4 Steps to Transform the “Why Me?” Syndrome in Addiction Recovery

On the surface it may look like you are feeling sorry for yourself. But, there turns out to be a deeper meaning when you give a more thorough look at the issue. Learn 4 steps to resolving the “Why Me?” mentality, here.

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Do You Think or Say, “Why Me??” A Lot?

Why do I have to deal with these relationship issues now that I am sober? I would be better off drinking or doing drugs again. Getting sober is hard enough!”
Why do I have to deal with my problematic boss and pay all these bills? It has taken a lot to get sober, let alone having to deal with all this!”
Why do I have to go to A.A./N.A. meetings? I have things to do at night.”
What am I supposed to do on the weekends now that I have no sober friends? Should I just sit home!”
I did not think recovery was going to be so hard!

I have heard these statements from my clients in addiction recovery time and time again over the past 25 years. These statements have occurred so often I have begun to believe that maybe the “Why Me?” syndrome is not just reserved for a few in recovery, but reserved for the many.

But what is this syndrome? How does it affect my recovery? Simply put, the “Why Me?” syndrome is characterized by feeling sorry for oneself and the need to remain sober while having to create a brand-new life in recovery. Continue reading to get a better understanding, and send us your questions via the comments section at the bottom of the page. We do our best to answer all legitimate inquiries with a personal and prompt response.

“Why Me?” As a Part of Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Don’t get me wrong; creating a newly sober life is no easy task. It is filled with its ups and downs. Nobody signs up for this task at birth! While the fact remains that creating a new life in recovery can be hard,falling into the pit of “poor me” or “Why Me?” is actually a form of self-sabotage. This type of thinking in the addiction treatment world has also been referred to as “Stinkin-Thinkin.”

People in recovery are warned about the hazards of adopting such thinking, because it can lead one back down the path of relapse and addiction. But what exactly is the “Why Me?” syndrome all about? Why does it exist in so many people? Can it open a new recovery door for someone if greeted with curiosity?

Many people in recovery I have worked with would say, “Yes!” to all the above. “Why Me?” is a natural part of the recovery process. It is not so much if you are going to experience it, but when. Rather than just kibosh the feeling and attempt to block it out of your mind, what if we were to sit with it first to understand it? Once we get a feel for where it’s really coming from, we can then communicate and do something more about it.

What Exactly Is the “Why Me?” Syndrome?

On the surface “The Why Me?” is a statement that encourages one to feel sorry for oneself. When we dive deeper, however, it is really rooted in deep need. The need to say that the transition to recovery is hard and unknown. What we are really thinking is:

“ I am not sure how to sustain this long term.”

It is a recognition that one will need support and guidance to walk this path and that no one can beat addiction by themselves.

Further, there is often a visceral reaction to the “Why Me?” stirring up feelings of helplessness, weakness, and loneliness. These “Why Me?” thoughts can lead to feeling anxious and depressed . Focusing on the effort can make you feel like it would just be easier to go back to the old life of drinking or using; a much more predictable life, with a drinking/drugging being the “go to” to deal with the people, places, things and relationships in your life. However, repeating this pattern can simply paralyze someone from being able to reach out and get support to make positive changes in their lives.

What You Can Do About It: In 4 STEPS

Step 1: See the “Why Me?” as a road you must travel.

To understand anything, we need to see the road for what it is.It’s not that you enjoy the potholes, construction, or traffic on some roads, but they will still get you to your destination.

Four questions in need of answers to understand the “Why Me?” power:

  1. What purpose does the “Why Me?” serve in my recovery right now?
  2. What does the “Why Me?” not allow me to do in my recovery?
  3. How can I see the “Why Me?” from a different viewpoint?
  4. How could I see the “Why Me?” in a way that will help me grow?

The more you understand something, the more you can begin to change it. To simply block it out Stinkin’ Thinkin’ may help in the short term, but in the long term, you must fully understand what purpose it is serving in you at this stage in your recovery. Some possibilities?

