As Franklin D. Roosevelt stated at his 1933 Presidential inauguration, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That is as true and relative a statement today as it was back then. While the sentiment undoubtedly applies to our world today in general, Roosevelt’s powerful words apply to active addicts and those in recovery in a very specific way.
Fear has a perpetuating effect on an active addict. In fact, it is typically the core reason substance use and abuse begins in the first place. Fear of facing oneself, feelings, past traumas and experiences, responsibilities, choices, etc., all seemingly play a starring role in the sudden need for escape.
The fight-or-flight mode which results from fear forces individuals who have not yet learned to employ personal empowerment and self-control—sometimes referred to as mindfulness—to either act out aggressively toward the situation or flee from it. As such, when an emotion or past experience is the Boogie Man, there is no tangible element to run from. In those moments, we turn to substances to escape the pain or fight back the memories.
Circle the Drain
As anyone who has crossed the threshold from substance abuse into active addiction knows, this becomes a vicious cycle. The fear of facing the initial emotions, thoughts, or experiences only multiplies and becomes amplified with new painful or negative emotions, thoughts, and experiences resulting from substance abuse. The increased fear and need to suppress—“fight or flight” again—becomes the catalyst for active addiction.
The latter is relevant to those in recovery because of its implications for relapse if that fear is not reigned in. Many in recovery still struggle with a great deal of fear. In fact, the fear of entering treatment and the recovery process itself is a very real and significant one. And, in truth, there are typically many fears involved in that process. Additionally, the fear of relapse is one that often ironically poses the biggest threat to recovery.
For the general population, that specific fear would be known as a fear of failure. However, for addicted individuals entering treatment or in recovery, the potential to fail is marked as a statistic. And, for the record, it is a high one. In other words, they are quite aware the odds are against them. That is not always the best motivator or instiller of hope for recovery.
In fact, that particular reality often gives active addicts a convenient excuse to refuse help and provides recovering individuals detrimental levels of anxiety. Yet, another great irony is the potential for relapse greatly decreases when those in recovery learn how to cope with everyday life, face their so-called demons, confront their past and sit comfortably with themselves and their pain.
As such, the truth remains with the quote from President Roosevelt. Fear truly is the only thing we have to fear in recovery. If we learn to face all we are afraid of, including but not limited to the potential for relapse, we can realize the monsters we’ve made of our own shadow, cut ourselves some slack for being human, and formulate a contingency plan just in case.