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How I Fought the Fear of Sobriety and Won

The fear. Can you imagine living a life fearing everything and everyone? You fear socializing with people, you’re afraid people won’t accept you, you fear that you will never amount to anything, you fear success, but you also fear failure…

It can be a hard scenario to put yourself into, and it can even be difficult to wrap your brain around, but this is how someone with an active addiction feels. Many people who live with addictions get high because they love the feeling. However, many get high to mask all of the fears listed above. From personal experience, I can say I know what it is like to be handcuffed to my disease and afraid to do anything about it.

Growing up, my number one fear was not being accepted. It was a completely irrational fear, because I always had tons of friends and a loving family who cared for me dearly. However, I never felt good enough for anyone, so I often put on an act. My act of choice? The class clown.

Clowning around was easy. I could always make people laugh, and doing it at other people’s expense made me feel good about myself. I was never serious, and this was the ultimate form of defense. Nobody could ever read me, because the second I was vulnerable, I would crack a joke, put on a fake smile and put on an act. No one could see that on the inside, I was broken, sad and lonely.

Growing up, I felt as if nobody understood me, that everyone around me received a golden textbook to life that explained how to be happy, how to live a normal life, how to maintain friendships and of course how to be a good person. Everyone is born with the ability to decipher between right and wrong, but in my case, I was a maestro in always picking wrong. It felt better than good. In my view, nobody liked the good kid and the bad kid got all of the attention. Again, this was me acting out of fear.

As I matured, I never fully grew out of this class clown/funny guy phase. Instead, I started getting high and I thought that it was the answer to all of my problems. I remember the first time I ever smoked weed. I was at camp with my two best friends at the time. We sat in the middle of woods smoking out of a disgusting bong that one of the kids had made out of a water bottle. Even though I was probably only 13 years old, I felt like I was fully ready for this experience. It seemed like getting high was the single most amazing thing that had ever happened to me. For the first time in my life, I felt my peers truly accepted me, my mind was clear from all fears and I finally felt at ease. I remember promising myself that this was my new way of life.

Unfortunately, my addictions quickly progressed. They went from smoking weed on the weekends to smoking weed every day, to binge drinking and to snorting whatever pill I could get my hands on. When I was intoxicated, my fears disappeared. But in the brief moments I was sober, my fears amplified by 1,000. As times got worse, so did my relationships (or lack thereof). I no longer cared for anyone or anything but myself and my needs. I thought these needs were simple, since the only thing I needed was any substance to make me escape from my own mind.

I finally reached a point in my life where the thing I feared the most was the one thing that was going to save my life: sobriety. Yes, this sounds like an irrational fear, but I think anyone with a drug addiction faced with this ultimatum can understand this fear. If I continued to use, I would most certainly end up in an institution, rehab, jail or worst of all dead. My fast-paced, high-risk, high-reward lifestyle was something I did not want to walk away from but I knew I had to if I wanted to live.

Why does someone fear sobriety? There are so many benefits from staying sober, but so many people who face addiction are unable to do it. Millions of excuses will fly out of an active user’s mouth about why he or she won’t get sober. These excuses include that I can’t afford the cost of rehab, I can’t live without my drugs, I can’t stay sober if all my friends are still using, I get sick when I don’t use, I have tried sobriety and “failed,” or what if I actually stayed sober? The fear of a life without drugs was horrifying to me, simply because it was untraveled territory.

I’ve had all of these fears. There’s also another fear that I didn’t list — I was afraid I’d never have fun again. Drugs and alcohol were my fun, my pastime and all I really did. So, the prospect of learning how to have fun without drugs seemed impossible. I knew that I was kidding myself, though. Getting high wasn’t ultimately fun, but was something I had to do in order to not feel sick. Once I built up a sober support group, it was really easy to have fun. I quickly realized that all of my fears were just that: fears, and not realities.

Getting sober at the age of 19 was difficult. Everything I knew revolved around getting high and I had the maturity of a 13-year-old. I had to face the cost of rehab and its treatment requirements. I had to learn how to grow up and become a productive member of society. At first, I thought my life was over. I wondered how in the world was I ever going to attend a social event that served liquor. I thought I had to avoid everything drinking or drug related, or else I would be toast.

This was not the case. As soon as I got some sobriety time under my belt and actively worked a 12-step program, I’ve found that I have freedom. This freedom allows me to do whatever I want. I’ve attended weddings, I’ve gone to bars, I’ve seen my favorite bands in concerts and I’ve even hung out with my old friends from my drug-using days. I just know that I can’t get high myself. What I thought was the cost of rehab was really the price I paid to earn my freedom.

Today, I only have one fear and it’s a very healthy one. I don’t fear what people think of me, or if I’m going to fail or succeed, or if the dope man has my favorite drug. The only thing I fear is relapsing. Early in my sobriety, I had this fear that I still hold on to today, nearly seven years later. I know I have an addictive brain and that using any sort of substance means I am most certainly signing my own death warrant. This healthy fear reminds me of who I am. As long as I hold on to it dearly, my life in sobriety will only continue to get better.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA‘s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Thinkstock photo via Mark_Hubskyi

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