening. You may be afraid that things will not turn out the way you hope.
I promise you that life without addiction is better, more fulfilling. However, it is a process and, although blessings are there, you may not see them right away.
So How Do You Get Rid of Fear?
Unfortunately, fear doesn’t just go away. When fear kicks in, you cannot blow it off. You have to face it. These four tips can help you make it through.
You are not alone. Every person in recovery has had to face fear. As you sit in meetings, you will hear countless stories where recovering addicts reached a crossroads before gaining sobriety. I often tell addicts when they are struggling in recovery, “When the pain of living becomes greater than the pain (fear) of change, change can happen.” As you work your recovery one day at a time, I encourage you to use the success you see in other people’s recovery as evidence that the process works. If it works for them, it will work for you.
Grieving is part of the recovery process. As odd as it sounds, you will need to grieve the loss of your addiction. You are changing your life and giving up something you believed you needed. It was your crutch, your friend. When feelings of loss, panic and fear surface, it is important to recognize what is happening and continue with your program. The feelings of panic and loss will subside over time. Don’t use them as a reason to pick up.
Anger is part of the grief process. You will experience anger during your recovery. I was angry with the world for the first four years of my recovery. Anger is a natural part of the grief process.
As you begin to recover, emotions will surface that will be overpowering at times. You may begin to have questions such as: “Why me? I did not deserve this.”; “Why can’t I control my addiction? I need it to survive.”; or, “Why don’t they understand?”. All of these questions can trigger anger. To recover, each of us much work through our anger and let it go.
Anger can also trigger fear. Fear arises when we don’t want to examine what angers us. This is dangerous because unresolved anger can lead to resentment. Resentment makes us dig in our heels and causes us to struggle against the recovery process. I know this too well. During my first four years, I had many feelings surface about my father. The anger, at times, was so strong that it overwhelmed me. I became stuck. I didn’t go back to the alcohol, but my life and my relationships didn’t improve at all. I had to face my feelings about my dad. Once I did, I felt an enormous weight lift from me and positive things began to happen in my life. When you feel anger, recognize it for what it is and do your best not to hold onto it. Talk about it with your sponsor. Write about it. Work through it and let it go.
Fear leaves as faith grows. In the beginning of recovery, it is hard to believe that you will succeed and that life will improve. The past tells a different story; it may scream, “You cannot change!” Life can be deflating and traumatic; it can take us to our knees and seem to hold us there. It takes faith to believe things can be different.
I just finished renovating a house. When it was done, the yard was dirt, no lawn was left. So, I threw down some grass seed. Then, I took care of it. I knew if I did nothing the seeds would not grow. The sunlight would help, but without water, the seeds wouldn’t take. Every day my family watered the seeds. At first, nothing happened, but as the days went by, we began to see a few shoots of grass. Then, there were more and more until most of the lawn was covered with delicate blades of green grass.
This is how faith works. When I threw seed on the ground, I didn’t know for certain that I would end up with a lawn, but I had hope that I would. Our neighbors had lawns and so I suspected the soil was fertile. Then, I followed instructions. I knew seeds need sun and water to grow. I planted the seeds in the sun and then I watered them. Again, I had faith in the process. When I began to see a few shoots, I was encouraged to continue watering the seeds. My faith grew and so did my excitement.
Eventually, the seeds finished growing and there were a few bare patches. I simply re-seeded those areas and continued the process.
The same happens in recovery. It is a process and faith is an essential component. It is a gift that comes as you take life one step at a time.
Sometimes, we will have a spiritual awakening, an epiphany of sorts that strengthens our belief in the process. I had that experience on the night I reached my crossroads. Defeated, I prayed, “God, you’ve got to help me. I can’t do this anymore.” My prayer came from the pit of my stomach and a feeling came over me that everything would be all right. You may experience a similar moment.
Most often, however, faith grows slowly over time as you see other people’s successes and experience recovery for yourself. Most people in recovery find that, as they change, fear of the unknown subsides and belief in the process grows.
Fear is normal. Do not let it control you. Remember, fear is in the mind. Let fear of the past be a motivator to help you face your sober future.
I have often said that the second step — “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” — is the hardest step to experience. Surrendering ourselves to a higher power can be daunting. At first, it seems impossible that an invisible force can change you. I promise you it can happen.
It begins by praying for acceptance of our addiction and by asking for help. Your prayer doesn’t have to be long or fancy. Even if you struggle with the concept of God, you can reach out and simply say, “God, I do not believe you are here with me. If you are, help me.”
I encourage you to face your fears and begin the journey of recovery. I cannot promise you it will be easy, but I know it will be worth it.
Come see what it is all about. Life is meant to be lived. We grow by learning from each other. I invite your comments and stories so we can help each other on our journey to discover life beyond addiction. I also invite those of you who live on the North Fork of Long Island to join me at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Greenport NY each Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM for an open discussion about God as our Higher Power. The purpose of these discussions are not to convert anyone to an organized religion rather it is meant as a vehicle to developing a personal relationship with God.
– Deacon Austin