When you seek help for addiction, you have a positive vision for your future – perhaps for the first time in years. You may be looking forward to tearful reunions, gainful employment, or substance-free nights spent with friends and family. However, it’s important to remember that getting sober is a process with ups and downs. If you expect everything to go perfectly, you may not be prepared for the challenges that await you during and after treatment. Today, we’d like to help you set realistic expectations for addiction recovery.
What Are Unrealistic Expectations? Why Are They Dangerous?
Unrealistic expectations are a common pitfall of early recovery. Those who enter a residential program may be nervous, but they also feel empowered and excited about what’s to come. Finally gaining control over one’s substance abuse (and life) can be a potent experience. Furthermore, finding success within a program may lead you to believe that the adjustment to “the real world” will be simple and without struggle.
Common unrealistic expectations in addiction recovery include:
- Thinking that you will feel immediately better upon entering a program
- Believing that you can handle recovery on your own, without support
- Expecting to find sobriety quickly and without issue
- Ignoring the possibility of setbacks or difficulty
- Resisting the treatment process instead of surrendering
- Thinking that other areas of your life will be instantly fixed by addiction recovery
- Expecting loved ones to immediately forgive and trust you
- Believing that at some certain date, you will “finish” recovery
These beliefs aren’t just incorrect; they can jeopardize your newfound sobriety. If you think you’ll progress quickly through the 12 Steps, for example, you may be frustrated when you experience difficulty making amends. This disappointment can result in a mental setback that derails your progress, resulting in negative beliefs like, “If it’s going badly now, I’m probably not cut out for recovery. What’s the point?”
Common side effects of unrealistic expectations in addiction recovery include disappointment, complacency, feeling pressured to succeed, and even an increased risk of relapse. Fortunately, by staying flexible, developing an understanding of the treatment process, and setting reasonable goals for yourself, it is possible to avoid this well-known snare in the recovery process.
How to Set Realistic Expectations for Addiction Recovery
As you read above, realistic expectations are the backbone of a successful, sustained recovery. They help you to anticipate (and mentally prepare for) any setbacks you may encounter along the way. They’re also a great way to map out the treatment process in your mind; by more fully understanding what lies ahead, you’ll be equipped to succeed. At Lakeside-Milam, we advise our residents to set realistic expectations in the following ways.
Allow Time for Relationships to Heal
For many people, their loved ones are a primary driver in their recovery. They may have held an intervention to inspire you to seek treatment, for example, or they might have given you an ultimatum. Unfortunately, addiction is very hard on relationships – even the most devoted spouses, children, siblings, or parents may struggle to fully trust you again.
This probably feels unfair, especially when you’re working so hard on your recovery, only for others treat you like the person you used to be. However, this is natural, and it’s something you should expect. Give your loved ones grace and keep showing them that you have changed. If you stick with it, you can regain their trust for the long term.
Understand that Recovery Isn’t Linear
It would be wonderful if healing from addiction was a constant upward trend, free of struggles, temptation, and setbacks, but that is not the case. In recovery, your realistic expectations should include both good and bad days.
If you stick to your treatment plan, you’ll have more good days than bad, but it may be difficult to see your progress in the beginning. This “plateau” is a danger zone of complacency. You may believe that your recovery is ironclad, or that you can handle going to a bar, seeing old drinking buddies, or attending a potentially triggering event. If this happens, remember that realistically, this is not the case. Go to a meeting or contact your sponsor if you find yourself becoming complacent in your recovery, experiencing obstacles, or thinking about having “just one drink.”
Stay Flexible & Expect Some Problems
It’s normal to have problems – we all struggle with job responsibilities and family obligations in the best of times. When you’re in treatment for a substance use disorder, your concerns probably also include legal issues, financial troubles, and relationship difficulties.
It’s easy to assume that making progress in one area will fix all of your problems. Therefore, your realistic expectations should include the day-to-day problems we all encounter. Dealing with challenges is a normal part of life. Instead of hoping for a flawless future, get excited about putting things right yourself! While change takes time, you have the power to improve your situation one day at a time.
Get Help from Others
Finally, remember that no one does it alone. Research shows that those who remain involved in AA or NA meetings experience better long-term outcomes; that’s why we recommend a strong 12-Step involvement for everyone who comes to Lakeside-Milam.
This programming doesn’t just provide education about addiction. It’s an essential strategy for finding your sober support network. When you go to an AA or NA meeting and share your struggles, you’re likely to speak with someone who has gone through the exact same thing. This level of fellowship is essential for sustained sobriety.
Recovery Services in Seattle, Washington
At Lakeside-Milam, we understand what it takes to get well. We help our clients to develop a full understanding of the treatment process, including the timeline for withdrawal management, commitments required for sobriety, and realistic expectations for addiction recovery.
If you’re interested in learning more about our recovery support services, please contact our admissions office today.