Comfortable or Complacent?
Is it possible to allow yourself to be comfortable in recovery without losing sight of the destruction of addiction?
I frequently work with clients who have a past filled with addictive behavior and the destruction that accompanies it. It is common for these individuals to identify with deeply ingrained core beliefs such as, “I don’t deserve to be happy.” These individuals carry intense guilt and shame about their past, therefore, believe that despite doing the right thing today, do not deserve the wonderful things life can offer.
In my work with addicts who believe that they are not worthy of happiness, it is important to consider why this belief is so strong, and why there is resistance in letting it go. A common answer is fear. Fear that happiness would lead to comfortability, comfortability would turn into complacency, and complacency would greatly increase the risk of falling back into those destructive, addictive behaviors. So, to sum it up, these individuals are often fearful that happiness is associated with possible relapse down the line.
Fear of relapse is valid, and also serves as a protective factor in a lot of ways. A healthy fear of slipping back into old behaviors can defend against complacency and assists the individual in maintaining long term sobriety.
However, I feel that associating happiness with potential relapse is a distorted thinking pattern. It is an assumption based on fear that the brain has adopted, accepted as true, and impacts one’s behavior, relationships, and life in general. What is the consequence of holding the belief, “I don’t deserve to be happy?” Someone with this belief is more likely to present with low self-esteem and symptoms of depression, they are not likely to pursue activities and hobbies they enjoy, and will have a difficult time having healthy relationships. All of which are risk factors that threaten one’s sobriety.
I believe that it is possible (and necessary) for an individual in recovery to be happy without allowing complacency to creep in. What if feeling comfortable was reframed as a positive emotion instead of something to be afraid of? Instead of getting too comfortable in your sobriety, (i.e. the “I got this” attitude), what if you got really comfortable with yourself? Comfortable in your own skin, comfortable interacting with others, and comfortable setting boundaries for yourself. What would life in recovery look like if this was your perspective?
Challenging core beliefs and ultimately chipping away at them is hard work. The work starts by identifying the core belief, in this case, “I don’t deserve to be happy,” and acknowledging where it came from, why it no longer serves you, and where the resistance to change is coming from.
The work also starts with talking to other addicts in recovery, specifically ones who have navigated this path, ones who allow themselves to experience happiness and comfortability without jeopardizing their sobriety. Ask them how they challenged their fears and core beliefs. Right now it may feel like a risk to let go of these old ways of thinking. My hope is that by doing the hard emotional work in therapy and by instilling trust in fellow addicts in recovery, the risk of happiness and comfortability begin to decrease, while the benefits of being happy in recovery come into clarity.
And remember, doing this work can feel scary, vulnerable, and new. But your happiness, self-worth, and quality of life depend on it. You don’t have to walk this path alone.