When I first got sober, I had a huge fear of relapse. One of the most difficult parts of recovery is the fear that goes with it.
When I got sober this time, I was intensely afraid of relapsing. The reason for this is simple—I had just come off a 9-month relapse that was absolutely horrible.
I had gone back to my drug of choice—heroin—but I had also started using a number of other drugs on top of that. I wasn’t able to reach the point of feeling okay until I had all these drugs in my system.
It was horrible.
When I finally came off Suboxone, I found that the fear intensified. I knew that there was nothing standing between me and heroin anymore.
I didn’t know what to do. The fear gripped me. It squeezed tight. I needed to find some way of dealing with it, of turning that fear into power, of letting it drive me to something positive.
I used it to propel me through the 12 steps.
How I Coped With the Fear of Relapse — The 12 Steps
I’ve been sober since August of 2011. I won’t lie and act like it was easy—it was hard. Really hard.
I had a lot of reasons to be sober. I had a family who loved me. I had a girlfriend who loved me. I had a potential future. I was only 26. I had plenty of time to get my life together.
If only I could stay sober.
I never wanted to go back to the way I was.
So, I started working the 12 steps.
In my addiction, when I found that I was afraid, I would run from the fear. I was constantly afraid because of all the dope I had on me at any given time.
I had good reason to be afraid.
Not to mention the fact that I was doing a drug that was extremely dangerous.
To deal with that fear, I just drank more or did more dope. I’m also an alcoholic, so one of the best ways to escape was to drink myself stupid.
Then I wouldn’t have to think about how horrible the life I was living was.
When I got sober, I didn’t have that escape anymore, but I still had fear. I suffer from anxiety, and that anxiety had gotten worse now that I wasn’t doing Xanax anymore.
So I let that fear drive me. I started working the 12 steps in earnest.
What I mean by that is that I got with a sponsor immediately—while I was still in rehab. I started working the 12 steps with him while I was still in rehab.
That fear of relapse was still driving me. He wanted to read through the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but I told him that I had already read it and that I needed to get to work.
I managed to convince him. We started on my 4th step while I was still in rehab.
By the time I was ready to leave rehab, I had gotten well into my 4th step, but I was still scared, so instead of going home, I decided to go somewhere a lot safer—a sober living facility.
Sober Living and Helping Others Helped Me Deal With Fear
When I got into sober living, I quickly got through all 12 steps. It took me about 45 days. During that time, I finished my 4th step, talked through my 5th step for hours with my sponsor, made dozens of amends, and started working with others through sponsorship.
But I was still scared of relapse. I was terrified. I knew how little sobriety I really had. I knew because I’d been there before. My first attempt at sobriety only lasted 5 months.
I knew how fragile my newfound sobriety really was. Forty-five days is not that much sobriety. It feels like an eternity, but it’s not.
It’s still dangerous territory, or at least, it was for me.
I’ll never forget making an amend to my ex-girlfriend’s mother when I got about 6 months sober.
I told her how long I’d been sober, and she said, “Well, that’s not very long.”
That hit me hard because 6 months felt like a really long time.
So 45 days was basically nothing.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s a major accomplishment, but I was still afraid. I felt like my sobriety was this precious, precarious thing that could be taken away from me if I didn’t throw myself into something that would help me to stay sober.
So I started doing something I’d never done before.
I started sponsoring and helping people.
Doing so while in sober living is probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in sobriety, but sponsoring early isn’t one of them.
It helped me to get away from the fear. Every hour that I spent working with another alcoholic or drug addict was another hour of sobriety that I was able to claim.
On top of that, I was in a safe place. I went home to a place filled with people like me who were all trying to stay sober. They all were supportive, and when someone relapsed, they were removed so that there was no temptation for the rest of us.
We got drug tested regularly, which added a level of accountability that I needed. It gave me one more good reason not to drink or get high.
These combined helped me to overcome my fear of relapse because I knew I was doing everything in my power to stay sober.
It took work. Fear isn’t something that just goes away in my experience. It’s something that sticks around unless I do something about it.
I Still Have a Healthy Fear of Relapse, but the 12 Steps Help Me Keep It Away
For me, the answer is the 12 steps. I still get into fear today. I’ve been sober for a long time, but that doesn’t make me immune to fear.
I still have what I would consider to be a healthy fear of relapse. I don’t ever want to go back to the way I was living, no matter how much it might help me to deal with my fears.
I have new fears today. Mostly, they’re financial fears. There’s little I can do about them except to save money and try my best to keep my new business going by working hard.
How do I deal with this new fear? The same way I dealt with fear when I had 45 days sober—I work the 12 steps. I help other people. I work with newcomers and sponsor them. I pray and meditate.
And it works. Have you struggled with a fear of relapse in sobriety? I want to hear your experience. Tell me about it in the comments.