3 Sure-Fire Ways to Sabotage Your Own Recovery

SIMPLE NOT EASYPeople have different reasons for sabotaging endeavours.

Back in university, a good friend was on track to graduate with honours in the fine arts program but blew her final tuition installment on designer boots and cosmetics. She finished all her courses and had top marks, but her degree was witheld because of the overdue fees. She later realized that she was afraid of the pressure to make her living as a performer. She loved school and was proud of her grades and acheivements as a student, but could not see how to translate that to a career as a working artist. In short, she was afraid of the responsibility that came with success.

I often think of her when I encounter someone who appears to be undermining their own recovery plan. Why would anyone do that, you wonder?

Well, for starters some people are deeply invested in drama and crisis. This is how they stay connected to people in their life; by being needy. This type of person is terrified of allowing others to choose to be with them so, fearing abandonment, they orchestrate situations that make others feel obligated to help and support them. Someone in this situation may fear having long-term sobriety, because the extra attention from loved ones they may receive during early recovery could fade away. You may know them when they say, “It’s not my fault I relapsed. I need more help.”

Others may sabotage their sobriety for exactly the opposite reason – they WANT to push people away. Some people invite rejection from others because it allows them to paint themselves as the victim and gives someone else to blame for shortcomings and failures. Consider the Karman Drama Triangle discussed in an earlier post, with its victim, villain, and hero roles. For someone who is deeply invested in remaining a victim, doing something as heroic as getting sober represents a huge identity shift, and one that requires taking responsibility for oneself. If this prospect feels overwhelming, a person will consciously or subconsciously act in ways that bring their heart’s desire (blamelessness and victimization). This type of person says, “Thanks a lot, it’s your fault. If you’re going to keep screwing up my recovery then I might as well keep drinking.”

But let’s not waste time on asking why. Let’s just get right down to what you can do today to sabotage your recovery. Whatever your reason for wanting to screw things up, that’s your own business. I am not here to judge. I am sure they are very good reasons and only you know what it is you get out of jumping in and out of recovery. Whatever the payoff, the process is pretty simple.

Based on the thousands of letters I receive from readers, here is my list of the top three ways to ruin your own recovery*:

  1. Quit by Committee – tell everyone that you are quitting drinking, especially people who you usually drink with, and value their feedback more than your own understanding. (Note: do not consult actual people in recovery. They will try and help you get sober!) This will ensure you are fed with a steady stream of “you’re not that bad” and “just cut back” and “if you’re an alcoholic then what does that make me?”. Really try to focus on how others see you and let their opinions drown out your own thoughts. Worry about hurting their feelings or offending them with your decision to get sober, and socialize with them as much as possible – especially when they are drinking. If you ever start to have your own thoughts about “I need to quit” just replay their voices in your head telling you that’s silly. Really wear down your motivation and resolve with input from people who don’t realize you are in pain and who are threatened by your efforts to better your life.
  2. Stay Angry – this is an excellent tool to sideswipe your recovery. Get mad and stay mad at all the people and all the things that aren’t fair. On a nice sunny day it might take a lot of effort to work up a good angry lather, but don’t be tempted into cheerfulness. Close the blinds, put a rock in your shoe, close your eyes and focus! Relive old arguments, recreate hurt feelings, and count the ways that others have wronged you. Say, “I am a victim of the universe” aloud and plot revenge. After really getting those emotions stirred up, put a smile on your face and walk into the world. If anyone asks you how you are, say “fine”. Keep those wounds hidden from the world do that no one can help you heal them or give you insights. You don’t want that.
  3. Do Everything Else the Same Old Way – this is a quick route to recovery sabotage and it’s effectiveness has been proven again and again. Quit drinking but do everything else exactly the same way as before. Do not change your routine, your social habits, or read any self-help books that might give you crazy ideas. Avoid recovery people, groups, books, and podcasts. If anyone tries to accommodate you, insist that they treat you like everyone else. Give special focus to all of the ways that it sucks to not be drinking in these “normal” circumstances and pause at every opportunity to consider this. Really notice how your way of life is disrupted by the absence of alcohol and reflect with self-pity.

There are many more ways to ensure that sobriety doesn’t work for you, but these three should do the trick for you within short order. If you find yourself accidentally succeeding, simply go on Facebook to read wine-lovers memes and drinking slogans – THOSE ARE HILARIOUS! Be sure to repost silly things like “wine o’clock” so you can feel validated by all “likes” you get.

*caution: may contain sarcasm


  1. I am on Day 10 and reading this post felt like you had somehow gotten inside my head and were walking around in there. Last year I made it to 6 months and then relapsed. Yes, all three of these were to blame. So grateful to read this today as it has helped me to see some things about myself.


