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How do You Learn from Mistakes in Addiction Recovery?

Life gets better when you get sober, but it doesn’t get better all at once. If you’ve been battling addiction for a long time, you may not have had much practice living sober. While sobriety certainly improves your judgment, it doesn’t make you infallible. Everyone makes mistakes. Adjusting to the challenges of making mistakes sober takes some adjustment.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is coping with regret. Drugs and alcohol can take the sting out of having made a bad decision but they don’t do anything for the actual consequences. Instead of reaching for a drink, which may be your reflex, you have to endure the regret. Now you have two problems: the regret itself and the craving caused by angst.

The first thing you will want to do is talk to someone. It could be your sponsor, a friend, or your therapist. Tell them you did something silly and now you really want to drink. You don’t have to weather the storm alone.

When the craving subsides and you are left with the regret, try to put your mistake into perspective. In the moment, we tend to feel like mistakes are awful. We quite often castigate ourselves for having made them. In reality, most mistakes aren’t a big deal. They may cause some inconvenience but very few mistakes are actually catastrophic. Try taking a long view of the situation. Is it something you can fix? If not, what are the actual consequences of the mistake? The sense of dread we feel for messing up is often much worse than the actual consequences.

Next, look at how the mistake has caused you to talk to yourself. Are you being unnecessarily self-critical? Dwelling on the mistake and thinking, ‘I’m such an idiot’, or ‘will I ever stop being a loser?’ is counterproductive. You are taking one recent incident and making it proof you are worthless. Everyone is a work in progress. Some decisions are bad but most are good enough. All you can do is try to make better decisions tomorrow than you did yesterday.

When you’ve weathered the craving, figured out what you’re actually dealing with, and stopped beating yourself up, you can try to learn something from your mistake. This is not a perfect science and it might help to get an outside perspective from someone you trust who knows you well. Sometimes our motivations and thinking are hard to understand and you might need to work with a therapist to sort it out. Other times, it might be simple. If you get into trouble whenever you’re with Frank, stop spending time with Frank.

Despite what people say, we often make the same mistake twice. Usually people only stop making a mistake when they get tired of it. All you can do is learn what you can and move on. Dwelling on it and beating yourself up will only make you more likely to relapse.


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