In Recovery, Risk is Both Your Enemy and Your Friend

in-recovery-risk-is-both-your-enemy-and-your-friendLearning to take healthy, positive risks is one factor in being a healthy, thriving person.

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I have a problem with hanging onto things too long.

One summer when I was a teenager, I went camping with a friend and his family to Kalamalka Lake in beautiful British Columbia. On the lake, there is a secluded spot with a high cliff face and an overhanging tree swing. My friend is a natural thrill-seeker and he couldn’t wait to take me to the swing.

He was charged up, but me? The tree swing scared the crap out of me. But rather than saying “no,” I lined up behind my friend. After he successfully launched into the water, it was my turn. So I grabbed onto the rope and did the only thing I knew to do: I held on. 

Our belief in our ability to reach a goal, along with a willingness to take a risk are two behaviors that are essential to personal growth.

I swung out over the lake and then gravity did it’s thing and carried me back, crashing into the tree. Shaken and completely embarrassed, I quickly decided to give it a second try. I think it was a combination of embarrassment and determination not to let a tree get the best of me. This time, I let go at the right time and plunged into the black water. (Excerpted from the 5 Things That Will Help You to Let Go of Your Past)

How many risks do you take in a day?

Most of us are not natural risk takers. In fact, each of us will face a great deal of anxiety and straight-up fear when we attempt to take a risk. Take a moment and imagine yourself in each of the following four scenarios:

  1. Striking up a conversation with a complete stranger
  2. Sharing one of your ideas in a meeting with other professionals
  3. Talking about your most important beliefs or a strongly held opinion
  4. Being vulnerable and sharing a personal area of need or struggle

Each of these risks may strike you with a different level of risk. That’s because our perception of risk consists of a variety of factors: our history, the group we are with when we consider our decision, our evaluation of the possibility that we could fail, and our desire to grow in a particular area.

Risk and recovery

Risk is one factor in being a healthy, thriving person. Our belief in our ability to reach a goal, along with a willingness to take a risk are two behaviors that are essential to personal growth. According to Psychology Today blogger, Angie LeVan, risk taking can support you to feel happier in your life. If that is not enough, risk taking will support you in your recovery. Healthy risks allow you to:

  • Practice decision making and evaluating different aspects of your choices
  • Step out of your comfort zone as you learn about and expand your limits
  • Learn skills that help you to improve yourself, such as your ability to manage your emotions in a variety of circumstances
  • Grow as an individual and cultivate a thriving life

Your addiction, depression, panic attacks or post traumatic stress disorder will respond positively to taking reasonable, realistic risks. But in recovery, risk is a double edged sword because risk holds the possibility of growth along with the very real possibility of failure. Some things are not wise to risk, such as your clean time or your sense of emotional equilibrium. Other risks are more sensible.

Healthy and unhealthy risks

An important part of recovery is learning to avoid unhealthy risks. Intentionally exposing yourself to unhealthy risks can create triggers and stress that may prompt a relapse. Some examples of unhealthy risks are behaviors that are illegal, self-harming behaviors (suicidal behaviors or self-injury such as cutting), aggression, stealing or other criminal behaviors. These are the things that you are recovering from, and it is right to avoid these risks. Other examples of unhealthy risks include trying drugs “just one more time,” or thinking that you are strong enough to put yourself back in the same environment that led to your last addiction relapse, or returning to the same behavior patterns that contributed to a relapse of depression or anxiety.

Positive risks will push your comfort zone, they will allow you to take on challenges that contribute to your personal growth and development.

Positive risks will push your comfort zone, they will allow you to take on challenges that contribute to your personal growth and development. Positive risks include building new interests, taking on a goal that you are not sure you can achieve, practicing new behaviors in your relationships, or exposing yourself to new employment roles. These risks will help you to develop your resilience.

re·sil·ience

1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness

2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity

The following questions will help you to evaluate whether a risk is right for you.

  • How far along you are in your recovery?
  • How much support do you have?
  • What pressure are you getting from your friends, your family or those you are close to?
  • Do you need to be pushed? Who do you have on your side that knows where you are at and can give you a positive nudge in the right direction?
  • What are the benefits from the risk?
  • What are the costs of NOT taking any risk at all?

Another way to consider whether a risk is right for you is to work through the acronym R.I.S.K.:

Realistic – Is it reasonable, is it realistic? Based on your stage of recovery, your growth as a person and your goals.

Interesting – What is compelling about this risk? Why do you want to take this risk NOW?

Support – What support do you have? What do they think about your ability to handle this type of risk? Do you need to be pushed to take a healthy risk?

Knowledge – What will this teach you, what skills could you learn if you succeed and more importantly, if you fail?

One way to evaluate whether a risk is right for you is to work through the acronym R.I.S.K.: Is it Realistic? Is it Interesting to you? Do you have Support? Will it increase your Knowledge and skill?

Right now, I am not planning on any tree-swinging but I am planning some international travel in the next while. I am also investing more in both new and existing relationships. And I have agreed to sit as a workshop panelist at an upcoming conference on the workplace and mental health. Some of these risks feel manageable and others put me a little into my personal “Red Zone.”

If you enjoyed this article, you will also want to read some of my other writing:

What Will You Do the Day After You Change Your Life?

5 Things That Will Help You to Let Go of the Past

Recovery and Learning to Live With Risk

I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.

Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photo by Lori


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