“Now that I’m sober, why do I have to deal with these relationship issues? I could be drinking or doing drugs again. Getting sober was hard enough!”
“Why do I have pay all these bills? Why do I have to get along with my boss? I never asked for this!”
“Why should I go to A.A./N.A. meetings? I’ve got better stuff to do.”
“What am I supposed to do on the weekends now? I have no sober friends…”
“No one told me recovery was going to be so difficult!”
My clients in recovery have said these things to me time and time again over the last 25 years. So often, in fact, that I have begun to believe that the “Why Me?” syndrome is reserved not just for the few, but for the many.
But what does that mean? What is this syndrome? How does it impact my recovery? To state it simply, the “Why Me?” syndrome is feeling sorry for oneself and the need to remain sober, while also creating a brand new life in recovery. And it’s completely normal.
That Stinkin’ Thinkin’
Creating a newly sober life is not easy. It’s a challenge filled with ups and downs, and no one signs up for that challenge willingly. While it is certainly true that your new life in recovery can be a challenge, falling into the pit of “poor me” or “Why Me?” is a mistake. This type of thinking in the addiction treatment world has also been referred to as “Stinkin-Thinkin.”
Those in recovery are warned about the hazards of adopting such thinking, because it drive one back to the path of relapse and addiction. But what exactly am I going on about with the “Why Me?” syndrome, why do so many people experience it, and could it actually open a new door to recovery for someone if greeted with curiosity?
Of those I have worked with in recovery, many would answer “yes” to all of the above. “Why Me?” is normal part of the recovery process, and it’s more about when you are going to experience it, not if. But what if instead of holding it in and trying to block the feeling from your mind, you instead allowed it to sit with you? What if you allowed yourself a moment to try to understand it, communicate that feeling to others, and do something about it?
Explaining the “Why Me” Syndrome
The “Why Me?” syndrome at a glance is to feel sorry for oneself, but going further, that feeling is rooted in a deep need. The need to express that recovery is arduous, mysterious, and intimidating. How can I sustain this in the long term? It’s the need for support and guidance to walk this path—no one can beat addiction on their own.
Further, there can be a visceral reaction to that “Why Me?” stirring up feelings of helplessness, loneliness, and weakness. These thoughts can lead to anxious and depressed moods, making you feel like it may just be easier to go back to that old life of drinking or using—a much more predictable life in the short term, with substance abuse being the goto way to deal with relationships and other issues that come up. It can be paralyzing, and it may prevent you from reaching out to get the support you need to make positive lifestyle changes.
So, what can I do about it?
Step 1: Map out the “Why Me?” as part of your path to recovery.
You don’t go on a roadtrip for the potholes, construction, or traffic. Nevertheless, the bumps in the road still get you to your destination. In order to fully understand something, we need to see the road for what it is.
There are four questions you can answer to understand the power “Why Me?” may have over you:
- What purpose does the “Why Me?” serve in my recovery right now?
- What is the “Why Me?” stopping me from doing in my recovery?
- How can I look at the “Why Me?” from a different perspective?
- How can I take the “Why Me?” and use in a way that helps me grow?
The more you understand something, the more you can back the power to change it. To block it out may help in the short term, but the long term necessitates fully understanding its purpose at this stage in your recovery. It could be that you need time to grieve the loss of your previous life. You miss the regularity of using. You miss being free from actually dealing with the complexities of real life relationships. You miss the power to change your mood. And you might not even know yourself all that well. Building a newly sober life is a process of beginning to understand what purpose those substances may have served, and finding healthy alternatives.
Step 2: Call out the “Why Me?”
Don’t just recognize the “Why Me?”, but call it out by telling someone supportive of your recovery process about it. Own it, and be accountable. In life and recovery, the “Why Me?” could just be a great rationalization you use during the grieving process. The less we own it, the more power it has. You are accountable for your thoughts and feelings, and acknowledging that fact will allow you to move forward. Fail to own it, and it will swim around in your mind, allowing it to go underground and live on for years.
Here are two ways you can call out the “Why Me?” syndrom:
- Tell someone about your “Why Me?”.
- Ask others you’re close with if they’ve ever had the “Why Me?” syndrome.
Step 3: Honor the “Why Me?”
Honor yourself in the recovery process by honoring the “Why Me?” Be kind to yourself about your mistakes and imperfections. Love yourself deep down, and allow yourself room to heal and grieve.
For many of us, this journey may take days or months. Honor your old life as it was, and know that while we can learn things from past decisions, we can’t go back in time. You can’t undo the past, but that fork in the road between continued use and sobriety is critical. It is important to reflect on all that you have experienced. Those experiences in sum make you an amazing person, addiction and all!
How can I honor the “Why Me?”
- Make a list of your pitfalls during addiction. How have they made you a better person?
- Write down what you miss most about your life before the road to recovery. How would you replace those things?
- List what skills and personal strengths you have used to get through your addiction.
Step 4: Move on.
For so many, this is the conundrum. Thoughts can get stuck in our head forever. So much so that we can become paralyzed against doing anything at all. But one thing is for sure: we must take A.C.T.I.O.N to move on to that road to recovery.
Alcoholics Anonymous uses this great acronym:
Take A.C.T.I.O.N. on that new road of no excuses. Of acceptance of who we are, what we have gone through, and the future we want to carve out. No one will make that future for you. You are the instrument of change, if you try nothing new, you will only remain at the fork in the road.
Or maybe you look back, and return down the old road of what you knew in the past.
Don’t let the “Why Me?” syndrome win. Remember that it is a crucial part of your recovery process. Just as you have made it through whatever obstacles recovery has sent thus far, you get through the “Why Me?” Not only will you get through it, but you will use it to deepen your relationship with yourself and those around you.
Now, you’re on your way through the “Why Me?” syndrome. You have a better understanding of the new roads you must travel, how to call it out, how to honor it, and how to take action to rise above it!
A version of this and other blogs by Ted Izydor can be found at addictionblog.org.