Fear is a powerful four-letter word that controls behaviors – more than one wants to admit. Fear is a visceral reaction that takes hold, hijacking the conscious mind. When operating under the control of fear, the mind and body are making unconscious, automatic decisions to get out as safely as possible.
Addiction has a similar hold, except the unconscious mind is doing everything it can to get closer to the substance of choice. The brain is rewired by addiction to search for ways to avoid fear and satisfy the craving. Hence, fear fuels the addiction.
So, how do you overcome fear in addiction recovery?
The Power of Fear
Fear is a powerful motivator that either provokes you to get out or keeps you confined in your current situation. Fear in human beings may occur in response to a certain stimulus occurring in the present, or in anticipation or expectation of a future threat perceived as a risk to body or life.
The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape/avoiding the threat. A physical and emotional response creates this fear experience.
Physical Fear Response
The physical reaction is commonly known as “fight or flight.” In the presence of perceived danger, your body automatically changes to prepare itself to fight the threat or run from it. Some physical changes include sweating, increased heart rate, and increased alertness.
Emotional Fear Response
How this automatic response translates emotionally is individualized from person to person. Depending on the person and situation, fear can feel exciting, thrilling, or downright scary. Ultimately, depending on the cause of the fear, it can be a positive experience or a negative one. Those who have adverse reactions to fear tend to avoid fear-inducing situations at all costs.
Fear and Addiction
Fear is a strong emotion that makes one feel a lack of control – and all you want at that moment is release from it. Substances provide a way to opt-out of the feeling. To escape it without ever having to deal with the root, or reason for the fear. Because the emotion seemed too much to handle, the choice to numb it was made instead.
Additionally, fear may keep you trapped in your addiction, even when you realize how much damage it has caused in your life. There is comfort in the familiar, even if it is miserable. Willingly proceeding into the unknown can be a scary prospect for many, especially those who escape much of life through addiction.
When under the influence of any substance, you are skirting your obligations to yourself and others. You are unavailable and unable to grow as a person. However, when you are in recovery, you are learning to be free and operate from a place of knowledge and choice. Actively choosing what to do or not to do – not avoiding it.
To be confident in your ability to participate in your own life, you need to understand what fuels your emotions – to learn how to stop fear from overpowering you. Overcoming fear in addiction recovery requires self-reflection and a willingness to learn how to tackle life without addiction. It is learning how to handle your fears and operating in a world without drugs or alcohol.
Interested in inspirational battling addiction quotes? Check out these 25 Overcoming Addiction Quotes that Will Inspire You
Common Fears in Recovery
- Losing your identity
- Continuous misery
- That life will no longer be enjoyable
Many addicts have a lot of the same fears when overcoming addiction. Some of these may feel familiar to you. Or you may have your own. You may feel your fears are logical or recognize they are irrational. All of that does not matter if you cannot learn how to overcome them.
The first step is being willing to acknowledge your fears and work towards dealing with them. Because, as you may know, avoiding them only leads to them resurfacing stronger and more destructive – potentially pulling you back into your addiction.
How to Stop Fear from Controlling You
“[Fear is] an opportunity for self-discovery and self-growth; a well of untapped personal power and strength; the gateway from wishing and wanting to doing and being.”
1. Identify what you are afraid of.
You know when you are scared because anxiety is present. You notice a feeling of nausea, unease, and a need to escape. However, knowing when you are afraid and what you are afraid of are two different things.
Discovering what is truly at the root of your fears takes self-exploration. And often, fear is generated by what we want and don’t know how to get or what we don’t want to lose.
2. Recognize you can be fearful without surrendering to it.
Fear is natural and can be used to motivate you to succeed. It’s impossible to live a life without ever feeling nervous or anxious, but you can learn not to let fear overpower you. You do this by recognizing what fear is and coming up with constructive actions to move past it.
3. Understand you are responsible for your choices.
Just like it is impossible to avoid fear all your life, it is unrealistic not to experience triggers. You will run into moments where the desire and pull are intense, yet you are the one choosing what to do in response to that. As you know, your choices have power and consequences, so make the BEST choice. You and no one else is responsible for your decisions. At the end of the day, regardless of the outcome, the best choice made can be an opportunity to experience growth. And when you chose to move beyond addiction and fear, you are living a free life.
4. Work to control your “monkey mind”.
A monkey mind is an inability not to let your inner critic have control over you – your thoughts cause you to be unsettled, restless, or confused. Your monkey mind is the part that believes you can’t do anything right and prevents you from moving forward. Your monkey mind is excellent at limiting your potential by feeding you a never-ending list of false truths.
