Are You Always an Addict? Perhaps the More Important Question is “How Do You Get Out of Fear?”

Forgive me for using the outdated “addict” to title this post but I mean to shock a little. Why? Because I know we all still suffer from the stigma that having Substance Use Disorder brings and that that word still sounds like an insult – but more importantly because many of us wonder when it is okay to stop insulting ourselves in this way. When is it okay to say that addiction is a thing of the past, and all the suffering that comes with it is too. The answer to that dilemma is complex and not straightforward.

First of all, overcoming the fear of relapse is an ongoing journey that requires dedication, self-awareness, and support. It’s crucial to acknowledge that you are more than your addiction and that life offers boundless opportunities for growth and fulfillment. Recovery from addiction is a profound and challenging journey. While clinical diagnoses might indicate that addiction is in long-term remission after a year, and statistics show that maintaining sobriety for five years significantly increases the chances of continued recovery, the fear of relapse can still linger. The 12-step fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous emphasize the importance of never becoming complacent, a sentiment echoed by many in the recovery community. Yet, for those of us who have struggled with substances, it is essential to recognize that we are more than our addiction, that we are more than “addicts.” I think with the right tools and mindset, many of us can overcome the fear of relapse and continue to thrive in a life of recovery. How do I know? I live it.

Perhaps the key element to living it is being able to understand and acknowledge your vulnerabilities. Self-awareness enables you to recognize the warning signs and triggers that might lead to unhealthy behaviors. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help you stay grounded and make conscious choices rather than falling into old patterns. I rave about Blue Mind because for me mindfulness happens on the water. It is not one-size-fits-all. But what I’m saying is this: find yours. Finding it is in many ways more important than worrying whether you will relapse. Worrying does nothing besides waste your energy.

Secondly, as you might by now know, recovery is not a solitary journey. Building and maintaining a strong support network is vital. Engage with friends, family, and fellow recovery community members who understand your struggle. Regular meetings, therapy, coaching, and open communication can provide the emotional support and encouragement needed to stay on track – especially in the first years. This is something that you have to stay diligent about but also discerning about – your support network has to actually serve you, not make you feel guilty or full of fear. One of the reasons I’m not so keen on 12 step rooms for myself these days is because they simply weren’t a place that nourished me. But I’m not saying it’s a bad place to rely on – I’m saying that our support networks can and will change as we change. This is perfectly normal. Your main task is to ensure that you always have support – in places that provide safety, validation, support, and accountability for you.

Another aspect of recovery is the ability to rediscover and pursue your passions. Engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment can help fill the void that addiction once occupied. By focusing on positive, purposeful endeavors, you can shift your attention away from the fear of relapse. In recovery, I had not only changed my job and my friendship circles, but also my hobbies and things that brought me pleasure. I became devoted to the water because I found so much joy in it and it was demanding enough of my attention that my sobriety was absolutely necessary. Find a passion that will be demanding and that will become so fulfilling you won’t have the time to be bored!

This, however, brings me to another, somewhat contradictory point which is setting achievable goals. If your passion is perhaps too demanding – or too expensive or just not possible due to time restraints – pick something that is close enough. Remember, the idea is not to create something that causes you more stress but something that will relieve the stress. And setting realistic goals can be applied to career, education, or personal growth. These goals will give you even more reasons to stay committed to your recovery journey.

While the 12-step fellowships emphasize never getting complacent, it’s equally important to remember that recovery is not about living in constant fear. Instead, it’s about maintaining awareness and resilience. There’s a difference between vigilance and hyper-vigilance.  By following your own program of joyful self-improvement, you can stay focused and committed without letting fear paralyze you.

Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash