If you have been in recovery for even a small amount of time, chances are you have felt like you have hit a wall. This stagnation can be either imagined or real. Either way feeling like you have hit a wall can cause depression or a case of the “fuck its”. Just being sober should be enough, but sometime its not. What are you supposed to do when recovery is driving you crazy.
In my experience I have felt like I have hit that wall many times. I look at myself and think man I should be much further along. I think that I have hit a certain time milestone and my life should a certain way. Just because I have been sober ‘x’ amount of days I should be showing some specific area of growth. These “should be’s” are a thought rabbit hole and a killer.
The earliest time I felt this way was my 2nd month at an inpatient rehab. Groups were becoming stagnant and we seemed to be retreading the same topics over and over and it was becoming monotonous. I also thought that I was over halfway through my stay at inpatient and clearly I was not recovered. I had no idea what recovered looked like but I knew I was not there. My growth had stopped as I had seen it or I was not where I “should be”.
When I had 6 months I thought that I “should be” moved out of sober living. That milestone was arbitrary but something in my own mind convinced me that if I was not moving on to the next step, I was stagnant. I almost left before I was truly ready because of some number. Not that it was not an accomplishment but I had conception of what having 6 months looks like and if I was not at that point I was doing poorly.
Again when I got to a year I had some idea of what it my life “should be” at that point. I was not there so I must be doing poorly. I fell into a depression because of that. My program was not where it “should be” and I thought that I for sure should have completed the 12-steps, have a sponsee and be attending meetings 7 nights a week. My vision was far from reality.
The worst of these low points came a month after on my 26th birthday. Everything I had felt a year before that came to a head. I spent my 25th birthday in treatment. Now that I was out I looked back and questioned really how far I had come. I was off drugs and alcohol for a year which was great but just being sober did not feel like enough anymore. It was old to me. I still had not signed a lease and committed to staying in LA. I still hadn’t had a real job since I got sober. I was watching all my “normal” friends posting on facebook about graduating college, jumping into careers, getting married and having kids. Here I was with what I felt like was no real growth since I left high school. I also fatalistically looked at my life as half over with nothing to show for it. Sure I had a year sober and had gone through an experience only a small percentage of people are lucky to get to AA and stay sober. I felt it was not enough growth.
Comparing to others and feeling less than are a common experience amongst alcoholics and addicts. It is for sure my go to place in my head. It does nothing for me but serve to further depression or negative thoughts about myself. Here I was on my 26th birthday crying because I was comparing myself to others and some preconceived notion about what being sober looked like and not measuring up. It was by far my worst birthday ever.
Luckily my mom was with me visiting. She comforted me as we talked through what was bothering me. She assured me she was very proud. I had really come a long way, what I mess I was before I entered treatment and how I had come clean and asked for help. The difference was night and day. She pointed out that everything has worked out in little 3 month blocks of time. The 3 months I spent in treatment, 6 months I had spent in sober living, the 3 months I spent moved out with a roommate and my one year. Everything worked out as it did when I did not rush anything and let the timeline flow as it did. The 3 month blocks were not intended but just happened on their own. Where I was, was exactly where I was supposed to be. I took hope from this and things looked brighter. It was a mantra I kept with me.
My thoughts of where I “should be” drove me to a negative place. It screwed with me emotionally and left me depressed. I also thought “fuck it” because being sober had not given me this miraculously productive life I thought I was supposed to have.
While my feeling of stagnation was imagined and negative, stagnation can be very real and positive. Much like how anxiety is a basic instinct we have as humans, its from the prehistoric fight or flight response, it spurs our body into either fighting or running from danger. At it’s core it is a positive thing where it keeps us aware or ready for danger. Where it turns negative is when that response is too sensitive, or always on like general anxiety disorder. Stagnation or feeling like you have hit a wall keeps us aware if we fall into a slump in sobriety. Like if you are not getting anything out of a certain meeting and you need to change it up. Another example would be if you have stopped taking your recovery seriously and are just going through the motions or stop going to meetings all together and recognizing that and changing. Feeling like you’ve hit a wall can be a good thing if you recognize it and correct the course you are on.
While not every addict has to hit a wall, a lot do. It was hard to have time and not feel like I was in the place I thought I was supposed to be. Self examination and the “should be’s” just led me to feel hopeless. For me, that self-judgment is one of the things that led to my addictive behaviors. There’s a double edged sword of being proud of how much time you have sober and the stigma and judgment and stereotypes about what your life should look like. That can get really dangerous because they’re unchecked judgments. Patience, tolerance, understanding, all these principles that I thought we were supposed to be applying to other people, I am finally learning to apply to myself.
How do you deal with feeling like you’ve hit a wall? Is stagnation good for you where it keeps you on top of your program not letting it slip? Does it lead to self deprecation? Let me know your thoughts.
C.S. Bridger is an LA based writer and photographer trying to make sense of recovery