Fear of Failure in Sobriety and College
When I first got sober, the fear of failure was one of the very things that almost brought me back out. I wanted to be sober, and I had a powerful experience working the steps, but my mind was telling me that I was going to screw up (as I had done plenty of times in the past) and everything was going to come crashing down. It felt like I should just give up because everything was going to end up in the dump anyway. However, I didn’t give up. I had a lot of support from people around me and I did my imperfect best and that was enough. Did I screw up? Sure I did. I had, and still have, numerous failures and was far from perfect. But none of them caused the catastrophic events that my mind told me were around the corner. Recovery, and my own efforts, created a support system around me that allowed me to navigate those failures and grow from them. The thing that got me close to the terrible crumbling of my life that my mind was sure was going to occur, was the very fear of it occurring. That fear, at times, lead me to want to just give up; which almost certainly would have resulted in the catastrophic effects I was afraid of.
When I returned to college in sobriety, I noticed a similar fear begin to arise. It was the fear that I would not be able to succeed, and therefore I might as well not even try and save myself the trouble. The fear that said that there was no humanely possible way that I could successfully study for a midterm, or write a research paper, without utilizing substances. Though my mind was sending me this message, others around me were sending a different message. They were telling me that I could succeed; that if I worked hard, and was willing to let myself do my imperfect best, I could persevere and excel. And that is exactly what happened. I struggled, I failed, and I had to ask for help. But I continued to listen to feedback from others, trust the program, and do my imperfect best and was able to graduate Summa Cum Laude. My mind had me almost convinced that I couldn’t even complete one paper without substances, fast forward a few years and I am still substance free and graduated with highest honors. With recovery, truly anything is possible.
I needed those people around me to help me see what I couldn’t. And I needed my failures to see that I could navigate difficulties and grow from them. Though it is cliché by now, the famous quote by Franklin Roosevelt rings true for me, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Austin Herrmann, LMSW