When Support Turns to Skepticism: Navigating Doubt in Recovery

November 21, 2023

5 mins

Jackie Rosu


Recovery can seem impossible when you feel like giving up on yourself. But statistics show that most people who experience an addiction recover and go on to live full, happy, and healthy lives.

The journey to sobriety can be a long and winding road, full of both small wins and unexpected setbacks. This journey can be challenging to understand for those in our lives who have never experienced an addiction or substance use disorder, which may lead them to pull back support or change their expectations over time.

Recovery can seem impossible when you feel like the people around you are giving up on you or when you feel like giving up on yourself. But statistics show that despite how hard the journey can be in the moment, most people who experience an addiction recover and go on to live full, happy, and healthy lives.

If you’re feeling stuck or susceptible to a relapse, know that the storm will pass. Here are some tips for navigating doubt in recovery and staying motivated through hardships.

The Three Stages of Relapse

First, the best strategy for staying motivated is understanding how addiction relapse works. Relapse isn’t a single event - it’s a process that occurs in three stages: Emotional, mental, and physical.

1. Emotional Relapse

The first stage of addiction relapse, emotional relapse, refers to a time when a person is not actively thinking about relapse but may be unknowingly setting themselves up for future challenges through their emotions and behaviors.

Warning signs of an emotional relapse may include:

  • Pulling away from the people and things you love
  • Avoiding support group attendance
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Mood swings
  • Ignoring personal hygiene 

2. Mental Relapse

The second stage of relapse is known as mental relapse. This stage is often characterized by an internal battle between wanting to use substances to soothe your emotions and wanting to remain sober.

Signs of a mental relapse can include:

  • Cravings
  • Thinking or fantasizing about using substances 
  • Expecting a relapse
  • Spending time with people who are using substances
  • Minimizing consequences of past use

3. Physical Relapse

The third stage of relapse, physical relapse, includes returning to the physical use of drugs, alcohol, or other substances. 

People often reach this stage when they don’t recognize the warning signs of the first two stages or find healthy ways to manage their emotions and urges. This is why staying motivated and finding a support system that works for you is so important.

Strategies for Staying Motivated in Recovery

Recovery doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, so trying different strategies to find what works best for you is essential. Here are a few examples of things to try.

Remove the “All or Nothing” Mindset

It’s common to want to strive for perfection in recovery, which can lead to feelings of discouragement if there is a setback. Remember that recovery is a journey, and you will have both good and bad days. 

Think about how you can talk yourself down from feeling like giving up on tough days, or consider coming up with a list of distraction techniques you can turn to when you’re feeling hopeless.

Set Realistic Goals

Every journey requires goal setting to advance. You must know what you’re trying to achieve to move the needle forward. 

Be careful to set goals that are realistic and attainable. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Your goals can be simple or require more commitment. Examples include:

  • Making it to this week’s group meeting
  • Seeing your therapist once a week
  • Having a conversation with your sponsor or mentor
  • Journaling for 10 minutes each day

Create Structure

Creating structure for your days can leave less time and energy for intrusive thoughts to present themselves. It can help you fill your days with healthy distractions that direct your mind away from cravings and capture your full attention in the moment.

Consider making a schedule each day of how you plan to fill your time. Pencil in times for nature walks, dinners with friends, catching up on your favorite TV show, exercising, reading, or learning a new skill. 

Reserve Time for Self-Care

Speaking of planning your day – remember to save room for quiet time and self-care. The goal is not to fill every moment of each day with distractions. It’s still important to take time to reflect on how you’re feeling and where you may need additional support and positive self-talk.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Sit down with a pen and paper and list five things you’re grateful for in your recovery. Better yet, make time to do this every day.

Focusing on the positives can not only help you keep things in perspective – it’s also good for your health. Gratitude has been proven to:

  • Lessen depression
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Relieve stress
  • Improve sleep

Maintain Healthy Habits for Sleeping, Eating, and Exercising

Eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest have all been shown to improve mental fitness and boost psychological wellness. Because your body and mind rely on each other to keep you well, it’s important not to neglect your physical health.

Finding Alternative Support & Motivation

If you’re struggling with internal motivation and want to find ways to feel supported beyond your inner circle, consider turning to outside resources that can help you learn evidence-based coping techniques or relate on a personal level.

Find a New Counselor

Counselors are human, and no one clicks with every person they meet. If you don’t feel like you’re getting the support you need from your current counselor or therapist, try a new one. 

You can use many online databases to help find therapists in your area, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline. Read through online bios to see who might be a good fit for you and your needs.

Join a 12-Step Support Group

Support groups aren’t for everyone, but they can help you achieve sobriety, experience acceptance and community, and foster long-term recovery. SAMHSA’s helpline can also be used to find active groups in your area, or you can check out our online support group.

Get More Involved in Your Local Recovery Community

Finding other people who are committed to addiction recovery can be incredibly helpful in holding you accountable and feeling less alone. Consider getting involved with a local nonprofit focused on addiction awareness and education to connect with other like-minded individuals and use your personal experiences for good.

Find Encouragement With Never Alone Recovery’s Online Support Group

Never Alone Recovery offers an online support group for individuals who struggle with addiction and their spouses, family members, friends, and allies that meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Central. Learn how to join our virtual meetings and add the next one to your calendar.

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