Is Your Recovery Journey Feeling Really Hard? Try These 8 Tips!
I'm so glad that you've landed here and are reading this. And I’m proud of you for continuing to do the work despite how hard the recovery journey is. I personally know how hard it is, and my hope is that throughout this episode, you feel heard, validated, and are reminded that you absolutely aren’t alone. I also hope that this episode gives you some strength and wisdom. And the 8 tips that I share in this episode are game changing! They are things that I wish I had known back when I was struggling because they would have made my journey a lot less hard (and long)!
Alright, I want to start by highlighting that we often do this thing as humans where we downplay what we’re struggling with. And we do this by either comparing ourselves to other struggles, or we compare ourselves to the person we were before we began struggling, the person who used to be able to easily do things that are now really hard to do. For example, I often did this thing when I was working to recover where I’d think about the Shannon who had no problem riding in cars, had no problem waiting in lines, going through drive-thrus, being far from home, being in new places, and the list goes on. And when I thought about this old version of myself, I immediately jumped to… I can’t believe I’m struggling with this stuff. I used to have no problem doing this stuff before! And then I’d jump to… People do this stuff without even thinking about it, what’s wrong with me?
Sound familiar? Yeah. I’d completely minimize the struggle that I was facing, and I’d make myself feel so bad. Like, how dare you be human and struggle, Shannon! I’d inevitably convince myself that I sucked, that I was broken, and that I was beyond fixing. And I want to address all of this because I’m sure that you have likely had similar thoughts and battles within yourself.
It’s okay if you’ve done some comparing, we all do, but I want you to acknowledge and recognize something really important. Some of the stuff you’re struggling with might seem silly (to you, or to others) and that’s okay. Even the silly stuff is valid. Let me say that again. The silly fears, thoughts, struggles, and experiences, they are all valid. And the stuff you used to be able to do with ease and lots of peace only proves that you are capable of doing this stuff with ease and lots of peace. Sure, it’s frustrating as hell for this stuff to feel and be so hard right now, but it’s okay that it is right now. It won’t always be!
And here’s a truth that can be really hard to hear… Life is not going to go back to how it used to be before you began struggling, because it’s not meant to. You are meant for more. You are meant to be more than you were yesterday, and the day before, and years before. The reality is that your struggles have changed you, and they have changed you in ways that will serve you in many positive ways for years to come. So don’t shoot to be the old version of you, because if that’s what you’re aiming for, you’re only holding yourself back from healing, growing, and overcoming. Instead, shoot for allowing new versions of you to unfold so that you can step into those new versions and see all of the possibilities that life holds for you.
And, overall, please do yourself a huge favor and acknowledge that what you are struggling with IS hard, this is undeniable and a truth. And you don’t suck. You aren’t broken. And you aren’t beyond fixing. It’s your relationship with anxiety that needs fixing, not you. Your struggles don’t define you, what you’re capable of, or your path in life. For simplicity's sake, what I’m trying to say is, allow yourself to be human. We are all struggling with things and we are all working to heal, grow, and overcome. Allow for things to be hard without it holding any other meaning aside from the fact that you’re human.
Speaking of not allowing things to hold meaning when there is no meaning… Let’s jump into my first tip! When you’re facing something hard and you’re feeling scared, overwhelmed, anxious, or fearful, I want you to acknowledge that feeling these things doesn’t equal failure, and these feelings don’t mean that you are incapable. These are all emotions that you are allowed to feel without it saying anything about you, your capabilities, or your recovery. One of the most important pieces of recovery is that you allow yourself to feel your emotions in a non-judgmental way so that you can process and let go of them in a healthy way so that they don’t continue to show up when they’re not needed.
