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Self-Sabotage: How And Why It Comes Out In Sobriety

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Self-sabotage. Most people who have experienced addiction first hand are all too familiar with this. What is it? Why does it happen? Why, when we have opportunities to make positive changes in our lives do we ruin it? Or, why do we squander opportunities, resources or damage otherwise healthy, positive relationships?

These questions can certainly keep you up at night, and they probably have. Self-sabotage is really the act of being your own worst enemy. While this negative behavior runs rampant during the course of active addiction, it doesn’t just go away once you get sober.

How Can It Show Itself In Sobriety

There are a variety of ways in which self-sabotaging thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can come up in recovery. This is especially true in early recovery, however even people with long periods of time sober can run into this problem.

The most obvious form of this behavior in recovery is relapse. Relapse can happen at any time, and although it may seem to come out of the blue, there are usually signs that it is coming. The signs may not be obvious at first, but they are there, and they escalate even before relapse occurs, they can cause unmanageability and wreckage in your life.

Many of those signs are examples of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that show up and erode your self-esteem and self-worth, setting the stage for relapse. Sometimes these behaviors are in response to an external or internal stressor.

Symptoms of Self-Sabotage in Sobriety can Include:

  • Failing to show up for treatment, aftercare or meetings that are necessary to comply with or complete a program.
  • Isolating yourself from people who are healthy and sober and have your best interests at heart.
  • Pursuing or continuing relationships with people who are using, or who are unhealthy or unsafe in other ways.
  • Hanging out in places where drugs or alcohol are available.
  • Engaging in other unhealthy, destructive or illegal behaviors, such as shoplifting, gambling, unsafe sex or compulsive spending.

These are some obvious ways that you can engage in self-defeating behavior, but there are also less obvious ways, that are just as serious:

  • Beating yourself up for mistakes in the past that you can’t change.
  • Staying stuck in self-pity, guilt and shame.
  • Not taking care of yourself; running yourself ragged, not eating or sleeping properly, not tending to your personal needs.
  • Engaging in codependent behavior, getting sucked into drama.
  • Not addressing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or trauma.

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Any of these situations or behaviors, if left unchecked, can lead to relapse. But why do people sabotage themselves? It can be particularly frustrating to realize that everything was going just wonderfully, and then self-sabotage kicked in and ruined everything.

It’s a common scenario: A person gets sober and life starts to get better. Perhaps you’ve been able to find a job, an apartment and repair relationships with family members. You are having fun in recovery and making lots of new friends. Then, you relapse. Friends and family are baffled, why would you take a chance and risk it all again?

What Causes This Self-Defeating Behavior?

While there is no one single right answer, much of the time it has to do with fear and discomfort. While active addiction and the lifestyle that goes with it is certainly unpleasant, it’s also familiar. There’s a certain level of comfort in this life. Sometimes, especially in early recovery, there are feelings of intense discomfort and anxiety. This life is new, it isn’t familiar. It may feel unpredictable. You may be feeling happy and successful now, but what about down the road? These feelings of fear and apprehension are often a catalyst for relapse.

Another cause for sabotage is a lack of tools. Sometimes, life throws us curveballs. It may be financial troubles, the end of a relationship, illness or even the death of a loved one. When these things happen, it can send you into a tailspin, and without the proper tools and support, self-sabotage may kick in.

Recognizing The Signs & Prevention 

Sabotaging behaviors do not have to derail your recovery. When they come up, they can be dealt with so that they do not destroy what you have been working so hard for.

One of the single biggest defenses against this situation is support. Support may come from counselors, healthy family members, your sponsor and your sober friends in recovery. People who care about you will often be the first to point out behaviors that aren’t in your best interests. This isn’t always easy to hear, but being open to this feedback can help you recognize behaviors and get back on track.

A daily inventory is another powerful tool that can help you identify sabotaging behaviors before it gets out of hand. It’s often the small decisions that are made throughout the day that can add up and cause unmanageability in your life. Nipping these behaviors in the bud can make a huge difference.

Be Willing To Sit Through Some Discomfort

This new life is just that. New. Even though things are going good for you, fear may still kick in. Self-doubt that you can handle your new responsibilities may kick in. You may find yourself having cravings or feeling drawn back into the lifestyle that you know. It’s important that you discuss these feelings with people you trust in recovery. Often, talking about this discomfort and fear helps to take the power out of it. The feelings will pass, and each day you will grow stronger in your recovery. Each time you make a healthy decision, you step further away from self-sabotage and self-defeat. As time goes by, your tolerance for this behavior grows smaller as you become comfortable in your new, sober life.

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