Torn Six Ways from Sunday? How to Get Past Doubt in Recovery

Ever have the feeling like you’re being tossed about, experiencing an emotional cartwheel from one minute to the next? When you’re in recovery, usually in the first few days and weeks of newfound sobriety, this may be especially perplexing. But the truth of the matter is that doubt and confusion can continue for many months. How in the world can you deal with this inner conflict without having it ruin your chances of recovery?

There is some help available in the form of suggestions and best practices from others who are in effective long-term recovery. While no one is an expert in knowing exactly what will work for every individual – and it’s highly unlikely that there is any universal "prescription" that will be one hundred percent effective – you can get valuable advice and at least a good measure of comfort in knowing that you have some techniques and strategies to try.

With that being said, here are some ideas on how you can get past doubt in recovery and get on with your new life in sobriety.

Connect with Your Allies

For one thing, you need a friend. In this case, let’s count your fellow group members in the rooms of recovery, along with, of course, your 12-step sponsor. Why are these individuals so important in helping you navigate those turbulent times when doubt eats away at your self-confidence and prevents you from taking constructive action for your own recovery? It’s because they’ve all been where you are right now. No one entering recovery is immune from doubt and, truth be told, if they’re honest with you, they’ll admit to having experienced their own doubts and uncertainties at one time or another.

Listening to how these allies in sobriety were able to deal with those uncertain times may help jumpstart your own brainstorming process to figure out strategies and techniques you can use in your own current emotional dilemma.

Don’t worry that you’re "stealing" someone else’s idea. The whole idea of the recovery community is to share what works, to listen and empathize and to offer support – and to receive the same when it is needed.

You may think that you have heard it all, that there’s nothing that could possibly be new or that could work for you in your situation. But you don’t know for sure, do you? You actually have no idea what will work until you try it. At least give it some thought.

It’s also common to gloss over what’s being said in the rooms. Maybe you’re preoccupied with a whole litany of problems and issues and have all you can do to maintain presence in the rooms – as in, just making sure you get there and occupy space on the chair. What’s being said may go right over your head or in one ear and out the other. Maybe you weren’t ready to hear it at the time. Maybe it’s time to make a determined effort to listen, to open up your mind to what’s being freely offered.

Train Yourself to Look Past Negatives

One thing that’s always true about doubt is that it is an intensely negative experience, that is, when doubt pertains to how you feel about your abilities and chances of a successful recovery. When you are doubtful about whether or not to undertake a certain experience, that’s not the same thing as paralyzing doubt, which is the nagging, persistent and demoralizing emotion that stops you right in your tracks.

Having just been weaned off your drug of choice, getting clean and sober through your stint in rehab, you’re probably still rather raw and vulnerable. You’re also more likely to be still steeped in some pretty negative ideas about yourself and your capabilities – now and in the foreseeable future. But this current state of doubt doesn’t have to continue. You can do something to change it.

One of the first suggestions is to catch yourself when you start to think along negative lines, particularly if you castigate yourself and heap blame on yourself because you think you can’t do what needs to be done in recovery. There is a starting point for everything. You just completed the starting point of entering recovery. It’s a whole new time in your life, and one that is up to you to embrace – or stagnate in.

Which place do you want to inhabit? How do you want to feel about your recovery? The logical answer is that you want to succeed, that you want to feel happy and healthy and experience productivity in your life, to rejoin society and your family and to live long and well.

This all begins with a determined effort to train yourself to look past negatives. What this means in very practical terms is that you catch yourself when you start to hear that inner voice telling you that you can’t possibly do this or that, that you never succeeded in much of anything worthwhile before and you’re certainly not likely to do so now. You’ll know this voice when you hear it. Sometimes it whispers in your ear like a seductive invitation. Other times the voice is more like a crushing pounding in your head.

And this doesn’t refer to hearing voices, either, although the doubt associated with overcoming mental illness requires learning how to look past the negatives as well. No, here we’re just talking about giving yourself an inner pep talk, if you will, teaching yourself to see the opposite side of the big obstacle before you and find the possibilities and the positives that are surely there.

Figure Out Who’s There for You at Home

Isn’t it amazing that so often we neglect to take into consideration our natural support system that exists for us right in our own homes? While it is certainly understandable that we want to put our best face forward to our loved ones, especially considering how much anguish and difficulty the family may have endured during the course of our addiction, these are our truest and closest allies – even though they may not fully know how best to support us in recovery.

Try talking over your doubts with your most trusted family member or loved one. If this person has expressed a desire and willingness to stand by your side and help support you in your recovery journey, you have to take the person at their word. No one has an automatic blueprint for how to accomplish this. Each person – meaning you – has to find his or her own way.

How it begins is just to begin. Approach the discussion with a heartfelt candor and expression of love and gratitude. Be willing to listen, and ask for understanding and time during this initial stage of the healing journey of recovery.

Who can turn down such a request for assistance? Perhaps, however, your loved one or family member lacks the ability or cannot "give" of himself or herself at this time. That’s okay, too. It doesn’t mean that this is a forever thing. Maybe the person just needs time to heal just as you do.

