How to handle disappointment in addiction recovery
By Louise A. Stanger Ed.D, LCSW, CIP
“Don’t let today’s disappointments cast a shadow on tomorrow’s dreams.” Unknown
For me, disappointment is one of life’s most uncomfortable feelings. It’s complex, containing a subset of conflicting emotions like:
…and probably many others too subtle to identify. Sometimes, those emotions by themselves are easier to deal with, but disappointment can leave me at a loose end. I might not be sure whether I should feel angry, or just impatiently wish that I would hurry up and get over it.
Disappointment can hover at the front of your mind and niggle at the back, bringing you a grey perspective on life, even if you’re trying to forget about it. Although disappointment manifests itself in different ways, the root feeling is human in us all. And for that reason, I’ve come to develop four ways you can manage disappointment in addiction recovery and ultimately move past its cloying hands into a place of acceptance.
1. Let it out.
One of the hardest things to do in a world where everything is immediate – we are all under external pressure, and time is a scarce resource – is to just let yourself experience a feeling such as grieving or sadness. Even at the most difficult times, on average we only allow ourselves 1 to 2 weeks off of work, and then we mostly expect to get back into normality again.
Human beings are not very good at allowing the experiencing of emotions in full without trying to speed up the process. We don’t want to feel the difficult ones, so we push them aside. The only time we have this ability in its purest sense is when we are young children who have yet to be told or taught what is socially acceptable. Children will tantrum and cry and scream, or laugh until it runs out and they are genuinely ready to move on.
Adults? Not so.
I’m not suggesting we lock ourselves away for weeks at a time whenever we have been disappointed, but simply to be aware of any sense of obligation to “just get over it,” and instead allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling without any agenda of speeding up the process. Whatever you are feeling is okay. Take some time to just sit with your emotion and experience it without moving to fix or change it.
Genuinely experiencing emotions, no matter how painful, is one of the beauties of life. Don’t shy away from these moments. Be present in them.
2. Get some perspective.
The wonderful thing about letting it out is that you have given yourself that time. You have said to yourself, “I care about you. I want to allow you to feel what you need to feel and I do not wish to push you or cajole you.” You have treated yourself like a friend and allowed yourself the space you needed to experience your feelings of disappointment through compassion.
Once you’ve done that, it becomes much easier to get some perspective. After you give yourself space to feel, you’re able to give the situation or individuals involved more room to breathe.
Perhaps the person who you feel disappointed by doesn’t even realize they’ve done something to upset you. Maybe they’re stressed out and don’t have the emotional bandwidth to think about it because they aren’t allowing themselves time to experience their emotions. Giving yourself space to be as you are prepares you to allow the same to other people.
Having a perspective broader than your own view on a particular situation is always helpful. The critical point here is that you have to mean it. Rushing onto gaining perspective before you’ve allowed yourself to be with how you feel will be artificial and will not last.
3. Know your own heart.
Disappointment can ripple through to the core of who you are. If you don’t know what your core values are, you may not have a framework to support you when you experience negative emotions.
For example, one of my core values is open-heartedness. I wish to keep an open heart and be ready to share love and kindness with others, regardless of how they might behave. I would like to always try to choose to act with love and kindness towards others, rather than with negativity.
When someone disappoints me and I feel like closing and withdrawing, I remember this core value, then pause and make a choice: I wish to be an open-hearted person. These negative feelings are feelings and they will pass. Do I choose to remain open-hearted, or do I choose to follow the easier instinct and close off?
More often than not, I choose to be in line with my values over the automatic response to the situation. It doesn’t happen every single time, but it usually does and I always make the effort to turn toward open-heartedness.
Knowing your own heart and your values gives you the freedom of choice. You can choose to be driven by what happens to you, or you can choose to live in line with your principles. The latter has helped me to overcome disappointments and negative situations in a healthy way. The challenge of disappointment allows me to practice living closer to my values, and stops me from being swallowed up by it.
4. Practice acceptance.
As human beings, even though we know that some things are bound to happen, we’re not always willing to accept them. Every time I am disappointed, I feel overwhelmed by my emotions. I’m inclined to withdraw and blame others, wanting to wallow in my disappointment.
Each time, I have to accept that I will feel these things again. I have to accept that I will continue to be disappointed—that it is a part of life, part of being human. I also have to accept that I will probably continue to struggle to accept this fact, at various points throughout the rest of my life! This step is a lifelong challenge and fundamental to dealing with disappointment.
I will be disappointed, I will disappoint, you will be disappointed, and you will disappoint. Life will be disappointing—but it will pass. Practice acceptance and we may suffer less as it is happening and notice the good things in life more.
Personal growth in addiction recovery
Disappointment is a part of life, but all parts of life can help us grow. We can be present and aware even in the midst of negative emotions and therefore live more fully.
Lastly, acceptance of disappointment is a journey, one fraught with a colorful array of emotions. As we develop these skills and overcome our challenges, these are the true markers of a life well-lived.
About the Author: Dr. Louise Stanger – speaker, educator, clinician, and interventionist – uses an invitational approach with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
Louise publishes in the Huffington Post, Journal of Alcohol Studies, The Sober World, Recovery Campus and other media. The San Diego Business Journal listed her as one of the “Top 10 Women Who Mean Business” and is considered by Quit Alcohol as one of the Top 10 Interventionists in the country. She is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph L. Galletta Spirit of Recovery Award. Her book Falling Up: A Memoir of Renewal is available on Amazon and Learn to Thrive: An Intervention Handbook on her website at www.allaboutinterventions.com.