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Fear can capsize just about anyone’s recovery. In this sense, what Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said about fear also holds true for anyone in the grip of addiction: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” How FDR less famously went on to describe fear—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”—may also resonate for many people in recovery.
Fear can keep you from getting help for an addiction or taking that next important step forward in the healing process. Fear, whether fear of failure or fear of success, can drive you back to drugs or alcohol. Fear of change can keep you trapped in the same addictive patterns of behavior.
How, then, can you break free from fear? Below are some pointers, and feel free to share what has helped you overcome fears in your recovery journey:
- Join a 12-step community. Peer recovery groups like AA and NA are safe, supportive petri dishes for sharing your fears with others on the same road. Listening to how others have overcome similar fears is, in some ways, a mild form of exposure therapy. During these intimate, personal and firsthand exchanges, you can experience vicariously what’s hard or scary about recovery, ask questions of those who have been through it, and share your feelings of fear and anxiety with those who can empathize and offer feedback.
- Be honest and vulnerable about what scares you. Finding the reassurance and community you need to face your fears involves having the courage to be honest and vulnerable about the things that scare you. (Sometimes, too, a prior step is learning to recognize that what you’re feeling is in fact fear, as opposed to another emotion.)
Brené Brown, who has written extensively about courage and vulnerability, put it another way: “Choosing courage does not mean that we are unafraid, it means we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty.” In other words, fear is an inevitable part of being human, but choosing to love and be loved through our fears (and in spite of them) is the key to loosening fear’s grip on our life.
- Realize that your fear is often larger and scarier than whatever it is that is making you afraid. The job of fear is to take what could go wrong and magnify it 10,000 times—but often what we discover when we do the very thing that has scared us is that it wasn’t at all as bad/scary/earth-shattering/horrible as we thought it would be.
- Admit you need help. There is never any shame in asking for help with your fear(s). In some cases, these can be so debilitating that they really are keeping you from your best life now. Talk therapy and other forms of individual therapy can often be useful in helping clients face their fears with healthy coping strategies.
- Put on your “courage glasses.” The expression is mine, but it was inspired by the insights that someone in recovery recently shared with me. They were talking about how being courageous involves actively looking for courage in others and in oneself. It’s often easy to overlook these acts of courage, whether big or small, which have made you the person you are today. Staying sober for just one day is an act of courage, for example. Instead of focusing on your fears, then, try instead to focus on your courage. Actively look for courage in others and yourself. You’ll be wonderfully surprised at what turns up.