Updated: Jul 9
The prospect of change in our personal lives, whether self-directed or imposed on us can fill us with dread. What is it that we’re so afraid of?
Change appears to be inevitable to the human condition. And it often spurs whole new beneficial avenues in life. In addiction recovery, we have to initiate and maintain scary changes. Finding a balance between embracing change while staying committed to our goals is a key.
Why are we so afraid of change?
Well, this is all about fear of the unknown, and it makes perfect sense to have a healthy fear of unknown factors suddenly attacking our established daily lives, whether those are moving, leaving a bad relationship, changing jobs, or letting go of unhealthy habits or addictive tendencies. We assume the worst, and if there are clear dangers out there, we tend to let those overtake our ability to even see the potential advantages. We hunker down. What we know feels safe, even if we hate it. What if it got even worse?! How could we stand that?
Inevitability of change
There are certain truths that are simply unavoidable, and the inevitability of change is one. This is a given and a guarantee for each of us. We start as babies and children, and we transform into adults. Our attitudes get formed. We incorporate new information over time, and we change ourselves, in our priorities, our energy and physical capacity, our desires and dreams and beliefs.
And like it or not, so does our world around us. Some things become institutions at various times, including the moods of the populace, the physical effects of our climate, our business cycles.
Our neighborhoods change, and grow and decline. Our jobs change and people nowadays get laid off and leave regularly. The gig economy runs wide. It’s just not as popular as it was a minute ago. And the world we live in has changed enormously at breakneck speed. We’ve only had computers readily available to us since the 1990s! How insane is that! That’s barely more than 30 years. It all happened since my oldest daughter was born.
So, that doesn’t mean that we can’t strive for stability in a world speeding along. It just means that it takes some finesse and some concerted effort to create that, even if we have to roll with some punches along the way.
Necessity for change
In one sense, the fact that change is inevitable, by definition implies it is a necessity. It is necessary for us to change and grow, just as it is necessary for the world around us to shift and grow. Now, here is where we want to consider our impact. How do Iwant to let all these pressures of growth -- many conflicting, affect me? How can I benefit from the amazing discoveries and conveniences around me?
However, I can’t really assert this with regard to human beings. We don’t “have” to do anything. We don’t have to change our habits or ourselves for the most part, but then those habits also have their own particular consequences. If we drink too much, we may develop liver problems. If we smoke, we may have lung issues. If we eat poorly, we may introduce a host of issues, etc. Not to mention all the personal problems these things may bring along the way.
I think you could say that in order to stay healthy and vibrant, we have to adapt to change?
Opportunities in Change
Practically anything can be used for good purposes or twisted for destructive ones. So the trick is to find what are the fundamental things in our lives that we want to use as our foundation and pillars. What works well for us and is good for us as well as those we love and care about and the wider communities and world around us? Then, how can we keep those elements in place while acknowledging that all kinds of things can come up!
Some time ago, I went to a mini-reunion of the people I was closest to in High School, so like 20+ people and their spouses got together for a big potluck picnic. One of the things that struck me was how many people had made incredible changes over the course of our lifetimes, some of it completely unexpected. One person went from being a military special ops type person to an appraiser for a non-profit. Two people do triathlons (we’re not very young anymore!). One is a martial arts master. One has been doing floral arrangements for almost 40 years now. And I could go on and on.
The point is there have been some drastic shifts! The people who are the most fit were not particularly in high school. The ones who undertook the biggest adventures weren’t necessarily the ones that I might have expected to do that. The dreams for retirement travel and next steps are hugely varied -- from enjoying dozens of grandchildren, to hiking across northern Europe, to continuing to work in various capacities.
But, there was a very interesting sense of internal consistency there. The people who were sweet and fun and entertaining all still were. The ones I felt most at ease with and was closest to back in the day, I still felt that.
Personal Change in Addiction Recovery
It is a scary thing. We don’t need to pretend that it’s not. BUT, it’s not as scary as we often make ourselves believe. It feels like a lot of unknowns, but maybe there aren’t quite as many as we think. For instance, what is it, exactly that we’re afraid of?
Is it withdrawal? Well it depends on the substance, but realistically, most people do just fine with this without any help at all. Now, please DO be careful and know that both benzos and alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. You should always check with your doctor if at all possible, and have a plan to seek emergency care should you need it.
Is it more just that sense that life is about to be upended and you won’t have anything to fall back on? Or that you don’t know how to go about your day anymore without a behavior or substance? Or that you feel like you can’t cope with various situations or people without? Are you afraid you won’t be you anymore?
I want to reassure you about these things and so many more!
There are so many living examples of people who all got past these fears and found that they were paper tigers.
It takes patience and practice and some persistence (SMART uses a little acronym, PPP, for these). Examine a few of those fears more closely. See how they hold up. Maybe, there are benefits to making changes that you haven’t even begun to think about yet?
That was my experience with the drinking unknowns. Other than a couple of bad moments of real struggle with myself, I found the benefits were much better than in my imagination, whereas the costs were much larger in my imagination than in reality.
So how do we learn to embrace changes that are good without getting carried away? And cope with the bad without sinking into despair while maintaining some sense of order and stability in our lives? Or shift things when we find we’ve fallen into a rut (or a hole)?
Change is inevitable. It can be scary, but it can also be an opportunity for growth. When we embrace change, we open ourselves up to new possibilities. We can learn new things, meet new people, and experience new things. We can also become more resilient and adaptable.
Of course, not all change is good. Sometimes, change can be disruptive or even harmful. But even in these cases, it is important to remember that change is a part of life. We cannot control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it.
So, if you are facing change, don't be afraid. Embrace it. See it as an opportunity for growth. And remember, you are not alone. Everyone experiences change in their lives. And we all have the strength to face it, even though it feels terribly hard.
In addiction recovery, it can be like jumping into a cold pool. It’s hard to work up to doing that, but once you jump -- make a strong decision to change or to embrace change -- the water is fine.