  2. I want to remain sober. I drink when I’m happy and sad, and every other reason under the sun. I’ve noticed that when I want to run away from someone who has said something not so nice to me or has criticized me again, that all I want to do is have a drink. Just tonight I say to myself. BUT, I know this is an OLD HABIT of mine! I will NOT drink! Stick and stones may break my bones, but CRITICISM, BULLYING,
    and all other NEGATIVE comments will NEVER make me drink!!!! With no one close to me, I thought I’d turn to unpickled blog.


  3. I had about six weeks without alcohol at the end of August and relapsed. I won’t get into the reasons why, but recently I’ve noticed old, ugly ways of feeling returning and I’ve promptly quit again. I’m on day 4 and, boy, do I feel sick. But, I know it has to get bad before it gets good. I’m proud I have the self-awareness to know what’s best for me and am doing this solely for myself. I’m telling people I’m doing 45 days without drinking as they’re likely skeptical, and if they genuinely ask if I’m okay or what’s going on, I’ll tell them. I know I can’t drink “only on Fridays” or limit it to two glass of wine when I do drink (I certainly can sometimes, but I can’t risk the times when I don’t want to limit it). Otherwise I don’t have to explain anything to anyone, and don’t really care what they think. I think I have to be a hermit for the next two weeks though.


    • Do you have any “real life” support? I think you could use a hug and a long chat over coffee. That sounds way better than being a hermit. Let’s build your support network so you can have some fun while you get through this. Know that the sick feeling is a reminder that you’re addicted – get through it and never go back. Journal about your experience so if you’re ever tempted to drink you can look back on how this feels. Be well. You’re not alone.



  4. Sadly this comes across as bitter and cynical. Sometimes people aren’t aware of their own patterns, it takes time. It’s a shame to be so condescending about it. Also, since you’ve started using this blog as a platform to flog sobriety “branded” items I’ve lost a bit of faith in the altruistic nature of this endeavour. It’s a shame, because this blog and the bubble hour have really helped me. I guess we are all only human eh?


    • Aw Rachel, it makes me sad to know that you’ve interpreted this post differently than it was intended. And if it makes you feel any better, my little shop should break even somewhere around my 90th birthday. I can only hope my efforts of service – hundreds of posts, thousands of personal replies, and countless hours of free podcasts – stands for itself. You’ll notice the absence of rehab ads, paid links, paid posts, donation buttons, and book reviews – all lucrative opportunities I’ve refused to protect the integrity of this blog.


  5. Keep going, Sonya – the rotten days never last. You’ve now hit 3 MONTHS!!! Celebrate – cheesecake, new shoes, cartwheels in the park….what’s your pleasure?


  6. Love this. Re: #3, I read a post on another blog months ago that put recovery in quite simple terms: “If you’re not changing, you’re not doing it right.”

    That has stuck with me. And the changing is not just for a few weeks and not just in terms of what you consume. It’s an evolution – a daily, exciting, and scary discovery of the self. This is our journey. These are our lives.

    I’m at 11 months now and owe so much gratitude to this blog. I’ve turned my life around (and even a little upside down – but in a good way!) in this relatively short amount of time. I have a feeling I’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be “me” – someone I became far too out of touch with while I was drinking. Thank you SO much.


    • KM, thank YOU for inspiring me and so many others with ELEVEN MONTHS (!!) of sobreity. Wonderful wonderful and I hope you have plans to celebrate your one year anniversary. We don’t just get back to what we were before the drinking took over, we go back even further, figure out the misdirection, and rebuild from there. No small task! It takes a lifetime, and it becomes a pleasureful way to live.


  7. I have a bone to pick with #2 – “Get mad and stay mad at all the things that aren’t fair.” I was mad/sad/etc for a long time, but I eventually sucked it up and went to a professional who finally ascertained that I had responses bordering on PTSD because of a life-threatening experience several years before. So I was (and honestly still am) hypersensitive to certain stimuli without being a narcissistic, whiny, “victim of the universe” or any such thing. Not everyone with a maladaptive response to the world is just sitting there and wallowing in their own muck.


