Recovery from addiction or substance abuse is not an easy journey to embark on. For many people, some type of fear often keeps them from even starting the process. For others, different fears may arise during recovery that make you want to quit your treatment program and just give up.

If either of these sound like you, you might be afraid of more than one thing that’s blocking your path. If you’ve never been to recovery before, you might be afraid of having a new experience and what it might hold for you. And if you’ve already been through a recovery program, you might be afraid of being judged for relapsing.

In any case, the key is that you’re not alone in having these feelings. Fear is a normal—and sometimes even healthy—response when it comes time to make a big decision. But it should only be a part of the decision-making process, not the determining factor.

Common Fears With Addiction Recovery

In addition to the fears mentioned above—fear of the unknown and fear of judgment—there are many more fears and questions you may be feeling and asking that are more common than you think. Sometimes it’s helpful to frame these fears as open-ended questions, for example:

  • What will my new life look like?
  • Will I still be able to have fun like I used to?
  • Will I hate who I will become?
  • How can I handle facing my past?
  • What if others hate me after they see how messed up I am?
  • Am I beyond the point of “no return?”
  • What if the people I’ve hurt don’t want to or can’t forgive me?
  • What if I do all this work and I still lose everything?

By asking questions in this way, you provide yourself an opportunity to respond instead of making definitive statements such as:

  • No one will ever forgive me for what I’ve done.
  • I’ll never be able to have fun like I did before.
  • I know I will hate myself by the end of this.
  • This is pointless; I’m going to lose everything.

Do you see the difference? Questions offer the option for a balanced and rational response, whereas definitive statements based on fear are dead-ends of hopelessness.

What Is the Purpose of Fear?

According to a recent article in the journal of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, “fear memory and drug reward memory” are two of the most well-studied types of memories that have an effect on how we make decisions.

These memories can serve as “cues,” or markers that help us as humans to survive in complex environments and situations. Fear memory, for example, may be associated with past experiences that have taught us to be careful or wary of dangerous circumstances. Something as basic as, “I remember that it hurt my finger last time I touched the stove top,” can be a tool our brain uses to avoid a future harmful situation and make a good decision in the moment.

But, as the article explains, “when these emotional memories become aberrant and maladaptive, they lead to mental disorders such as drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorders.” The key to acknowledge fear as a tool in the toolbox instead of the only thing informing our decision process.

Replacing Fears With Truth and Rationale

Instead of letting fear dominate your decision-making process, especially when it comes to addiction treatment, consider how to answer your fear-questions with rational truth based on your goals and future healing. Some examples may include:

  • I create and shape my life any way I want. My ideas about who I want to be may shift and grow as I do.
  • When I think about the life I want for myself, I will find the motivation to stop hiding from feelings and face them head-on.
  • Although building new friendships feels difficult, I believe that my new friends won’t judge me. And if they do, I can continue searching for a supportive network.
  • Relapse may be a part of the process and can be a powerful teacher. What’s most important is that I haven’t given up.
  • Other people are great motivators, but the primary person I are doing this for is myself. Those I’ve hurt will need to go through their own process with the pain, but reconciliation won’t be possible if I’m not ready for it.

Beyond the truth statements listed above, feel free to create your own list of truths. You can recite them like a mantra or write them down on sticky notes for your mirror.

Additional Ways to Overcome Fear In Addiction Recovery

There are plenty of other ways to overcome the fears you may experience before or during addiction recovery. Here are a few examples:

  • Basic Mindfulness: Practicing mindful presence for a few minutes each day to calm your fears helps train yourself over time to respond calmly and help yourself stay in the present moment.
  • Focus on Positive Emotion: Fear can narrow your perspective and activates the fight-flight response, which can result in tunnel vision and sometimes irrational decision-making. In contrast, positive emotions open you up and help you see the big picture, as well as find a more realistic middle ground.
  • Reach Out for Help: Ask your support network for help if you need it, and be okay with being honest with your struggle. “I am not used to dealing with things so quickly or so directly,” or, “I have never done this before,” are statements that will help you start fresh, stay humble, and keep a balanced perspective.

If you are in the middle of the recovery process or are considering starting a treatment program, it is more than likely that different types of fears will arise. And although you’ve heard it before, remember that these fears are normal—and can sometimes be helpful ways to frame our uncertainties.

The key is to remain truthful about your process and to not spiral down the pathway of negative emotions. Fear is a normal part of the healing and growth process, but it doesn’t get to make your decisions for you.

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