Expectations are funny things in that they can elevate you to a certain level due to self-competition. You want to get better for yourself, meet those goals, and hit those deadlines because they make you feel good. When it turns into something else, you might start feeling let down, frustrated, angry, and even depressed and triggered in recovery. Rather than telling yourself you are going to do this or try that, or even beating yourself up for not managing recovery well, it pays to stop and listen to your self-talk and see if you can turn it around to something positive instead.
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Anxiety and Stress
When you feel anxious or stressed, your brain is tempted to cut corners. This means it will find shortcuts to things that make you feel like you should be doing things you’re not. A must-do list or belief in some way you think about how the world should work and how you should behave. These are boxes the brain creates and builds to put things into perspective but it tends not to be accurate or helpful. When you think about how to move beyond this dialogue, it helps to focus on what brings up anxiety and stress and how to navigate it better in recovery.
I Need Love
Everyone needs to have some affection and companionship. The connection is what makes people human, after all, and should not be downplayed. Some need more connection than others to thrive. It is incredibly human to want to be accepted, loved, and praised. You become someone who changes to suit others’ ideas and that is not what you need when you think about how you need love. If you are changing to meet others’ needs, then you don’t need their love that badly. The reality is that you can never make everyone happy all the time. This ‘must-do’ is dangerous and irrational. Try focusing on your values, instead. What actions create space for self-respect? How can you be kind to others rather than simply seeking out their love? What do you need from your peers and what is practical?
I Must Be Successful
One of the hardest things in recovery is to recognize the danger in trying to be successful rather than just be. You cannot always be successful at something but you can inspire courage and become better at something over time. Rather than becoming paralyzed by the fear of failure or perfectionism, it helps to consider how your life can be more fully in spite of your limitations. It helps to be careful about not implying you will never find success, but that it is not the end-all, be-all for you and you will be happy in recovery regardless of whether or not success comes in the way you think it should.
Avoid Conflict At All Costs
This is quite dangerous in recovery because it can keep people from achieving the eighth and ninth step of the 12-step journey for so many who walk that path. These are the steps where an inventory is taken of all harms done and repairs are sought in those relationships. With conflict avoidance, there is usually fear-based avoidance that seeks to escape and fix. More emotional reactivity is present and self-defeating dialogue within yourself when you choose an escape plan. In life, we encounter people with whom we have conflict. There are disagreements and misunderstandings, but facing conflict head-on by seeking truth can seem impossible but it is not. The better you become at being thoughtful, the less interpersonal drama will bother you in the long run.
It is hard to let go of any idea that you have control over what is happening to you every day. You can control your response, but you cannot always control what happens. When the expectation comes, it is easy to say that things should be a certain way. However, much of what happens in life is by chance. It is by the work of someone else, perhaps poor choices, but maybe someone else’s behavior. Challenging the brain’s process starts with writing down thoughts and expectations. What do you hope to get from this and how will that impact the journey. Learning to let go is about examining all the ideas and thoughts you have about recovery and sending them away. You are not going to achieve all you want to achieve, and you will never change the past. The key is to live into what you can do today with what you know and have and not worry about the rest. Tomorrow’s worries will take care of tomorrow. You will have plenty to worry about there. But now you can worry about today for the moment and seek every chance to let things go so you can be free.