Sobriety is a journey that can be challenging and transformative. For many of us, letting go of substances is just the beginning. Once sober, we may also find ourselves yearning to release the unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves while learning to embrace our lives as they are.
Expectations can be a double-edged sword. While they can be a source of motivation and ambition, they can also become a heavy burden, especially when it comes to sobriety. Many of us place unrealistic and unspoken expectations on ourselves and, by doing so, rob ourselves of the fullness of our personal experience.
Some of the common expectations I have experienced within myself and within the experiences of clients are:
Instant Happiness: One of the most common misconceptions about sobriety is the idea that once you stop using substances, you'll instantly find happiness. In reality, sobriety is a process that takes time and effort. Life itself is a beautiful, nuanced experience that is created from a range of emotions: sadness, anger, bliss, joy, excitement and everything in between.
Perfectionism: Some of us believe we need to be perfect to maintain our sobriety, for our sobriety to have meaning or for our sobriety to foster growth. This unattainable standard can lead to feelings of failure and relapse when perfection isn't achieved. We are human, we are meant to be messy. It's all part of learning and feeling into our individual lived experience.
Approval of Others: Seeking validation and approval from others can create pressure and anxiety. It's essential to remember that each of us is on an individual journey with our relationship with substance. This journey is about our individual experience and our personal well being - it is not about meeting or exceeding others' expectations.
Releasing expectations can set us free. When we release unrealistic and unspoken expectations we:
Reduces Stress: Unrealistic expectations can lead to stress and anxiety, which can be triggers for use. Letting go of unrealistic expectations can significantly reduce our emotional burden.
Promotes Resilience: Sobriety is a journey filled with ups and downs. When you release expectations, you become more resilient in dealing with life's challenges. Capacity for day to day life increases when it isn't being drained by an unattainable vision.
Fosters Self-Compassion: Embracing our personal sobriety experience as it is is a courageous act. Allowing ourselves room for self-compassion and understanding that setbacks may occur is essential for maintaining motivation and self-esteem.
Releasing expectations takes awareness and choice. And it is a powerful practice to give ourselves permission to play with.
Ways to release expectations include:
Set Realistic Goals: Instead of striving for perfection, set realistic, small, achievable goals for your recovery. These goals can provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment without becoming overwhelming.
Embrace Uncertainty: Life is unpredictable, and sobriety is no exception. Accept that there will be challenges and uncertainties, and focus on building skills that work for you to cope with them effectively.
Seek Support: Connect with support groups, therapists, and coaches who can help you navigate your sobriety journey. Talking to others who have experienced similar challenges can provide valuable perspective and reassurance.
Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, breathwork, and journaling can help you stay grounded and focused on the present moment, reducing the need for perfection.
Celebrate Small Victories: Acknowledge and celebrate every small victory along the way. Progress isn't linear. It isn't meant to be. Adding something to a celebration list or gratitude list daily is a beautiful practice of acknowledging and celebrating you!
Learning to live in right relationship with alcohol and substance is an individual journey. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Releasing expectations around sobriety allows you to focus on the present moment, learn from your experiences, and cultivate resilience. It's about recognizing that sobriety is not about instant gratification or perfection but about growth, self-discovery, and a life free from the constraints of addiction. Learning to let go of expectations is challenging and you may be surprised by the freedom you find on the other side of showing up to meet the challenge.