Expectations can be a real stumbling block in early (and even later) sobriety – especially after a stint in a drug rehab.

Expectation is defined as a belief that something will happen.  When someone is active in the disease of addiction, beliefs or expectations can be, and typically are, extremely out of line.  This distorted thinking can lead to disappointment, anger, frustration, or worse.

It’s been said that expectations are premeditated resentments.

To look at this statement and come to terms with what this means and why it’s important is one key to finding serenity in recovery from addiction.

When there is an expectation about how someone will behave or react to a certain situation, the expectation typically comes from how you perceive that you would act in that situation.  This form of thinking can be dangerous.  When you look at a situation this way, you are taking into account your own intention, your own experience, and your own thought processes.  The person with whom you are projecting the expectation on to may or may not have any of these things in common with you and therefore, may or may not react in a similar way as you.

When you have created a picture in your mind of how a person or situation will be, you have set yourself up for disappointment or resentment.

Part of the disease of addiction is distorted thinking.  This distorted thinking allows an addict to believe that ‘this time’ will be different.  The expectation that you can control your drinking or using allows you to continue using because you expect the experience to be different this time.  After seeing that results are not what you expected; you’re not getting better but getting worse, you see that only a different way of thinking about using can work.

When looking at an expectation in this way, you can easily see the disruption that expectations can cause in life.

Think about a time in life when you had an expectation of someone.  Did they react in the way you expected, or in a way that was ‘unacceptable’ to you?  Were you sad, angry or frustrated with their reaction?  How, then, did you react to them?

If you can answer these questions with honesty, you will begin to see how expectations lead to resentments, and can lead to relapse.

Learning to live life without expectation can be a long process, but can also prove to be very liberating.  When you do something for someone without any expectation, you are free from how they react.  You can then do this thing without expecting praise or payback in some way.  You will find joy in the ‘doing.’

“My serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations of other people are, the lower is my serenity. I can watch my serenity level rise when I discard my expectations. But then my ‘rights’ try to move in, and they, too, can force my serenity level down. I have to discard my ‘rights,’ as well as my expectations, by asking myself, ‘How important is it, really? How important is it compared to my serenity, my emotional sobriety?’ And when I place more value on my serenity and sobriety than on anything else, I can maintain them at a higher level–at least for the time being.” Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition p. 452

There are ways you can work to identify your expectations, allowing you to do the work necessary to change your thought processes, thus, increasing your serenity and decreasing your resentments.

  1. When dealing with a person or situation causes you to be sad, angry or frustrated, take a deeper look at the cause.

Spend a few minutes writing about the issue and why you are hurt.  Allow yourself to discover what the expectation was and how you can look at this differently.

  1. Become mindful, pay attention to your thoughts. With some practice, you will begin to understand when you are projecting an expectation on to a person or situation.

After a while, it will become natural to catch your thoughts when you are projecting an expectation and make a change in your thought process automatically.

  1. Take responsibility for your thoughts. Staying clean and sober takes work and willingness.  Become willing to take responsibility for your thoughts and actions.  Taking responsibility is what changes the lives of addicts and alcoholics.

Learning to recognize past and present expectations can replace anxiety, fear, and anger with acceptance, peace and serenity.  Living without expectation takes practice and willingness.  In the end, living without expectation has given many people not only freedom from alcohol and drugs but emotional sobriety as well.

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