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How To Cope With Fear in Early Recovery

by GIA Miami

August 18, 2021

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It may be difficult to imagine, but a person who is successful and mindful in their long-term sobriety probably felt fear when starting down the road to recovery. The moments of acceptance that happen towards the beginning of a recovery journey – periods of clarity about the scope that the problem has reached – are scary ones.

We can see that the road to sobriety is long, and in many cases, the damage has already piled up. Although fear can be triggering and seem like a potential barrier to maintaining abstinence, conquering it is critical in building a robust recovery – we explain how in this blog.

Fears in Recovery (And How To Approach Them)

Fear of Withdrawal

This primal fear can paralyze many people suffering from addiction. If you’re physically dependent, you’ve likely experienced your fair share of withdrawal symptoms. You know that the physical and emotional repercussions of quitting cold turkey are severe – and you may have even continued using to avoid these.

The good news is that when you go through the withdrawal phase of recovery with the help of addiction professionals, it does not have to be like this. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) dampens the symptoms you experience, lowering the intensity of withdrawal over a lengthened but finite period. In most cases, we can not avoid symptoms completely, but treatment can be adjusted to make it more manageable for you.

Fear of Recovery

When you have been trapped in a SUD long-term, the substances you use are often dependable standbys that work well to solve the problems you’re facing. Of course, over time, these problems inevitably seem to get worse, and one day the lie your addiction keeps repeating to you gets too big to cover up.

Somewhere along the road of habitual use, substance use shifts from being a fun activity or self-medication to become more like a part of your identity. You may feel uncertain about who you’ll be in recovery – and if you will even know that person.

You are not alone in this feeling. On the one hand, when you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine what recovery will feel like or whether it’s not just safer to stay the same. However, on the other hand, you’re right – you will have evolved into someone new, someone better. You’ll be more resilient and in control. Take pride in this.

Fear of Past Mistakes

Facing the family, your financial situation and the mistakes you’ve made on the way to this point might be something that frightens you. Early in recovery, you are already able to see your past actions with more sharpness. It’s easy to get caught in obsessive thinking about the mistakes of the past and their imagined repercussions.

These past mistakes might leave you fearful of returning home to emotional ruin. You could be queasy at the thought of running into all the people who have seen you intoxicated over the years. Either way, it’s not comfortable thinking about all the interactions that wait for us back home after such a prolonged crisis as substance abuse.

Even when you’re still in early recovery, counseling can help you make sense of these feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Remember that you can’t control your past actions and how others feel, but you can choose your path in how you deal with it now. There are ways to own up and make amends to the people you may have hurt when the time comes.

A New Skillset for Fear

There is nothing wrong with feeling frightened; we recognize people as brave when they act despite fear. That said, when our nerves are piloting the ship, we generally respond with our most accessible coping mechanisms, and it’s quite plausible that stress brought many of your lows.

A huge part of recovery will involve teaching you the skills you need to identify, recognize, and weather negative emotions like fear by internalizing a new set of coping mechanisms, the art of reflection, and staying in the actionable present.

That said, if you’re in early recovery and you keep catching yourself anxiously obsessing over an aspect of the past or future, whether it’s listed here or not, take it to someone you trust! They’ll be able to help, even if it’s just by providing an ear to listen to you. In recovery, you don’t need to be perfect at coping on your own. As with everything, give it time and take it day by day.