Over-coming these pervasive thoughts (or gremlins) can take a lot of self-control – but it is possible by working on calming your mind. Mind Freeness can happen through breathwork, present moment focus, and grounding exercises to help ease your mind, limit these thoughts, and keep you in touch with your current reality. Guided meditations to deepen the breath and generate a deeper sense of self-awareness are an excellent way to begin a practice of mindfulness. Simple Mantras such as “I am” or Sanskrit “So Hum,” can also help to keep you grounded and present mind focused.
Through meditation, you learn to let the thoughts come and go without engaging or focusing on any particular one. Your thoughts become clouds, where you non-judgmentally observe them as they float by.
5. Recognize you cannot control the future, only plan for it.
Fear is rooted in the future; you fear and worry about what is potentially coming. Developing a mindfulness practice is how you stay in the present, and not in fear of the future.
Mindfulness is a practice of choosing to experience life as an opportunity. Mindfulness practices allow one to feel, observe, and react to what is happening in the present moment. You intentionally do not engage with the headspace filled of self-talk about what could happen, what has happened, or what will happen.
Fear and worry are common symptoms associated with anxiety. Those struggling with addiction commonly struggle with anxiety. The symptoms of anxiety are often further intensified by the addictive process itself.
Becoming mindfully self-aware of triggers that lead to your fear and worry of the future helps ease these anxiety symptoms because fear is a temporary emotion fueled by continuous focus. Your ruminating thoughts engage your fear and continue the feeling. Take on a present mind focus to eliminate future fear.
However, change is contingent on your level of awareness. Without awareness, there cannot be change. By regularly staying present as opposed to regularly stressing out about the future, you will have optimal body, mind, spirit to tackle life’s opportunities.
6. Question your existing beliefs surrounding your fear.
Every time you have a fearful thought, ask what is true and what isn’t. When you question your beliefs, you create distance from that thought. This distance lets you take a step back and witness what is happening; almost becoming the third party to your own thoughts. Witnessing awareness of your thoughts loosens the hold fear has on you and allows you the ability to work past it.
7. When you expose yourself to fear, you become familiar with it.
Repeated exposures to similar situations that create fear allow it to become less intense over time. Remember to go gentle with exposure to fearful situations. It often helps to work with a therapist trained in exposure therapy. The first step out into the new world of recovery is scary. However, as you continue each day after the next, it will begin to feel familiar and natural.
8. You may need help when overcoming fear in addiction recovery.
A therapist can help you identify your concerns and work through them, especially if the fear is related to experiences such as trauma, work life balance, and existential issues. Also, group support programs, such as a 12-step and SMART recovery program, can help you find comradery amongst others in similar situations and learn from their experiences.
Recognizing that you are not alone and that others struggle with common issues helps one develop of sense of universality. Building cohesiveness by reaching out for support from those who have gone through a similar journey will inspire you, inspire others that are tapped, and help all continue the recovery journey even when the path gets rough.
9. Develop your spirituality to help overcome your fears.
Spirituality is not the same as organized religion. Spirituality is the sense of connection to something bigger than yourself. It’s recognizing there is a higher power or universal energy and placing trust in the process of life. Spiritual practices can literally be one breath away. Consider breath as “spiritus” and adopt a deeper, slower spirited breath of life. Another easy spirited practice is to take on an attitude of gratitude and find one thing that you are grateful for every day.
Put out what you want, this is the law of karma. If you perceive the world as hostile, you will likely be met with hostility. If you view the world as friendly, you will, in turn, recognize the love the world has to offer. When you place trust and faith in the universe, or a higher power, you can begin to let go of your fear and see the love and light in your life.
Curious why it’s so hard to stop self-destructive behaviors when battling addiction? Check out Why So Many People Struggle with Overcoming Addiction and Destructive Habits
As you choose recovery verses addiction, you realize you get to learn to manage the ups and downs of life without avoiding reality through substance or process use. Gain and maintain emotional sobriety by living fully in your moments, seeing your life journey as an opportunity to grow by experiencing situations and challenges as they come.
Key Take Away When Overcoming Fear in Addiction Recovery
When it comes to recovery, fear has no place. However, relapse and fear often go hand in hand. The antidote to fear is faith. Trust in the tools described above, and use them like a virtual tool belt. The following acronym for fear may help.
F: Face Fear with Faith (trust and use the tools)
E: Eliminate Escape (learn to live and choose to experience life on life’s terms)
A: Awareness (where thoughts are; adopt a present moment focus; develop your breath of life)
R: Recovery (Gain emotional sobriety; keep it simple; practice one day at a time)
If you need help overcoming fear in addiction recovery, consider reaching out to one of our qualified therapists. Life Care Wellness can help you through this journey with drug addiction counseling, supporting you when you need it most. Contact us (630) 423-5935 if you are in the Glen Ellyn or Jefferson Park area.