It could simply be that you need to grieve the loss of your using life. You miss the predictability of using. You miss not having to deal with the complexities of real relationships. You miss being able to alter your mood. Plus, you might not even know yourself all that well.

Part of the building a new sober life process is beginning to know what purpose substances served you. Then, you focus on finding healthy alternatives.

If you are struggling with anxiety and depression symptoms, be sure to seek out professional help to get this assessed and treated. There are plenty of counseling and medication options out there. You might also want to take an initial online anxiety or depression screen to get started on figuring it out.

Step 2: Call it out.

Calling it out means not just seeing it, but telling someone else who is supportive of your recovery. Own it deep down, and be accountable. In life and in recovery, the “Why Me?” can simply be a great rationalization used during the grieving process. However, the more we don’t own it, the more power it has over us.

Realize that if you are accountable for your thoughts and feelings, you will move forward. To not own it and have it swim around in your mind is to allow it to go underground and to live and breathe for years.

Two Ways to Call Out the “Why Me?” Syndrome:

  1. Tell someone supportive you are close with about your “Why Me?.”
  2. Ask someone else if they have ever had the “Why Me?” syndrome.

Step 3: Honor it.

Honoring it means exactly that: honoring yourself in your recovery process. Be kind to yourself and your imperfections and mistakes. Love yourself at a deep level, and make room to grieve and heal. For some of us, this journey to self-acceptance may take days or months. Sobriety is not a race; it is an opening to healing.

Additionally, you can learn to honor your old life as it was. We can learn things from our past decisions, but we cannot go back in time and change things we have done. But the fork in the road between using and sobriety is crucial. So, b e sure not to “should” all over yourself. Replace all the “should of’s” with “could of’s.”

Reflecting and realizing all that you have experienced is important. The totality of experiences makes you an amazing person, addiction and all!

Three Ways to Honor the “Why Me?”:

  1. List the pits you have lifted yourself from during your addiction and name them. How have they made you a better person?
  2. List what skill/strategy/personal strength you used to get through your addiction.
  3. List what you miss most about your using life. How would you replace these things?

Step 4: Move on and Away From the “Why Me?.”

This is the conundrum for so many. We can think about things in our head forever. We can think so much about things that we paralyze ourselves against doing anything. But one thing is certain: we must take A.C.T.I.O.N. to move on to a new road. Alcoholics Anonymous has this great acronym it uses:


A.C.T.I.O.N. = The new road of no excuses. The new road of acceptance of who we are, what we have gone through and what new future are we going to carve out. No one is going to carve it out for you.

You will have to be the instrument of change.

If you try nothing new, you will remain in the same place – at the fork in the road. Or, you might even look back and head back down an old road to return to what you know.

Got Any Questions?

Don’t let the “Why Me?” syndrome win! Understand that this is part of your addiction recovery process. Just as you have gotten through the obstacles of recovery this far, you will not only get through this obstacle, but use it to deepen your relationship with yourself and others around you. Because now you’re on to the ways of “Why Me?!” You have a better understanding of the new road to travel with it, how to call it out, how to honor it and how to take action to transcend it!

If you have any questions or would like to share a personal experience about how you overcame this obstacle in recovery, please feel free to post in the comments section below. We value all of our reader’s feedback and do our best to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries.

Ted Izydor, LPC, CSAC, ICS
About the author
Ted Izydor, LPC, CSAC, ICS, MBA, MINT. is a licensed mental health and addiction counselor who specializes in working with people struggling with substance use/addiction and people active in recovery looking to enhance their recovery and life. Ted's positivity and real life approach helps people leverage their unique strengths and motivations into positive life changes. Ted is currently a lecturer at UW-Whitewater, a consultant for health care organizations and host of the Full Potential Now Addiction Podcast. Ted is a member of the National Board of Counselors and the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers and is a true believer of unlimited possibilities.
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