The two greatest concerns that I have for folks in early recovery are the tendency to struggle alone (reinventing the wheel while scared shitless) and self sabotage (shooting ourselves in the foot is the quickest and easiest way to regain a sense of control). If we are willing to be supported and advised, we are far better equipped to find our own truth and ultimately, a better, healthier, and more manageable life.
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” – Douglas Adams
People in recovery tend to have huge chips on our shoulders against authority figures. We are typically immature and resistant to being led. We have invisible auditory filters that take in helpful suggestions and convert them to unpleasant demands.
If we become willing to simply listen and consider the experience, strength, and hope of those who went before us, we can have greater clarity on our journeys, travel lighter, and avoid making at least some of the mistakes that others have learned from.
In that spirit, here are the five biggest pitfalls that I and many I love have managed to fall into:
1. Relapse: Not to overstate the obvious, but picking back up is the worst thing we can possibly do. Abstaining (whether from substances or other forms of self destruction) doesn’t guarantee that things are going to get remarkably better. It is, however, a huge safeguard against them getting worse. What we put between ourselves and our disease(s) ensures that we can continue to learn, heal, and grow. Choose these things in the full light of day and practice them with great integrity.
2. Isolating: You deny us the pleasure of knowing you and the benefits we experience from being of service to you. You and you are not yet good company. Enjoy brief periods of solitude (no more than a few hours in early recovery) if you are able, otherwise stay in the company of people who seek a better life. We need each other. The belief that you might be a burden or imposition to us is simply an excuse that your fear generates to not reach out.
3. Self Pity: Wallowing or getting stuck in the “Why?” of things. I was told a great story from an lady in recovery in which her sponsor directed her to write down the word “Why?” and to bury it in her backyard. There are questions to which there are no good answers. Asking why people hurt us, abused us, or otherwise mistreated us is not nearly as helpful as considering How we will overcome those experiences. We come to accept the injustices and in so doing take responsibility for our own healing.
4. Staying Terminally Unique: This is most often shame based. Somehow, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we manage to see ourselves as a little worse than everyone else. A gentleman in recovery who is near and dear to my heart has been known to gently remind folks, “You’re not sitting in a room full of saints.”
5. Making Up for Lost Time: Too many of us are in a hurry to reach a finish line that doesn’t even exist. Careers, managing daily life responsibilities, building/rebuilding relationships, and balancing all of this with meetings, step work and a good program does not a manageable life make. Developing healthy goals and expectations with the support of healthy people ensures that we can approximate balance and not keep running into walls.