We often make things harder on ourselves by not allowing ourselves to feel our emotions in a non-judgmental way, or we don’t even allow ourselves to feel our emotions at all. If this isn’t your first time with me, you’ve definitely heard this before… Fighting and suppressing your thoughts and emotions will only make them stronger and more present. And yes, of course being aware of, acknowledging, and feeling your thoughts and emotions takes practice and is hard work, but it’s very worthwhile work. So the next time you feel scared, overwhelmed, anxious, or fearful, I want you to allow these emotions to be present and remind yourself that these emotions being present doesn’t mean anything aside from you’re human. And also, remind yourself that you can do hard things even while these emotions are present!
Okay, tip number two… When things feel hard, think of something throughout your recovery that used to feel really hard but doesn’t feel so hard anymore. Yeah, you see where I’m going with this! When I was up against something that felt incredibly hard, I’d almost immediately go to the place where I’d convince myself that all of my hard work was doing absolutely nothing. And this is such a human response to facing hard things, right? Especially when you’re facing something in the moment, it can be so easy to convince yourself that you suck and that you aren’t doing a good job. And it can be so easy to get consumed with the feelings and forget how much progress you’ve already made.
When things feel hard, our brains are really good at fixating on all of the stuff that isn’t going well that it often forgets about all of the other stuff. So it’s your job to remind your brain that you don’t suck, that you are doing a good jog, and that you have made lots of progress! When you really think about it, I’m sure there are many things that used to feel and be harder than they currently are right now. Remind yourself of these things! Remind yourself of how strong and capable you are. Remind yourself that all of the work you’re doing IS leading to healing. And what feels so hard right now will feel less hard soon enough with continued practice!
Tip number three… And I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before and that’s because it’s so important! Be compassionate with yourself. Recovery truly doesn’t happen without lots of self-compassion. I know that this is likely going to make you roll your eyes and that’s okay, but a helpful question to ask yourself when you’re up against something hard is…. What would I say to a loved one who is facing what I’m facing? Chances are, you probably wouldn’t talk to them the way you might be talking to yourself, right? You wouldn’t beat them up, or make them feel bad for struggling, right? Instead, you’d listen to them, you’d validate how they feel, and you’d respond in a thoughtful and compassionate way.
Really hear me on this one. You deserve to get the response that you would give a loved one. You deserve to be gentle and understanding with yourself. You deserve so much kindness, compassion, support, and love. So when you find yourself going down the path of beating yourself up, be aware of when you’re doing it. Because if you aren’t aware that it’s even happening, you can’t work to change the messaging and stories. So once you are aware, practice responding to yourself in a compassionate way. This might look like saying to yourself… This is hard, and I am having a really human response to these feelings. I am doing a good job and I am proud of myself for the work I’m doing. Remember, allow yourself to be human.
Okay, onto tip number four… Allow for your recovery to look and be messy. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the recovery journey went smoothly and wasn’t full of ups, downs, bumps, swerves, curves? Of course it would be! But that’s just not realistic. The recovery journey is messy. Life is messy. It’s okay for your recovery journey to look and be messy. And when it does, it doesn’t say anything about you or who you are as a person. You don’t need to apologize for the mess. Allow yourself to heal imperfectly. After all, nobody heals perfectly!
And when you feel that shame kick in, respond to it in a healthy way. And what I mean by this is, allow shame to be present. It’s an emotion and you are allowed to feel it, so let yourself acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. Shame gets a lot of its power from trying to be suppressed and silenced, so speak the thoughts and feelings out loud. And then release it. Tell shame that you won’t allow it to hold space in your mind. For example… Instead of, “I can’t believe things just went that way. I’m such a failure.” Try responding in a healthier way. This can look like saying to yourself, “Although it didn’t go well, I tried, which is the opposite of failure. I did a good job and I’m proud of myself for being brave and willingly facing that!” Remember, self-compassion is so important, especially when things feel hard and are messy.
