23 July 2018

Secrets of Recovery: Accountability to Mentors and Peers

It’s an idea that is completely accepted in the world of business, sport and education – to achieve a very challenging goal, it can be useful and motivating to work with coaches, mentors and peers. But what is the role of accountability in addiction recovery? In this blog, we look at some definitions of accountability, including in the context of addiction recovery. Why is accountability sometimes difficult or frightening for people with addictive disorders? And why is it a vital strategy to achieve long-lasting recovery?
What Does Accountability Mean?>One definition of accountability is the expectation that we are willing to justify our actions or decisions. By being accountable to other people, we accept responsibility for ourselves – including our emotions and reactions, our choices and circumstances.
Accountability also means ‘a state of being answerable’. There’s a clear idea within this definition: we are willing to receive and respond to questions from other people – and from ourselves too. This could include being challenged about our thoughts or actions. We may be asked questions that we don’t want to hear, let alone answer. At the same time, we’re also inviting support and encouragement from mentors or peers – both in terms of their suggestions about how to realise our goals, as well as recognition for the things we have achieved.

Answering Questions in Addiction Recovery

Essentially, accountability in addiction recovery is about commitment to ongoing change. In abstinence-based recovery, the addictive substance or behaviour is relinquished – the first big change that is required. This allows the lifelong process of recovery to begin. The recovery process can then be seen as a series of questions – some small, others big. We need to face and answer these questions in new ways, without returning to the harmful habits of active addiction. In this way, we must remain in a ‘state of being answerable’, in order to grow in our recovery.
There are many questions we face, particularly in early recovery, which relate directly to overcoming the addiction. For example:

  • How can I go to my best friend’s wedding and not have a drink?
  • Can I still enjoy going to football without betting on the result of the game?
  • All my friends smoke weed – does giving up cannabis mean I can’t see them anymore?
  • Will I still be able to go clubbing and dance, if I stop using ecstasy?
  • How can I eat in company without feeling so self-conscious?
  • I think my life will be boring without heroin – how can I deal with that?
  • I’m about to have a major operation – is it okay to take painkillers in hospital, when I’m in recovery from codeine addiction?

There are many other important questions to face in recovery, which relate to managing our emotions and relationships. For example:

  • How can I go on holiday with my sister, when she criticises my partner so openly?
  • I’m scared of my new boss – how can I deal with the anxiety I feel going to work?
  • I’m so excited about my new relationship that it’s affecting my sleep – how can I switch off at night?
  • My neighbour makes me angry, playing loud music – what can I do to change this situation?
  • My girlfriend wants to split up – I didn’t see it coming at all and I’m really upset. Who can I talk to about this?
  • How can I feel more confident about my job interview next week?
  • I don’t want to go to my friend’s hen do – how can I let her know without hurting her feelings?
  • What will my new boyfriend think of me, when he sees my scars from self-harm?
  • Accountability and resolving conflict in addiction recovery

All of these questions have something in common – they all relate to external and internal conflict. There’s something we want (or we don’t want) – but there’s an obstacle in our way. It’s a block that can feel very difficult to overcome by ourselves. Or it’s something we just don’t know how to do because we have no prior experience of the situation.
Sometimes, the obstacle can feel completely impossible to change, which can significantly affect mood and well-being – particularly if we don’t confide in a good friend or mentor.

In recovery from addiction, accountability to other people can be extremely helpful in resolving our conflicts healthily. In sharing the problem at hand, it can relieve the immediate pressure we feel. Talking to another person is not only a way to express the emotions involved, but it also builds human connection. The person you talk to may identify with the feelings you’re having or the situation you’re in, which can make it a bit easier to deal with. They might even suggest a good way forward and be there to give encouragement if you get stuck again.

Working with a recovery sponsor, mentor and a set of trusted peers can increase accountability and the potential for change. By talking regularly to the same people, we may find that we commit more meaningfully to actions that will change our circumstances. We may also find peace with a conflict that is beyond our control, thanks to being challenged by friends to let go of a persistent worry.

There’s also another great benefit of speaking to the same set of people over time. We can also encourage them to resolve their conflicts in addiction recovery. And in doing this, we can learn from their experience – and sometimes, we can find the motivation appears to take difficult actions in our own life.

Here are a couple of examples of how accountability can help in addiction recovery:

You speak to a friend in recovery on the phone. You tell him you haven’t been feeling too good – your mood and energy levels are low. He asks if you’ve been to any addiction recovery meetings recently. You’ve haven’t been for two weeks. He suggests going to a local meeting tonight. He offers to meet you beforehand for a cup of tea and a chat. You make yourself accountable by agreeing to meet him there.There’s a work Christmas party coming up, where you know there’ll be a lot of drinking. You’re three months into your recovery from alcohol addiction and you’re worried about going. At the same event last year, you were drinking with your colleagues. You make yourself accountable by talking to your counsellor about strategies you’ll use at the party, to keep yourself safe. You decide on the soft drink you’ll order at the bar. You work out a rough plan for when you will arrive and leave the party. You have numbers in your phone for several people you can call, if you don’t feel great at the party. You book another counselling session too, so you can let your counsellor know how the party went.

Accountability and Overcoming Fears

Being accountable is also a way of facing some very common fears, which can hold people back in their recovery from addiction. These fears include:

  • Fear of failure – this fear can be so strong that it feels easier not to admit the challenge to other people. Faulty reasoning can set in – we can think that if we don’t mention our situation to anyone else, then there’s no chance of failing. The fear of failure may be so great that we manage to deny to ourselves just how much something is bothering us.
  • Fear of success – strange as it sounds, we can often hold back on being accountable to others in recovery because we’re actually scared of positive things happening in our life. It may feel easier not to apply for a job we really want – just in case we get it. Being successful in the job interview would then require more of us, such as having to negotiate a salary, adapt to a more challenging role, get to know new colleagues, learn the route to work and increase certain skills.
  • Fear of visibility – many people in early recovery experience some level of self-consciousness about sharing their challenges. For example, when it comes to speaking in an addiction recovery meeting, people often describe the fear of opening their mouth – but then the palpable relief when they manage to do so.
  • Fear of change – when so much about life has been volatile and complicated in active addiction, sometimes the positive changes that are needed to progress in recovery can feel ominous. It may feel easier at times to avoid accountability altogether, including in the areas we would benefit from making changes.

What’s really important to understand about fears that arise is this – when we’re accountable to others and ourselves, fears can be interpreted in a positive way. Identifying a particular fear can give a helpful indication of something we need to get help with or give our attention to. Fear should not be seen as a shortcoming or a weakness in our character. Furthermore, when we’re experiencing and sharing our fears in recovery, without returning to our addiction, we’re actually developing emotional intelligence and creating much better habits.

In all these respects, accountability is a vital strategy in addiction recovery – not only for relapse prevention but also to answer the many questions we have in life. Accountability helps us to change where we need and want to change, to accept where we can’t influence a situation or person, and to process our fears without returning to active addiction.

To get help today with addiction, speak to UKAT. Call 0808 250 4523 or 0203 811 7269 to start your new life in recovery.

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