Fear And Shame In The World Of Addiction
Addiction is a topic that is often surrounded by fear—especially the fear of experiencing shame. The fear of shame can keep us from recognizing or naming addiction in ourselves or in loved ones. From discussing our substance use with medical professionals, and even seeking recovery.
Fear is not something that is exclusive to substance use. People experience fear around all sorts of things. But what we often see in the world of addiction treatment and recovery is that the fear of shame is often one of the biggest factors keeping people from making meaningful and immediate changes in their lives.
The Idea of Putting Fear Behind You
In this article, we will look at the idea of putting your fear behind you. I first encountered this idea years ago in a podcast interview with infamous psychologist/author Jordan B. Peterson. While it seems unlikely that this idea originates with Peterson, my attempts to find an earlier source on the topic have not been fruitful. Given that he has lectured so extensively on this topic, and has such a significant online presence, it’s safe to say that Peterson is the author most closely associated with this idea.
I would like to note that personally, I’m not a fan of Jordan Peterson’s academic works and lectures. I feel the need to say that because Peterson is associated with a lot of controversies, and holds some beliefs which I see as really problematic. At the same time, I feel that this idea of putting your fear behind you is so powerful that I felt the need to share it despite all of that. So, with a bit of a caveat, I share with you this concept in hopes that it’ll be another tool in the treatment and recovery toolkit.
Putting Your Fear Behind You Is Not The Same As Facing Your Fear
In a lot of self-help literature, fear is constructed as something that needs to be battled, overcome, or otherwise made smaller and defeated. We’re told to keep a positive attitude, focus on our goals, and face our fears by charging through them after pumping ourselves up.
Indeed, having a positive goal and motivation can help us move through the unfamiliar and scary territory. But what if we could leverage fear to motivate us? What could that look like?
Putting Your Fear Behind You – A Practical Example
I was recently talking to an older couple who sold their house and all of their belongings in order to move to another country and live out their retirement. I asked them whether they were scared to be doing this, as some people would certainly think they were pretty brave to be giving up the security of having a house to their name, giving up their hard-earned comforts and conveniences, and moving to a far-less-familiar country to basically start fresh in their 60s. “Absolutely,” they said.
But interestingly, they noted that despite the fear of the unknown and of going into this new phase of their lives, they had a much bigger fear of moving forward. “What happens to us if we stay here?” they said. They talked about their lives in their suburban neighbourhood, of growing old and feeling more lonely and isolated in their home, and of living with the regret of not having gone on this wild new chapter of their lives. “That’s way scarier,” they said.
In this example, it’s easy to see that this couple had a big scary thing in front of them, i.e. moving to a new place. If not for an even bigger and scarier thing behind them, they might not have been able to move forward in this new direction.
Putting your fear behind you is not about getting rid of your fears or defeating them… it’s about weighing your fears against each other. What are you more afraid of? Moving forward in life, or continuing in your current path?
“Most People Aren’t Scared Enough”
In the podcast I listened to, where Peterson was being interviewed, his take on fear was not that people are too scared, but that most people aren’t scared enough. He gives the example of an unmotivated person who is scared of applying to a new job out of fear of being rejected. Isn’t the idea of becoming older, with no career to speak of even scarier, he asks?
If we truly appreciate the risks of continuing on our default path, we can leverage our fear by having it push us in a new direction rather than hold us back. So, how can we apply this idea to addiction treatment and recovery?
Well, we know that addictions claim lives. Substance use (even occasional) can be lethal, especially with the prevalence of contaminants in street drugs. And even when substances don’t outright end our lives, they can wreak havoc on our professional lives, our interpersonal relationships, our health, and our ability to flourish as individuals.
So, yes, the shame of being identified as a substance user or as someone living with addiction is scary. Shame is terrifying… But if that’s the fear that is keeping you from moving forward, ask yourself the following:
“What will it look like for me to continue down the path I’m currently on?”
If you don’t like the answer to that question, it may be time to put your fear behind you, and use that fear to push yourself into a brilliant new phase of your life.
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Ionatan Waisgluss is a writer, educator and tech professional living in the qathet region of British Columbia. He believes that growth is always an option.
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