How to Come to Terms With Missed Expectations

How to Come to Terms With Missed ExpectationsExpectations are a powerful thing in life, and this is never truer than in the context of rehab and recovery. When you are in the midst of rebuilding your life upon a sober foundation, the process is tenuous at best. Emotions are often on high alert, and additional failures or unmet expectations can be the catalyst for a relapse.

How to Set Expectations That Are Reasonable

The first step to avoiding a letdown is to set reasonable expectations. There are several keys to having expectations that are reasonable including the following:

  • Only expect what you can control – This aspect of setting expectations is often overlooked and is the result of a great deal of pain as a result. A common example in the context of recovery is an expectation that a particular relationship will be restored once you start rehab. Whether that relationship is with your spouse, your parents or one of your children, it is not actually a reasonable expectation because the other person has a role to play in whether that relationship is restored. In other words, you could do everything as best you can, and the relationship could stay remain estranged.

You can hope that your family accepts you once you enter rehab, but hoping is far different than expecting. While a missed hope is still painful, it does not debilitate you to the degree that an unmet expectation will wound you. Words matter in the world of your psyche and emotional health.

  • Understand the role of time in expectations – It has been said that time heals all wounds, and while this is not necessarily true, it does underscore the idea that some things take longer than others to occur. It is vital to remember this concept in the context of expectations.

As a simple example, it might not be reasonable to expect that you could return to your previous job as a bartender immediately after leaving an inpatient rehab center and not go right back to drinking. It is likely even that you would want to consider a different career altogether, but certainly having an expectation of immediately going into an environment surrounded with alcohol will result in an unmet expectation.

Even With Good Expectations, There Will Be Pain

Even if you avoid the pitfalls of unreasonable expectations, you will still have unmet expectations, and this will hurt every single time. There is no way to have a healthy emotional life and meet disappointment without pain. However, there are three steps you can take to walk through the missed expectations in a better way including the following:

  • Keep it in context – Not every missed expectation can and should carry the same weight, so each should not be treated the same. Missing out on a job interview is disappointing, but you should not respond with the same depth of emotion as if your spouse files for divorce. You simply must keep the disappointment in its proper context.
  • Talk it out – There is no reason for you to try to deal with an unmet expectation in isolation. You have friends and family to talk to, or at least you have a counselor available to help you process. Particularly when in rehab, emotions are raw and it is difficult to deal with any setback. Staying in isolation will only make it that much worse.
  • Give yourself permission to be angry or grieve – Crying is not shameful. Neither is being sad or angry. Give yourself permission to feel the emotions. This is part of being healthy.

Rehab Is Hard Work and There Is No Escaping it

If you are not careful, a missed expectation can be a trigger for a relapse. Even though studies have shown that relapse back into addiction runs at 40%–60% nationally, this is not helpful when faced with the personal letdown of a relapse. Moving forward in the face of a relapse is no easy task. It is a process of taking personal responsibility, talking through the reasons for the failure with trusted advocates, making changes to prevent the same type of relapse in the future and then choosing not to allow the relapse to define you.

Better to do the work now of setting realistic expectations and protecting yourself from the pain of potential letdowns. Often, this cannot be done alone. If you cannot do it on your own, there is support available. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admission counselors at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about your mental health condition. They can help you find your way.

[1], “Can addiction be treated successfully?,” accessed December 6, 2015.