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How to Tell If Your Recovery is Moving in the Wrong Direction


wrong-directions1It is often claimed that either you are going forward or backward in recovery; standing still is not really an option. This is why it has also suggested that recovery should be looked upon as a process rather than an event as there is always more work to be done. It is important that you are able to monitor your progress in recovery in order to ensure that you are moving in the right direction.

What Does It Mean To Move In The Right Direction?

Giving up alcohol or drugs means there is likely to be some significant improvements in your life right away. There is probably going to be noticeable and regular positive changes to your physical, mental, and emotional well-being during the first few weeks of recovery but then things may appear to slow down. This is normal and does not mean that you are no longer moving in the right direction.

Moving in the right direction means that that your life is (generally speaking) improving over time. It does not mean that there will be noticeable improvements every day or even every week. There will still be days when you feel stuck or even as if you going backwards, but these bad times only last a few days. If you can compare where you are now to where you were this time last year and see that things are improving, this means that you are likely moving in the right direction.

Dangers of Going Backwards in Recovery

Going backwards in recovery means that things are starting to deteriorate. It is not about having a bad couple of days; it refers to a general trend of a downward trajectory in your life. Recovery can be defined as moving away from addiction, so going backwards means moving back towards addictive behaviour. The most obvious danger of this deterioration is that it greatly increases the risk of relapse.

Those going backwards in recovery are often referred to as ‘dry drunks’. This refers to the fact that while still physically sober, dry drunks still behave as if they are drinking. Some of the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome include:

  • behaving unethically – for example, lying and cheating
  • being cynical about recovery and life in general
  • being pessimistic about the future
  • being constantly negative about things, making them hard to be around
  • engaging in new addictive or maladaptive behaviours
  • romancing the drink or drug – this is the process of thinking longingly about the days when alcohol or drugs seemed to be making them happy
  • enjoying watching other people fail in recovery because it makes them feel better about their own lack of progress
  • black and white thinking
  • unwillingness to consider new ideas or ways of doing things
  • refusing to deal with character flaws or give up unhelpful belief
  • unwillingness to seek help for their problems.

The Danger of Becoming Stuck in Recovery

People start to go backwards in recovery after they become stuck, feeling unable to get unstuck. What usually happens is the person hits a challenge in recovery that they feel unwilling to face. This inability to deal with things is often the catalyst for addiction in the first place; when it happens in recovery is that it can drive the person to choose new addictive behaviours. It is not possible to make any more progress in sobriety until the challenge is faced. So long as the person remains stuck, their life will deteriorate until they either relapse or develop dry drunk syndrome.

Becoming stuck in recovery is very similar to a life in addiction. The fact that the person is not willing to face things means that they begin to feel powerless again; their level of self-esteem and self-efficacy begins to decline. The individual is also likely to feel a great deal of guilt as it becomes obvious that their life is getting worse despite the fact that they are physically sober. The individual may feel justified in deciding that they might as well just relapse given that their life in recovery is so unsatisfying. They may even use this experience as evidence that sobriety will never work for them, so after relapsing they are doomed to living the rest of their life as an addict.

Signs That You Have Become Stuck in Recovery

If you have become stuck, there will almost certainly be some symptoms. Here are some of the signs that you going backwards in recovery:

  • you are generally pessimistic about the future
  • things feel out of control
  • you don’t believe that you have the power to change your life for the better
  • you have turned to addiction substitutes such as workaholism, exercise addiction, internet addiction, gambling, sex addiction, or relationship addiction
  • there are areas of your life that are causing problems, but you refuse to acknowledge them
  • your behaviour is deteriorating – for example, you are becoming less honest
  • you have started to wonder if life as a drinker or drug user was really that bad; in other words, you are romancing the drink or drug
  • you become very defensive when people question your progress in recovery
  • you feel unwilling to get help for problems
  • you have developed a cynical attitude towards recovery
  • family and friends are suffering because of your behaviour
  • you are looking for justifications to relapse.

How to Become Unstuck in Recovery

It will not be possible to become unstuck in recovery unless you take action. The key is to deal with the issue that originally led to you becoming stuck in the first place. For example, if you stopped making progress in sobriety because of your unwillingness to deal with resentments, you need to tackle this issue now.

It can be difficult to dig down to the root cause of becoming stuck in recovery without help. It may be necessary to seek out a therapist; those individuals who belong to a group like Alcoholics Anonymous can turn to their sponsor. An outsider would be able to give a more objective assessment of the situation, which can often be crucial.

Below are a few other ideas for how you can become unstuck in recovery:

  • share your problems at fellowship meetings; just admitting that you need support can be a huge step forward
  • sit down with pen and paper and create an action plan for becoming unstuck
  • turn to inspiration recovery material such as books, online articles, podcasts, or YouTube videos
  • if you are not a member of a recovery fellowship, now might be a good time to join one; the benefit of this type of group is they can give you support and feedback if you become stuck
  • become willing to do whatever it takes to begin moving forward in recovery; developing this type of attitude means becoming an unstoppable force
  • be willing to receive feedback from other people – keep an open mind
  • recognise that you have been doing sometimes wrong in recovery and be willing to make some needed changes
  • begin keeping a journal so you can track your progress as you become unstuck.

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