by Glynis Sherwood – MEd
Addiction recovery is a challenging time, and no one is born with a road map or manual to illuminate the way. Recovery is as individual as a fingerprint, yet reliant on a few solid core principles that can make the difference between success or losing control. Read on to learn how to avoid four of the most common recovery mistakes, so you can achieve the solid recovery you are striving for.
1. Relying On Willpower aka ‘White Knuckling It’.
You convince yourself that you can will yourself into avoiding addictive behavior, as if sheer determination is the solution. The problem here is that the framework is inadequate. You must identify solid reasons – or benefits – for stopping addiction. For example, you decide to stop drinking so you can live more in alignment with your values, allowing you to become the kind of person you want to be. Without clarifying what you want to gain from recovery, addictive thinking can gain leverage and talk you into engaging in compulsive behavior all over again. Identifying the benefits of recovery is an excellent starting place that, along with other strategies such as healthy coping with triggers, cravings and addictive thinking, can provide the foundation for a solid long term sobriety.
2. Going It Alone.
You decide that you will find your way through recovery without the embarrassment (or companionship) of letting anyone in on this. You quietly opt to avoid counsellors or groups because you believe you are different, and have the strength to break free from addiction on your own. You may be successful, but the odds are against you recovering in isolation. And isolation may have contributed to addictive habits in the first place. Human beings are social animals. We have a biological as well as psychological need for bonding, support and mentorship, especially during challenging times. If you are not a group person, and are not attending counselling, then find someone you can trust who understands what you are going through. This will not only help you feel supported, but can help make you accountable as well.
3. Feeling Over-Confident.
You achieve a few days, weeks or months of sobriety and then ‘decide’ you will never relapse again. At this point you may choose to stop attending counselling or groups because you believe you have become invincible to relapse. This is where the optimism that you need to sustain recovery can turn into its misguided cousin – cockiness. Over-confidence is one of the major causes of relapse. Recovery is ongoing work. But remember that you will probably not always have to be as vigilant about your recovery as you need to be at the outset. We are all imperfect beings, addicted or not, and a humble and receptive attitude is a hallmark of psychological well being, as well as a sign of good recovery.
4. Avoiding Emotional Sobriety.
You over-focus on stopping addictive behavior and see abstinence as the end point. You may not realize that you still have work to do, or understand the big picture of recovery. But abstinence is the beginning, not the end, of recovery. You need to know that abstinence is merely the cessation of addictive behavior – and can last an hour, a day, a week or indefinitely. What gives abstinence staying power, and turns it into true recovery, is the development of good emotional self-management skills. Emotional ‘sobriety’ is about learning to experience, accept and be guided by your emotions, and to re-frame negative thinking without resorting to self-medicating emotional pain with substances or compulsive behaviors. Emotional self-management is both the long term task and foundation of recovery. Most people find they benefit from counselling or group support to help them successfully find their way through the challenges of emotional recovery.
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, CAC, CCC, RCC, is a Certified Addictions Counsellor working online and based in Halifax Canada