Alcohol and drug addition treatment experts recommend that people in recovery keep their expectations well grounded to avoid frustration and disappointment.
One of the things that you learn in recovery is that it’s not a good idea to have expectations about the outcomes of things. It tends to set you up for disappointment or resentment. However, letting go of expectations is much easier said than done – especially when it comes to your own recovery. People in recovery often have expectations about how their recovery will progress, how they think they should be doing, how happy they are, or how easy or hard it will be. When you can be realistic about your recovery expectations, it makes things easier and you don’t run the risk of disappointment and anger, according to alcohol and drug addiction treatment experts.
Unrealistic Expectations Bring Disappointment and Resentment
There is no doubt that getting sober results in some wonderful things happening. But, it doesn’t mean that life becomes perfect once you stop using drugs or drinking alcohol. Recovery is not an event, it’s a process. And like any other process, it takes time, patience, and effort, and things are subject to change at any time. Getting clean and sober is a great start to giving a person the chance to have the best life that they can have, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. Those who are beginning recovery that have unrealistic expectations about what the process of recovery is going to take will become disappointed, and perhaps even angry when things don’t go as they thought they would. The risk then becomes that the disillusionment might lead to relapse.
Why Recovery Expectations Need to be Realistic
Having realistic expectations in recovery is crucial because:
- It better prepares the person for what they are going to go through.
- When expectations for recovery are too high, people may judge themselves and their progress too harshly. This can cause anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, and of course, relapse.
- When expectations for recovery are too low, people may not do the things that they need to in order to maintain sobriety.
- When someone’s expectation is that recovery will be easy, they may become complacent and not feel accountable for working on their recovery. This can be a disaster in the making.
- When things are not going well, or are just not as wonderful as expected, a person can become disappointed and unmotivated – another risk for relapse.
- Realistic expectations about recovery will help people to know if they have gotten off track somewhere and when to ask for help.
Understanding the Phases of Recovery
It may be helpful to understand the phases of recovery in order to have more realistic expectations about your recovery. Each person progresses through recovery in their own way, at their own pace, but the following gives a description of the process in general.
The primary phases of recovery are:
- The first phase is willingness. This happens when the person reaches a point in their addiction where they become willing to make a change. Some people call it hitting rock bottom. Where exactly that rock bottom is, depends on the individual. Some people end up losing everything before they become willing to change, some become willing much sooner, before negative consequences get too bad.
- Next the addicted person begins to investigate options for getting help. There is usually only a small period of time when this happens because it’s so easy for someone with an addiction problem to slip back into denial.
- The next phase is when the individual actually takes action to battle their addiction. Maybe they enter rehab, start therapy, or begin going to 12-step meetings. Whatever it is, they are actually doing something and accepting help.
- Next is detox from the drug or alcohol. Withdrawal from substances, like alcohol opiates and benzodiazepines, can be very dangerous when done alone. The chemically dependent person should undergo a medically supervised detox for their safety.
- Early abstinence is the first months of sobriety. It’s during this phase that the person may feel like they are on a roller coaster of emotions. It’s a difficult time because they can no longer use drugs or alcohol as a coping tool, so they have to actually feel their emotions when they probably haven’t had to for a long time. People in this phase need a lot of support.
- The next phase is maintaining abstinence. This phase is where real life happens; there will be ups and downs. These are the years when the person in recovery is putting their life back together, restoring relationships, starting new ones, and learning to live life without drugs or alcohol. There will be challenging times, but also good ones.
- After five years or so of sobriety, a person reaches advanced recovery. They will have learned new coping skills and have a firm foundation in recovery, but there is still work to be done.
- Some people in recovery get to a phase of serenity. They have put in the work that recovery takes and they are mostly at peace with their life and their recovery. They are able to deal with difficult situations without having thoughts of drinking or using, and they are able to live a fulfilled and happy life.
Tips for Maintaining Realistic Expectations in Recovery
There are numerous things that people in recovery can do to maintain realistic expectations. Some of these include:
- Reading recovery material that provides insight on what to expect in recovery. There are many good sources of information out there including recovery blogs online, memoirs and other recovery books, and Alcoholics Anonymous literature and other 12 step program literature, for example, Narcotics Anonymous
- Talking with other sober people. Hearing other people in recovery share their stories is a great way to understand what ongoing recovery is like.
- Joining a 12-step group is also helpful. It will provide individuals with the opportunity to meet and spend time with people in all different phases of recovery.
- Writing in a journal can provide people in recovery with a record that documents their progress in recovery. It will allow them to see how far they have come and to set realistic goals moving forward. It is highly recommended to write a gratitude list as well.
If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, now is the time to seek help from the addiction treatment experts at Summit Behavioral Health. They provide a continuum of care. You will be grateful you did.