Another situation may be that you don’t have anyone at home who’s there for you. They may be physically absent, as in not living anywhere in proximity. Or they may have died and you are now living alone.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t establish a new "family" or close circle of friends or loved ones. It does mean that you’ll need to extend yourself somewhat, to make an effort to broaden your acquaintances, and to open yourself up to the possibility of establishing friendships and relationships that can help form the basis for a new kind of "home" support system.

Make a List of Small Goals and Work on Completing Them

It’s often said that nothing succeeds like success and when it comes to making progress in recovery this is certainly true. It does require, however, that you actually take action. You won’t find success just waiting for you on your doorstep.

How do you do this? Begin by making a list of small goals. These should be achievable goals. Ideally, these are some tasks that you can reasonably expect to complete and obtain the results you are aiming for.

What counts as a small, achievable goal that’s within reason for you to tackle? This is very much up to you, but you must have some inkling what you’re fairly sure you can do. One example that is a good beginning step is to borrow books from the library or a friend or download information (pamphlets, brochures, etc.) from recovery websites and immerse yourself in learning as much as you can about how to take care of yourself in recovery, how to deal with certain common issues and problems that newly recovered individuals find themselves having to deal with.

This is an easy step to take, and you will come away with valuable knowledge as a result. This is a positive step, an action item that will reap immediate rewards. Knowledge helps you grow in confidence, adds to your toolkit of potential strategies and coping mechanisms. Not only that but learning more about recovery builds your self-esteem, assists in turning those negatives into positives, and boosts your motivation to tackle new things.

Another small goal may be to pledge to say something nice to a co-worker or neighbor each day, to go out of your way to be helpful to another when you’d typically just remain caught up in your own world.

Going to 12-step meetings, so much a part of your daily or weekly recovery schedule, is a good way to accomplish both verbal goals (to say something nice to another) and to go out of your way to be helpful (setting out or stacking chairs, helping with coffee, etc.). While it may seem inconsequential at first, what you’re actually doing is getting past your doubt and self-involvement and taking proactive steps to make a difference in your new life in recovery.

And the process builds from here. Once you get started making your list of goals, this is a practice that you’ll come back to frequently. Daily is a good practice. For one thing, at the end of each day, taking the time to reflect on how well you did at accomplishing the goals you set out for yourself will help you create a list of goals and tasks for the next day. After a while, you’ll find yourself looking beyond the immediate next few days and weeks and coming up with longer term goals.

This signals progress. And it’s very much within your ability to do this.

Be with People

When you are overcome by doubt and feel alone and worthless and afraid, the worst thing you can do is to hole up at home away from the company of friends, family, loved ones and/or fellow 12-step group members. You really need to be with people, to get out of the house and reminders of problems and issues and obstacles.

What does being with people do to solve your pressing concerns? In some ways, it doesn’t do anything to solve them, while, in other respects, just being with others can bring about a new perspective, allowing you to see whatever’s bothering you with fresh eyes. You may, for example, strike up a conversation with another that seems totally irrelevant to what you’ve been wrestling with. When you return home, however, you may find that there’s a great weight that’s been lifted from your shoulders, the iron clamp around your heart lessens a bit, and you feel a little more hopeful and a little less filled with doubt.

Remember that no one recovers alone. This also applies to how you take proper care of your needs for connectivity with others. You do that by being with people you like, people that you get along with and who share your interests, goals and passions.

If Doubt Persists

Suppose you’ve tried the previous suggestions and you’re still wracked with doubt? Have you given yourself sufficient time to heal, to begin to allow your body and your mind to be fully restored to health following your getting clean and sober in rehab?

Are there co-occurring mental health disorders that you’re also trying to deal with? Were these treated simultaneously during rehab or did you only go in for substance abuse treatment? Perhaps you were more concerned with overcoming drug or alcohol abuse and that took precedence in your mind? Maybe you didn’t have available simultaneous and comprehensive treatment for depression or anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The point is, if you find that you experience continuing doubt that is debilitating – that is, that your emotions are preventing you from making progress and taking action in recovery – perhaps getting some professional counseling would be a good thing to do.

Just because you’re clean and sober doesn’t mean that you never need or could use the assistance of a trained therapist. Ask your sponsor for a recommendation or get a referral from your family doctor. Go online and search for available therapists that are in your area. Inquire about federal, state or local resources and programs that may be available to you.

There’s no reason that you cannot get past doubt in recovery. If you’re still mired in doubt, it only means that you’ve still got some work to do. The good news is that everyone can make progress. Everyone can find a way out of doubt and onto the path of recovery. It’s a step-by-step process that’s sometimes painful, often feels too slow, but is available to each of us.

Bottom line: Don’t let anything stand in the way of you embracing recovery. Doubt has no place in your new life of sobriety, although it will try very hard to reassert itself when you least expect it. You can learn how to get past doubt in recovery. The first steps for you may very well begin today. In fact, you’re already on your way right now.

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