The Fear of Getting Better: When Life Gets too Good

I put the same curse on every survivor and recovering addict/alcoholic I serve: “I hope it gets so good you can’t stand it.” With enough work, support, and sober time, it does. Like most aspects of recovery, getting better is counterintuitive in that it’s generally terrifying. When we’re not sure how to be, we subconsciously entertain the option of shooting ourselves in the foot, just to get back to the familiar.

“Stop! Hold on. Stay in control…
…She said man, there’s really something wrong with you.
One day you’re gonna self-destruct.
You’re up, you’re down, I can’t work you out
You get a good thing goin’ then you blow yourself out.” – The Kinks “Destroyer”

We’re control freaks with a passion for distractions. With no conscious effort at all we find new and exciting ways to screw up our lives. This provides us new problems to focus on and frees us from the discomfort of moving further into the solutions of our old ones.

We resist learning how to relax and embracing moments of peace because we’re accustomed to the hamster wheel operating at 100 mph. Hyper-focusing on everything that’s wrong restores the familiarity of “Things will be better when…”

Self destruction (especially relapse) is too often what we do when we don’t know what to do. It’s the fear of asking for directions coupled with the sense that we’re supposed to know what we’re doing. This is especially common at the six month point of sobriety. It’s about as far as anyone can go alone and then it’s make or break time. Reaching out or regressing are our only options.

Complacency is a death sentence and trying to maintain status quo just never works.

One of the writers for the cable series Suits showed great insight into addiction last season when s/he had the protagonist say, “An addict will jump out of a third story window because they’re afraid of falling out of the penthouse.” We fear success more than failure because we worry that achievement will result in higher expectations. We become obsessed with the fear of letting everyone down and so we protect them from disappointment by ensuring their hopes don’t get too high.

*That’s how good we are at mind fucking ourselves.

Our greatest downfall is that we hide our fears. This most often leads to withdrawal/isolating and a lot of thinking (“figuring it out” = trying to think our way out of what we feel). We want to believe that we’re fighting a great battle when all we’re really doing is beating the hell out of ourselves.

We fear the carrot more than the stick.

Spending too much time in our heads ensures that sooner or later our fears will run and ruin us. Without any intention of doing so, we’ve lost any sense of humility because:

It’s always okay to admit that we have no idea what we’re doing and one of the healthiest things we can do it to admit when we’re scared shitless, hurt like hell, and need help getting out of our own way. It’s still all about acceptance, so here it is: Recovery requires tons of love and support on our GOOD days.

Nobody ever gets out of hell alone. Stop struggling and start sharing more of you.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.