Have you been scared in sobriety?
For the longest time I had this script running through my mind that I wasn’t supposed to be scared after I reached a certain point in my sobriety. I thought that if I had enough faith, friends, and was doing everything “right” in my recovery that I should never feel scared.
Boy was I wrong.
I wasn’t totally to blame. I heard several things during my recovery that helped to fuel my inaccurate belief. One of the most damaging to me was: “Fear and faith cannot exist at the same time.”
Now, I may be misunderstanding this statement, or have a different interpretation of its meaning than others do. To me, this phrase means that I can’t believe in something (a Higher Power) and have faith at the same time that I can have fears about things in my life…the two cannot happen in unison.
An example of this would be: I can’t believe that Love (my Higher Power) is with me all the time/taking care of me WHILE AT THE SAME TIME I feel fear about the impending results of my husband’s cancer test.
Of course I can have both of those at the exact same time. And – by the way – I DO!
Fear is a human emotion. Faith is a choice.
Let me say that again…
FEAR IS A HUMAN EMOTION. FAITH IS A CHOICE.
Some will say that fear is a choice…that they have mastered the amount of “control” fear has over them. To that I can only say…NOT ME! And, more importantly, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with being scared of some things. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being afraid of some things.
I don’t see fear as a weakness…or something to be eliminated or hated…usually.
Throughout my recovery I’ve really only strived to feel at peace. Too much fear of anything does not help me to feel at peace. So, I have done my best to address these fears. I have chosen to do this using a variety of strategies. ONE of them is having faith in something outside of myself (Love).
Another strategy I had to acquire about 10 years into my recovery was medication. I wasn’t happy about it AT ALL! I saw going on medication as a MAJOR failing. I thought FOR SURE I would be able to get over my fears, anxiety, and sadness with the help of my husband, faith, friends, and the recovery programs I attended. I tried counseling, herbal supplements, creams, homeopathic remedies, meditation, and massage therapy.
My brother’s death, when I had 8 years of sobriety, was such a shock to my system that my adrenals shut down completely. I stopped having periods and had to be put on hormones for awhile. The panic attacks that I suffered from since I was a kid began getting worse and worse. I started having obsessive compulsive behaviors as well. I would check lights and doors and windows over and over before leaving the house to make sure they were off, locked, and closed, respectively.
All of this was bad, but there was one behavior that I just couldn’t live with any more. It was the one thing that drove me to begging the naturopath I had been working with for 2 years for some kind of pharmacological medicinal help…
For a long time, I would have panic attacks every Monday morning when my husband would leave for work. (Once we were both at work, I was completely fine. It was when he would LEAVE ME that I became panic stricken and would be a shaking, crying mess until I was in my car on my way to work.) Well, this behavior started to bleed over into Sunday evenings. I would start panicking the entire evening/night before knowing he was going to leave in the morning. Then, shortly before begging the naturopath for help, the panic attacks started happening in the morning on Sundays and sometimes even on Saturdays KNOWING that Monday was coming and he would be leaving me.
Being sober and this scared started to make my life not worth living.
That naturopath saved my life by referring me to a nurse practitioner who used to work in a psychiatric hospital and knew all about anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. The two of them talked about me and all of the interventions that had been tried FOR YEARS. Then, after meeting with me, giving me a full physical and blood test, she tried me on a medication.
I want to tell you that I KNOW how blessed I am to be telling you this story today.
I was able to stay sober through it all.
I was able to stay alive after it all.
And I believe this is because I had FAITH AT THE SAME TIME I WAS LIVING IN FEAR.
I kept believing in my sobriety, my friends, my husband, myself, Love, and the possibility of a life without panic, anxiety, sadness, and overwhelming fear.
And eventually…not in MY time…but in time…I was given a “new pair of glasses through which I could finally clearly see the world”. This is the best way I can describe going on medication for my anxiety. (And NO, it is NOT an addictive medication.) It was as if I was stumbling around in the world without glasses on and someone finally gave me a pair of the exact right glasses for me.
The panic attacks stopped. The obsessive checking for lights, locks, and windows stopped. Crying when my husband left me stopped.
For those of you who think this happened just because of the medication, I’m sorry to say you missed a HUGE part of this post.
I still had to continue doing ALL of the things I was doing before I started the medication in order for the medication to work!!
To recap: In order for medication to work in sobriety, I had to keep up with my faith, friends, husband, counseling, meditation, and the recovery programs I attended. Medication did not replace those things. It was an add-on to those things.
Another fun fact: Medication does not CURE anxiety and fear. I can still be Sober and Scared.
My husband still has a rare incurable cancer. I am still sober. Those two things can co-exist.
I still have faith. I still take medication. Those two things can co-exist.
The best part about writing this is that I no longer feel ashamed about these facts. Why on earth should I feel ashamed? I do not feel ashamed that my eyes need a prescription for glasses and are never going to be cured of the astigmatism that I have (as far as I know). So, why should I feel ashamed that my brain needs a prescription to help balance its chemical makeup? The eyes and the brain are both organs in my body. They both need medical intervention. Judgement is an irrational response to these rational problems.
(I wrote more about this in Meds vs. Drugs in Sobriety, if you care to check it out.)
Even when I see people in recovery who do not have such extreme cases of fear and anxiety as mine, I do my best to help them – when asked – to feel compassion for themselves about their feelings. I’ve noticed that once someone realizes it’s okay to have a feeling, they usually don’t feel as upset about it. One of my favorite quotes about this came from the movie I Heart Huckabees, “It’s painful enough to feel sad, but on top of it…to feel embarrassed for feeling, that is the killer.” We beat ourselves up enough in recovery for all of the horrible shit we’ve done. The last thing we need to do is feel bad about feeling scared.
There’s a lot to be afraid of in this world.
So, to end, I will – ironically – ask you to have FAITH about being Sober and Scared. Have faith that your fear will pass if you stick with the people who are helping you and the things they are helping you to do in your recovery. If you do this, instead of going back to using, you will be able to find the peace that you have been longing for. And, while it may not be constant perfect serenity…and it may not happen in YOUR time…I believe that it WILL be worth the wait!