There will be times when it feels like your life is falling apart even in recovery. Sometimes it’s a direct result of consequences from choices you’ve made and sometimes it’s because of events completely beyond your control. Either way, when life becomes completely unmanageable it will feel like you are drowning – whether in fear, sorrow, financial crisis, relationship chaos, or grief. The sensation of drowning becomes a state of panic. The ripple effect is similar to trying to fight your way out of an undertow or riptide. The more you struggle the worse it gets.

Most addicts have this in common – when we are afraid we want relief. Usually the best plan we come up with is to invest all of our energy in getting the situation under control. “Control” being the operative word. The internal dialogue might go like this, “This shit is serious and if I don’t do everything in my power to make it right things are just going to get worse. I can’t count on anyone else. It’s my problem. I have to fix it.” And if the situation is is due to impulsive decisions they’ve come up with on their own there’s usually another layer of inner dialogue that goes like this, ”It’s all my fault. I fuck everything up. This is my mess and I have to deal with this on my own.” (Most likely the dialogue is laced with more anger and self-loathing than I have written here).

I don’t know if you can see a pattern emerging but what’s obvious to me is that this illusion of self-relaince gives the disease leverage to create an amnesia effect regarding recovery tools that have worked in the past. Most likely the crisis situation was brought on by impulsive decision-making rather than methodically creating a plan and sharing it with people they trust (a friend, a sponsor or a therapist). The source of their current chaos may have involved risky spending, behavior inside a relationship, a major move, or exiting of a job. Impulsive behavior such as making major decisions that could have consequences without consulting their support network for feedback sets of a domino effect of self-reliance. Instead of recognizing that they need to ask for help, they believe that they alone can fix it. Often this involves more poor choices that result in panic driven by a fear of drowning.

This cycle continues to create more damage because it is impossible to make clear rational decisions when fear is the driving force. This is when it is time to ask for help. It is better to ask for help sooner rather than later. With the help of others and of professionals it is possible to come up with a workable solution. Depending on the situation and how bad it’s gotten, a quick fix is unlikely. A steady ongoing commitment to clean it up may be required.

While self-reliance is a worthy goal in some areas, if it’s driven by fear it’s unlikely to create positive solutions. Fear kicks up character defect and shame, regret, and pride ignite negative self-talk and self-hatred. It’s unlikely for anyone to come up with workable or sane solutions under these conditions. The only way to get out of the riptide is to ask for help. It’s no different than admitting defeat in order to get clean. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Everyone makes poor choices at some time or another and we learn from our missteps. The disease of addiction gains power from isolation and emotional pain. What may start out as impulsive spending could spiral into a relapse. You have the power to stop yourself from drowning by sharing the truth with someone in your support network and asking for help. No matter how bad things appear, in recovery there are workable solutions to every problem. Getting high is not one of them.


Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

1 comment

This is so true. Going threw situation like this now, but am reaching out to my network to try and overcome it.

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