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How to Deal with Failure in Recovery


One of the mistakes that people can make when they become sober is that they have expectations that are too high. This means that when things start to go wrong, which they almost certainly will at times, the individual can become disillusioned and disappointed. One of the things that the person is almost certainly going to have to deal with in recovery is failure – this is something that everyone will face from time to time. So long as the individual remains sober though, they will never really be a failure in recovery.

The Types of Failure That People are Likely to Experience in Recovery

Here are the most common types of failure that people are likely to experience in recovery.

  • The individual sets him/herself a goal, but they fail to reach this goal within the time they expected. For example, they may have set the goal of finding a new job within three months, but they were unable to make this happen.
  • The person expected something to happen, but it did not happen.
  • They may have made a promise, but they were unable to live up to this promise.
  • The individual is faced with some type of test, but they fail to pass it. This could be some type of official test like an exam, or something less official like a life challenge.
  • The person may feel that they are not living up to their expectations in recovery. For example, they may have been expecting to become more easy-going and extroverted.
  • The individual feels that they have been working really hard at something, but they do not appear to be getting the benefits from this that they expected.

The Dangers of Failure in Recovery

It can often be the case that people in early recovery that the first two years away from addiction will find it difficult to handle failure. This can mean that they are in danger because:

  • It is easy to use failure as a justification to return to addiction. In fact, the individual may be sabotaging their own efforts so that they will have an excuse to return to alcohol and drugs. This type of self-sabotage often happens subconsciously, so it is a real danger for people in recovery.
  • It is common for people in early recovery to blow things out of proportion, and this can mean that a slight setback can feel like the end of the world. It isn’t that this is something that people will do wilfully – it is just that their emotions can be all over the place in early recovery.
  • Failure can sap people’s motivation, and this means that they become less willing to put in the needed effort to achieve a goal.
  • The individual can become so obsessed with their own failures that it can lead to the symptoms of depression.
  • The person can be caught up in a vicious downwards spiral where failure now leads to future failure. This happens because the person starts to create self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, they start to expect to fail, and this creates the conditions so that they do fail. It can be very difficult for people to break out of this negative feedback loop because they will keep on getting evidence to support the idea that they are a failure.
  • Failure can mean that the individual feels many different negative emotions such as anger and bitterness, and these can become overwhelming.
  • One of the real dangers of failure in recovery is that it can lead to low self-esteem. It is common for people to already have low self-esteem because of their addiction, and repeated failure can make the situation even worse.
  • If the individual is easily put off by failure they will never be able to accomplish anything significant in their life. Success and failure will tend to go hand in hand, and it will not be possible to build a good recovery unless people are willing to push through their failures.
  • Some people will experience a few failures in recovery, and this will put them off trying to achieve their dreams. This is a real shame because if they had of kept going, they may have eventually achieved what they were looking for.

The Benefits of Failure

People tend to view failure as a very negative thing, but it can actually be beneficial so long as people have the right perspective. Some of the benefits of failure include:

  • It can motivate people to work harder to achieve their goal. This means that they are now in the right frame of mind to turn their dreams into reality.
  • If achieving goals were always easy, it would remove much of the satisfaction out of achieving them. The challenges that people face on their way to success make their final victory all the sweeter. Successful people understand that failure is there to prevent people who are not serious about a goal from achieving it.
  • People can learn a great deal from their failures. It can be as useful to know what doesn’t work as it can be to learn what does work.
  • Most failure does not put the person back at square one. The individual will have still benefited from the things they learned along the way.

How to Deal with Failure

Here are a few ideas for how people can deal with failure in recovery.

  • It is important to always keep in mind that they only real failure is the person who gives up before achieving their goal. There are usually many episodes of failure along the path to achieving something worthwhile.
  • It is a very good idea to keep a daily journal because this can give people a much better perspective on their successes and failure. The individual will then be able to read back on their entries to see how things can evolve over time.
  • It is up to the individual to take something positive from their failures. This means that they make the effort to learn from the experience, so that they will not repeat the same mistakes in the future.
  • People should not be afraid of failure. They need to keep in mind that failure and success often go hand in hand. If the individual allows fear of failure to stop them from trying things, they will have a very mediocre life.
  • The person decides if they are going to be motivated or de-motivated by failure. It is all a matter of perspective, and the way that the individual handles these disappointments is going to have a huge impact on their future.
  • The individual needs to understand that sometimes failure can be the best thing that happened to them. It can send them in a more worthwhile direction or it can teach them a valuable lesson that will make their future brighter.
  • If the individual feels caught up in negativity regarding a recent failure, it is important that they talk about this with somebody else. Chatting with somebody else will provide a new perspective, and it really can be true that a problem shared is a problem halved.

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