The Fear Cycle – When You’re Just too SCARED to Get Sober



Tis the season to talk about fear. I am a sobriety blogger, and people write to me all the time to ask questions about recovery – how did I get sober and how do I stay that way? I have been corresponding with a woman recently, who says she feels “stuck in a fear cycle”.  For more than ten years she has tried to quit drinking. She says drinking every day is the only thing that is stopping her from having a wonderful life. But she can’t seem to stop. And she’s tried. She has read self-help books; gone to counselors; paid on-line gurus and life coaches; made appointments with a psychiatrist (and got a prescription); and filled out insurance forms ad nauseam. When all else failed, she relied on white-knuckled “hope”. Nothing worked, and now she feels hamstrung by fear of failure, fear of feelings and fear of reaching out.


The Fear Factor

I understand her cycle of fear and anxiety. I think many people struggling with addiction can relate to this emotion. The trigger for fear can be real or imaginary, rational or irrational, but the fact is, everyone in recovery will have to face their fears. And a big deterrent to sobriety is the fear of having to experience life without the scrim of alcohol or other drugs to soften sharp-edged, reality.


Fear is defined as: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. That is an understatement when fear keeps a person trapped in addiction. But looking at a lifetime of sobriety can be overwhelming. There is cold comfort in the familiar. And even though an intelligent woman like my pen pal can see how much her alcoholism is ruining her happiness, it’s the devil she knows…




What Are You Afraid Of?

People new to recovery can be afraid of many things. They may even be afraid of getting well. A healthy sense of fear can make a person more cautious, more adept at decision making and better at staying out of danger. Excessive fear prevents a person from taking action, thinking clearly or moving forward. Fear can lead to stress and become a justification for relapse. Common fears for people in recovery are:

  • The fear of authenticity. Will I be good Enough? Who am I exactly?
  • Fear of addressing the root cause of an addiction
  • The overwhelming lack of excuse – fear of facing responsibility
  • Fear of losing the most interesting parts of oneself – humor and outrageousness
  • Afraid the world be dull and boring
  • Fear of stepping out into uncharted territory
  • Dealing with inevitable relationship issues can be scary
  • Honestly accepting blame (when due) for impacting family and children…
  • Fear of the fallout from previous bad behavior
  • Facing potential health problems stemming from long-term substance use
  • Standing up to potential humiliation – facing the aftermath of addiction
  • Fear of the open-ended, sober life…
  • Accepting financial or career backlash is always frightening


Fearless Recovery…

There is no universal path to recovery. And it is probably not possible to go through life without fear. Emotional sobriety means those in recovery no longer shrink from fear or avoid confrontation. Their focus is on managing fear effectively. Managing fear means facing fear. At the end of her last letter, my correspondent said she was “ready to try recovery again”. And that is how it goes – you find a connection, find a community, find help and be ready. I think she’ s ready.





Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”
–Judy Blume





Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.