7 Challenges in Recovery & What We Can Do.

Self-Pity, Self Avoidance and Passivity.

"Why me?  Cure me! Fix me; don't change me!" 

Self-pity and passivity are no way to recover.  In fact, self-pity, self-avoidance, and passivity are probably the driving forces behind the progression of the disease to begin with.  There is no substitute for taking personal responsibility for our recovery.  We choose to learn by leaning into the discomfort of early recovery and increasing awareness of ourselves in such a way that we can embrace the “assignment.”

Resisting Total Abstinence.

Many people in early recovery have a difficult time with the recommendation of total abstinence.  If, for instance, they have gotten into trouble with alcohol, but not with pot, they conclude that they should only abstain from alcohol.  This is not a sound conclusion for a number of reasons.  If we want to recovery fully and become enlightened, the best decision is to abstain from all other drugs (and alcohol).

Here’s why.

 i.     Using anything else (that is not part of a prescribed addiction recovery program i.g. anti-depressant or other psychopharmacology) will set off urges to use the drug of choice.

ii.     Using other drugs to cope with life got us addicted in the first place.

iii.     Using other drugs (or consuming alcohol) will prolong cravings.

iv.     Relapse does not start when we pick up our drug of choice.  It actually starts with our thinking.


Cravings are a physical manifestation of the disease leaving the body.  It is a mistake to think cravings are an indication that treatment is not working OR that you have to use in order to alleviate a craving. Instead: Short-circuit the urge. 

Get out of the moment by canceling the thought instead of feeding it. Turn towards something nurturing.  Turn towards love rather than fear.  Call someone who support,s loves you and understands the disease. Get to a meeting. Get to yoga. Go to the gym. Change the thought; change the behavior; extinguish the craving.

 High Risk Set Ups.

 High Risk Set Ups are people, places, or things that are associated with alcohol or drug use.  Some examples might be:  unhealthy relationships, old hang outs, having using paraphernalia around, including favorite beer t-shirts, or steins, wine glasses—anything one associates with using.  Many people believe that they can beat this disease by themselves, by just making a simple decision not to use.  What we often forget is the power of rituals, behaviors, and feelings that were driving the use.  We need to bring these out into the open in order to identify high-risk set ups and stay away from them.  Exercise:  Construct a relapse scenario.  What could arise in your life that has the potential to set you up?

 The Idealized High.

If you find yourself idealizing or romancing a high; cut this thought off and go to the worst possible moment you can remember while using-- times when you were physically ill or in danger of hurting yourself of someone else, or times perhaps, where you actually did did cause yourself or another harm. 

Overconfidence and Testing Control.

The old thinking pattern of “I think I’ll go to the bar and play pool and see my friends—I can handle it, besides, I’ve decided not to drink and/or use anymore and I’m starting to feel really good.” is a high risk set up we need to move away from completely.  Choosing to think it is possible to be cured of this disease has led many to relapse.  Recovery requires a healthy respect for the damage this disease can do, even after one has been clean a while.  A decision not to use is a good first step, and remember, if a decision were all that was necessary to stop using nobody would need to read this.  Protect your sobriety by not sabotaging yourself in this way.

Overreacting to Slips.

If you have a slip or relapse, it is important to put on the breaks as quickly as possible.  Don’t wallow in despair, guilt and misery.  Turn towards your recovery.  Turn towards what is nurturing.  Turn towards self-compassion. Connect to goodness and don't be afraid to call on love.  Call someone who understands the disease of addiction and can help you turn yourself around.

Exercise:  If you slipped; what would you do?  Who would you call?

Adapted from Dr. Arnold Washton.  Dr Washton can be found at www.recoveryoptions.us


Isolation vs. Solitude.

Isolation vs Solitude.

Thoughts from 1st Year Recovery

"If you are alone everything that happens to you is more intense and you remember the details more. If you are plastered you are dead and you don't notice as much-- and you don't have the full experience."

"In solitude you are redefining yourself, re-learning yourself in a new state."

"I'm going to Bar Harbor by myself in a hotel and getting a Thai Massage. It goes along with the work we've been doing. New Year's is symbolic for me."

"A lot of people in recovery are introverts, so we need alone time."

During the 1930's the founders of AA discovered that they could not get sober in isolation, and that they needed each other to recover.  So Bill W and Dr. Bob started an anonymous movement --  in people's living rooms. This humble beginning eventually grew into what has been coined "the greatest spiritual movement of the 20th century."  Whether one is attracted to AA or not, it is absolutely true that addiction is, in large part, a disease of isolation, and that people who develop a broad base of sober social support thrive in recovery. 

Many of us are introverted individuals living in an extroverted culture.  Introversion and its corresponding social anxiety (and a tendency towards isolation and avoidance) are challenges, especially in early recovery, as we learn to navigate our social and personal lives without psychoactive substances.  Introverts need solitude to recharge, but where the need for solitude crosses the line into unhealthy isolation is an important distinction. 

Here are some links to articles that further address this concept. 

What is Solitude?


When Solitude Becomes Isolation


Solitude vs. Isolation (From The Introvert's Corner)


Johann Hari: It's all about Isolation.