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Why would someone who has worked so hard to get sober and turn their life around throw it all away? It truly defies reason. But self-sabotage in recovery is a very common occurrence. Let’s explore the ways we self-sabotage, and how to prevent it.

Why Do We Self-Sabotage in Recovery?

Addiction itself is a form of self-destruction or self-sabotage. Even as the drug or alcohol abuse causes major problems and total chaos in the person’s life, they continue anyway. Why would someone purposely do harm to themselves? The tendency for someone in active addiction to cause harm to themselves may continue to play out even in recovery. Self-sabotage in recovery is simply an extension of the familiar thought patterns that existed in addiction. Some of the reasons we self-sabotage in recovery include:

  • Ambivalence. Some people go into treatment and recovery to satisfy the wishes of a loved one. They may not be 100% committed to sobriety, which opens the door wide for self-sabotage.
  • Fear. Entering recovery and learning to live without the aid of a substance can be terrifying for some people. They may live their recovery in fear of messing up and disappointing friends and loved ones, and just give up.
  • Feelings of worthlessness. Feelings of shame and guilt in recovery are very common. The person may feel that because of the harm they have done to themselves and others, they are worthless. They may not believe they deserve to live a healthy, satisfying life.
  • Stress. There are two ways that stress can lead to self-sabotage. First, there is the weight of expectations from loved ones that cause stress. Second is returning to living a responsible life means encountering daily stress. Both types of stress can cause someone to give up on recovery.
  • Seeking familiarity. For someone who has a long history of addiction, a sober lifestyle is very unfamiliar territory. There is a sense of safety in what is familiar, even if what is familiar is disordered and harmful to self.

5 Ways We Self-Sabotage in Recovery

Self-sabotage is not exclusive to addiction recovery. People may self-sabotage in their relationships, their job, or their health by making choices that cause them harm. In addiction recovery, self-sabotage is like an extension of the harm caused by addiction. For some people, failure is a familiar and comfortable place. Some of the ways we might self-sabotage in recovery include:

  1. Maintaining toxic relationships. In recovery, it can be very difficult to break off relationships with people who are harmful to us. It may even be a spouse or significant other that we have to let go of in order to protect the recovery. When we fail to follow through with this, it will often undermine our recovery.
  2. Engaging in negative self-talk. Once sober, you may find yourself hyper-aware of the harm you have done to others while in active addiction. You may see your life in shambles and engage in negative self-talk, blaming yourself for it all. If negative thinking continues, it will lead to feelings of hopelessness and self-hatred.
  3. Ignoring HALT. In early recovery, we are forewarned about something called HALT, an acronym for being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. When we experience these states of being we are more vulnerable to a relapse. Even knowing about HALT, someone who is self-sabotaging will tempt fate and ignore the warning.
  4. Refusing help. In treatment, we are taught about the importance of building a strong support network in recovery. This is put in place to be able to call on someone for support when we sense a threat to our recovery. To ignore someone’s concerns or offer to help is an example of self-sabotaging.
  5. Being isolated. In early recovery, the thought of having to make new sober friends and acquaintances can seem daunting. But if you don’t make this effort, you can end up very isolated. Isolation only foments loneliness and depression, which can trigger a relapse.

How to Prevent Self-Sabotage in Recovery

So, how can we avoid falling into the trap of self-sabotage? First, it will take awareness and humility to realize we are treading on thin ice and need to take action. Some of these actions might include:

  • Outpatient therapy. One of the best moves we can make is to attend weekly therapy sessions. In these sessions, you are able to work out the negative thought patterns, self-pity, or ambivalence you are feeling.
  • Support group. Finding a support group of people in recovery can be an outlet for these emotions. Chances are, many of the members of the group will share these very same struggles.
  • Increase meetings. If you participate in A.A. or SMART Recovery, you can increase the number of meetings you attend. The more support you have in early recovery, the better.
  • Self-care. Find ways to reduce stress and improve our mood. These might include daily exercise, meditation, a new hobby, or taking yoga classes.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

DBT is a type of short-term therapy that can be very helpful in recovery. DBT skills provide the tools we need to improve functioning in recovery. The four skills taught in DBT include:

  1. Distress tolerance. Learning distress tolerance skills can help us learn how to better manage our response to a stressful life event. While in addiction, our response to a distressing situation meant using a substance as a means of coping. DBT teaches us how to better tolerate distress, and how to access healthy coping techniques as needed.
  2. Emotion regulation. When we allow our emotions to control our actions, it can cause negative results. By learning how to regulate emotions we gain an essential recovery skill.
  3. Mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us control distracting or troubling thoughts, and instead focus on the present moment. Mindfulness teaches us to become fully immersed in the now.
  4. Interpersonal effectiveness. The quality of our relationships is improved when we learn communication skills and conflict resolution techniques.

We can greatly reduce the risk of self-sabotage in recovery by practicing DBT skills along with other continuing care actions.

LifeSync Malibu Luxury Addiction Treatment Center

LifeSync Malibu is an upscale rehab center that provides evidence-based treatment methods. To learn more about our program, please reach out to our team at (866) 491-4426.