Failure in addiction recovery is very common. People relapse all the time, and some don’t come back to see the lives they hoped to have when they started their journey to freedom from their addictions. In fact, many people believe that relapse is part of recovery. While I don’t think relapses have to be built into recovery, I do believe that when they do happen, they can be seen as gifts.
Failure in Addiction Recovery Has Stigmas
No One likes to fail. In fact, we learn from an early age that failure is bad. In school, to get an “F”, the first letter of the word failure meant that you would receive ridicule from teachers, parents, and friends. If you got an “F”, it implied you were stupid. It also only implied a lack of motivation, not a trait that builds esteem. Rarely do I remember hearing a teacher say, “she’s smart and has motivation. This just isn’t her passion.”
The list of stigmas regarding failure gets larger as we grow into adulthood. Divorce often feels like a failed marriage as opposed to two people growing apart. Fired from a job, another “F” word, feels like not good enough instead of not a good fit for your skills.
Failure in addiction recovery becomes “I have no willpower,” “I’m hopeless,” or “It’s useless.”
When the stigma of failure combines with the stigma of alcoholism, the fear of failure in addiction recovery can become overwhelming often leading people to not want to try. Furthermore, when someone belongs to a group dedicated to recovery from addiction and they relapse, they have a few choices. They can give up on the group leaving them to persevere alone, lie to the group about the relapse and continue to hold on to the shame, or face the group and feel the humiliation of defeat.
There’s Nothing Positive about Failure in Addiction Recovery
Or is there?
Many people avoid trying to recover from alcoholism and addiction because they fear failure. The first failure in addiction recovery can easily provide evidence of what may come from their attempts to get sober, proof that they can’t do this, but that simply isn’t the case. This leads me to the first thing you should know about failure.
1. Embracing Failure in Addiction Recovery Leads to Success
Think about one thing that you have learned to do really well, but it took you time and practice in order to learn it. For me, that thing was ice skating. Specifically, it wanted to learn how to land an axel. When I first started, I barely stand on wobbly feet. In fact, I spent much of my time getting up from a fall. I finally did land that axel along with countless bruises and disappointments along the way, but that wouldn’t have happened without my willingness to fall down.
When we first start thinking about getting sober, we feel skeptical about how it will turn out. Our dependence on substances to ease stress and enable joy fogs our ability to imagine life without alcohol. It’s easy to assume failure in addiction recovery. I know I certainly put it off for that reason.
It wasn’t until I faced my fear of failure and gave sobriety an honest try that I realized that I would never know without putting in the effort first. Many people never succeed because they aren’t willing to try.
2. You Can Learn from Failure in Addiction Recovery
I have said for years that a bad experience is a missed opportunity if you don’t use it to learn something new. The same can be said about failure in addiction recovery. I had the opportunity to see this logic in action recently. A young woman I know took a moment to analyze her multiple relapses to see what she could do differently in her new attempt at sobriety.
She looked back at all her previous attempts to see if she could identify a common action in all of them. She found that single connection when she realized that she had previously run from the pain of addiction. According to her, after a certain amount of time sober, she would forget about the pain and lose the motivation to stay sober. She had never tried to run towards the benefits of recovery before.
This great example of one thing you can learn from failure is only one of many. How have you managed your time? Who were you hanging around? What was your environment like? Do you have a support system? These are all questions you can ask yourself after a relapse to learn what went wrong.
Next time you fail, rather than beating yourself up for it, stop and reflect on what happened. Examine your attempts and failures in addiction recovery. Compare the failures and look for common threads. Identify your thought processes, moods, or anxiety levels. What were you trying to do or accomplish? What can you change?
That common thread that led to the previous relapses might be the one thing you need to modify to turn your next attempt at recovery into your final attempt at recovery.
3. Failure in Addiction Recovery Only Happens When You Give Up
I love the Kona Ironman. I admire the pain and struggle athletes go through to participate, and I usually break down in tears when I see people cross the finish line, especially those with physical impairments. In case you don’t know, the Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, often in choppy open water, a 112-mile bike ride, and is topped off with a full 26.22-mile marathon.
While many people who race the Ironman aspire to win, a lot of them never intend to win the race. Their only goal is to cross the finish line. And guess what, even if it takes them 20 hours, the fact that they eventually did cross means that they didn’t fail.
No matter how long it takes and no matter who wins or loses, the only person who fails is the one who quits the race.
Think of your recovery as an Ironman with no end time and a finish line that stretches through the length of your life. All you need to do to avoid failure is keep trying. It’s damn hard, much harder than an Ironman, and the consequences of failure will have a much greater impact on your life. You may fall. In fact, I have watched many people cross the Kona Ironman finish line while crawling on their bellies, but they still finished. They still get to scratch that off their bucket list.
Regardless of how many times you relapse, if you keep running the race, you can also scratch recovery off of your bucket list.
Have You Avoided Sobriety for Fear of Failure?
What if you succeeded? Maybe not the first or second time, or even the fifth time. But what if one day, you found that you were no longer tied to your addiction, no longer struggling with getting through a day or event sober, and no longer worried about what you did during your walking blackout? What if you never had to nurse a hangover again or stopped obsessing over the damage you were doing to your health, career, and relationships? What if you finally felt freedom?
Failure in addiction recovery is often looked at as something to fear, but it shouldn’t be. Recovery is hard. In order to succeed you have to get past the physical cravings and then completely transform every part of your life from your outside environment to the inner workings of your mind. You have to change your beliefs about yourself. That’s a scary task. I applaud those who fail because it means that they tried.
How Willing Are You to Keep Going?
Prior to my recovery, I used the fear of failure in addiction recovery as an excuse not to take the steps necessary to get sober. There were also other reasons I delayed getting sober. For one, I knew I had a problem with alcohol, but I wasn’t even sure I was an alcoholic.
To be honest, I knew that label meant I could never drink again, something I couldn’t even imagine. Alcohol helped me through so much, so I avoided the facts.
Unfortunately, sometimes what you don’t know will hurt you. Avoiding the facts only delays recovery until the time when you have to face them. For many people, that delay leads to added consequences including more damaged relationships, legal difficulties, financial problems, and for many devastating, even fatal health issues.
Am I an Alcoholic?
To be honest, if you are asking the question, it may be time to consider learning more about what that means. Check out my free workbook to learn more.
Your workbook is on its way. Please, check your email.
If you are stuck between, “Am I an alcoholic,” and “I’m afraid that if I try to get sober, I will fail,” my free email course, Back to Ground Zero, may help. I designed this course to answer many of the questions I had early in recovery, and it may answer your questions too. You can find it by going to my resources page or filling out the form above, so I can start sending you the course workbook and videos.
This first step requires no commitment from you to stop drinking while giving you the information you need to identify whether or not you should give it a try.