    • Hey SleepyCat. I think we agree that anger undermines recovery, and I have deep respect for your willingness to seek professional help to unearth the source of your feelings. That is what recovery is all about. This post was a cheeky twist on anti-recovery – noting that people who invent reasons for anger where none exist are damaging their own recovery. Maybe read it again and see if you see the difference…


  8. What a fantastic post! I think you have hit the nail right on the head for many of your readers. Thank you for sharing this and I hope we can all have a successful and (sabotage free) recovery. This post reminded me of a fantastic book I would like to share called “Addiction is the Symptom” Dr. Rosemary Brown (http://addiction-is-the-symptom.com/). Addiction is a fascinating and devastating part of many peoples lives, I personally have dealt with it throughout my own. Although I am in recovery, I often find it helpful to further educate myself and give myself new tools for dealing with urges. This book was great because it really felt different from others I have read. I agree with the author that addiction is indeed a symptom of a greater underlying cause, and having well detailed and thought out steps to manage it is crucial. I hope you and your readers will check it out

    Liked by 1 person

  9. WOW. And WOW. 15 day in and BOY was I having a pity party for myself yesterday. “It’s NO FAIR I can’t have a nice glass of wine after a day at the beach.” WWWWAAAAAA???? SHUT UP, victim voice! Every time I start having a pity party I will use this post as a slap to the back of my head and say SNAP OUT OF IT. I am in remission from a life-threatening disease. If I pick up that drink (which will turn into 8 and turn into a blackout and turn into shame, disgust, self-hate), it will be a coward’s way out. #1 especially rings true for me. “Why isn’t everyone texting me to see how I am doing every single day???” Then I tell myself, sweetiepie, when your good friend was diagnosed with cancer, you did not text her every single day. Get over yourself.

    God I love this blog.

    I have to say that I am lucky to live in an area with a lot of fantastic AA meetings. I am going to 90 meetings in 90 days and talk about building a supportive community of sober people. It’s been fantastic. I need to stay in touch with folks, but I find that it’s more about helping others and to knock off the self-pity and self-seeking behavior. This, combined with your blog, listening to the Bubble Hour, staying busy, and using every tool in my toolbox has me feeling pretty damn good.



  10. Lol, I Aced 3. Every Sunday I would say ok, tomorrow is the day, Monday was generally ok, but on Tuesday I would say to my husband, want to have a glass of wine. He of course would innocently say yes, so of course if my husband wanted wine, how could I deny him. When I finally did quit, I changed my schedule so I wouldn’t be home evenings for the first week and then went on a yoga retreat. I was also very good at being a victim (# 2) , thing just weren’t fair. It took me a year of not drinking to even realize that I had victim mentality. I still am very conscious about telling myself, stop your not a victim, it is an easy to adapt to the victim role. Thanks for your funny and insightful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow I did all three things during the year that I kept going back and forth between wanting to quit, but not jumping in with both feet…when I got really serious 7 months ago…I distanced myself from my drinking friends, got honest, put 100% of myself into my healing and recovery, and accepted the struggles as part of healing. Last year at this time I might have related more to the excuses…that’s why I’m so grateful that I took the leap of faith, listened to my gut and decided to live sober no matter what…now I see so many things so completely differently, and I see how small and ridiculous all of the excuses and self-sabotage seem…for me, the relapsing was part of the process of me “proving” to myself that drinking was only going downhill fast. Glad I’m past that today.
    Now onto working to heal those other areas of my life that I self-sabotage…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is fabulous, Jean! I’m afraid I’ve done all of these things at various times. The next time I start to sabotage myself, I’ll think of this and stop! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great post, Jean. I think this is actually a very effective use of sarcasm! I found your blog via The Bubble Hour which I found quite by accident as I continually search for sober inspiration. Folks like you are keeping me pointed in the right direction! Please do keep up your good work. It’s helping me so much. I had 8 months on Aug 19 and going strong!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Once again you’ve given us fabulous insight and much to think about. I’m happy to say that I found your blog quite by accident last September while searching for online information on sobriety. Your blog (and Lotta’s) have been tremendously helpful in my recovery. I’ve discovered strength I didn’t know I had. It’ll be a year soon. Thanks for your caring (and sharing)!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow. I’m pretty sure all 3 have applied to me and I’ve practiced them simultaneously over the last 20 years, going in and out of recovery. I am on Day 3 sober this time and determined to do things differently.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This is spot on! My brother had a deep rock bottom earlier this year – a professional who got a DUI, tried to go cold turkey and ended up with an embarrassing meltdown in a public place, was hospitalized, had seizures, psychiatric unit stay, 3 months in a convalescent facility, lost his practice, lost his wife and kids. By some miracle he recovered, but has no memory of those 3-4 months and the hell his family and friends went through. So he pretends it never happened and says he “retired”.
    You nailed him in #3. We all suspect he’s drinking again, but he staunchly denies it.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This is awesome. I’m going to go check to make sure I haven’t put any rocks in my shoes. It’s probably worth considering….
    But seriously, you have highlighted three really serious issues people use to justify remaining in addiction. And they seem so comfortable because addictive thinking is so sneaky.

    So KISS – don’t drink today.

    Liked by 1 person

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