Tip number five… Take a look at your expectations and make sure they are realistic and helpful. This is a huge one, right? I remember having such unrealistic expectations of myself and of my recovery journey. Let me share some examples with you… When I was facing something hard that often led to anxiety, I’d tell myself… Shannon, you can do this! You can do this without feeling anxious! Yeah, what was I thinking, right? I look back and cringe at the fact that this is actually something that I used to say to myself. My expectation of not feeling anxious was so unrealistic and unhelpful! Remember, it’s okay to feel anxious. It’s kind of the point of recovery. It’s important to not set goals that include, “I’m going to do this without feeling anxious.”
Another unhelpful expectation that I had was that I was going to heal in a particular time frame. I would literally map out how long it would take me to overcome particular fears, and then of course when I didn’t meet that goal, I’d immediately want to throw in the towel and call it quits, all while beating myself up and convincing myself that I clearly wasn’t capable of recovering. You know what’s more helpful? Focusing on taking the healthy actions consistently without telling yourself that you have to, or will heal, by a particular time frame. As long as you focus on taking the healthy action, you’ll get there
Something that can be really helpful is to just check in with yourself and ssk yourself, “Do I need to adjust my expectations?” Oftentimes we make things harder than they are by having unrealistic or unhelpful expectations of ourselves, or of our recovery journey.
Tip number six… Do more looking inward when things feel hard. This one is so hard, I know. But it’s so important along the recovery journey that you take actions that will allow you to start to rely on and trust in yourself rather than others. I want to share a really important truth with you that often gets overlooked. Nobody has ever worked through the anxious moments and panic attacks for you. You’ve always done this. Sure, maybe your safe person has been with you during a hard moment, but they didn’t and they can’t work through the hard moments for you.
So many people that I work with share with me that their biggest fear is that they will experience a panic attack and they won’t be able to “handle it.” When in reality, they’ve always handled it. Sure, it may not have felt like you handled it well, but you handled it. Not your mom, not your dad, not your sister, or brother, or significant other, or friend, or anyone else. So when you find yourself looking outward for a solution, instead pause and go inward. Give yourself the opportunity to realize just how capable you are. Because the reality is, you have everything you need inside of you, you just have to practice trusting and believing in your own wisdom and power.
Tip number seven… Really evaluate that what you might need is rest. When you’re working to recover you’re often doing, doing, doing, and you think that by constantly doing, you’ll somehow recover faster. But the reality is, your mind and body are working really hard and you need rest. And trust me, I know how hard it can be to just rest. I can remember choosing to just lay in bed and read a book, or watch tv, and my brain would respond with… Well this isn’t how you’re going to recover! You should be doing something. Sound familiar? Well here’s the truth, resting is a healthy action. You need to rest. Constantly pushing yourself isn’t going to make you heal more quickly.
So check in with yourself and ask yourself… Do I need some rest? And really listen to the response. When you need rest, take it. And when the thoughts creep in, convincing you that you’re lazy and that you should be doing something, let them in and let them pass. Because you are doing a healthy something that will support your recovery immensely!
Tip number eight… Acknowledge that you are not as far away from reaching your goal as you think you are. I’m serious! We often convince ourselves that we have such a long way to go, or that we’re years away from recovering, when in reality, you could recover with just one more healthy step, one more reframed thought, one more kind message, one more healthy action.
I have to tell you a story! Adam and I did a hike recently and of course we picked a really tough one. And before we got to the trailhead, Adam looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to do this one? It’s going to feel like you’re on a stair stepper for 4 ½ hours.” And boy, was he right! The hike was so hard. But a few times along the way I found myself saying, “Just one more step.” And you know what, that one last step came and I made it! It was truly all of the small steps that led me to the top.
But I also want you to keep this in mind (yeah, there’s always a but, right?)… It’s not about making it to the top. It’s not about being healed. It’s not about being recovered. It’s not about making it to the destination. All of these things are icing on the cake! The real magic is in appreciating the journey and being present for it, because a whole lot of life (and amazing stuff) happens WHILE you're working to heal.
Alright, my friend! I really hope that these eight tips that I’ve shared with you have been helpful. The recovery journey is hard, so remember to allow yourself to be human. I am proud of you.
Until next time, keep taking healthy action!