I have come to believe that expectations can be one of the dirtiest words in the English language. More often than not, expectations are rarely realized, especially in the world of the alcoholic/addict -- whether in recovery or not.
We have heard sayings like "don't get your expectations too high, or curb your expectations." Try as you might, you can't help but to dream, plot or plan out calculated moves in order for your expectations to come to fruition. You have a tough enough time trying to control your expectations in regards to your own personal life, but pinning those invisible and emotional expectations on the alcoholic/addict and their recovery is more often than not doomed for failure.
You need to be bold enough and strong enough to let the alcoholic/addict's recovery unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to. This is an important start in reining in your expectations, and in doing so you will be ahead of the curve. Your expectations should not be part of the alcoholic/addicts life as they have nothing to do with you and whether you are doing the "right thing or not." Even if you believe you have found the best rehabilitation program in the world, remember that it is not your program and your expectations should not be pinned on the alcoholic/addicts performance or success.
Even with the best intentions toward recovery, the alcoholic/addict may have a relapse or two. Not only will your expectations be unfulfilled or even shattered, but the alcoholic/addict may be doubly frustrated by not meeting his own expectations or yours. It will help your frustration or anxiety if you understand that this disease is a chronic battle. Like any disease, it's harder to understand when you don't have it.
If your expectations are not met, it may be difficult to cover up your disappointment. It's possible that the alcoholic/addict will sense this and realize that they are the reason for this sorrow. If they start to lose faith in themselves as well, this may create added pressure and possibly fuel a downward spiral. They may think "what difference does it make, I can't do anything right, for once again I have failed my family and friends with not satisfying their expectations or mine."
So how can you successfully deal with your expectations?
1) Try to keep things in proportion. Be honest with yourself about what your loved one can and cannot accomplish. Even clean and sober, they may not be capable of certain tasks or responsibilities. Their addiction might at one time been an excuse for laziness or zero motivation, but at the same time just because they have embraced a clean and sober lifestyle they may not have the aptitude to become a lawyer or teacher.
2) Don't be overzealous about small victories or too nonchalant about larger accomplishments. I believe the more you keep things "normal" and stop looking at your alcoholic/addict in a "fish bowl" the more relaxed, understanding and patient everyone involved can be.
3) Keep those expectations on a very realistic level. For example, if the alcoholic/addict is coming out of an in-house rehabilitation program, chances are that program was only for 30 or maybe 60 days. Most rehabilitation programs will offer some kind of after care, such as a sober living house or continued care at their facility, but with fewer restrictions. It is understandable that you and everyone else is thrilled that the alcoholic/addict has been clean and sober for probably more days than you can remember. He or she looks healthy, talks with confidence and is really feeling good about themselves and the experience they have just gone through. Everyone should be proud, but please remember that those 30, 60 or even 90 days are only the beginning of an arduous journey. The alcoholic/addict has been clean and sober for the width of an eyelash compared to the YEARS of substance abuse. You do the math; it will probably take more than a few months to become confident and assured in living a clean and sober lifestyle.
4) On the other hand, don't diminish the hard work and dedication that went into striving for a life of sobriety. Keeping it balanced, with no expectations not only for your sake, but for the budding recovery of the alcoholic/addict will be important as recovery issues -- ups and downs may lay ahead.
5) I know that you may know this instinctively, but don't expect that the alcoholic/addict is "cured", no matter what they say, how they act or how they look. There is no conventional "cure." All that they have accomplished is a detoxification stage, and they are only just STARTING to understand, realize and hopefully appreciate how good life can be living a clean and sober lifestyle.
6) Your expectations will be kept at bay if you present a matter-of-fact attitude, stay neutral, and extricate yourself from babysitting their recovery program. It goes without saying that if you don't expect anything, you won't be disappointed. If the alcoholic/addict continues a life of sobriety then great. No need for a party, just accept it as normal behavior. Their own new life style should be celebration enough. If the alcoholic/addict is over 18 and opts to return to his or her addiction, don't demand what their plan is, as they are presenting you with expectations that they may not be able to fulfill -- and in turn your own expectations may not be fulfilled as well. The safest path for you to take is the hope that they will turn themselves around with their own compass. Hope is different than expectations.
The recovering alcoholic/addict has their expectations as well. If their expectations do not stem from a place of reality then they may not know how to handle the disappointment from an unsatisfactory outcome. If your expectations run a parallel course then you both are going round and round losing site of what's realistic and doable. Don't let your expectations feed the alcoholic/addict to a place where they cannot be successful.
7) It's important to mention that certain expectations are fair and realistic. For example, if the alcoholic/addict (whether in recovery or not) lives at home, you can and should expect certain rules and regulations be followed. Keeping their room neat and clean, helping out with family chores, contributing financially, etc.
There is no room for lofty or unrealistic expectations in a recovery program -- and these can be dangerous. Each person's expectations are different and the pressure of fulfilling them for oneself or another can be too great a strain. Work hard at leaving your expectations in the closet, in a box deep in a back corner. It will be healthier for all involved and chances are you both just might have those invisible expectations met beyond what you could have ever hoped or dreamed for.
Please do leave a comment below or drop me an email with your thoughts, suggestions or requests for future areas of focus.
If I can be of service to you or your family, please e-mail me at Carole@familyrecoverysolution.com or go to http://familyrecoverysolutions.com/free_one_hour_session.html