Carole Bennett M.A.

From Heartache to Hope

Your expectations and the alcoholic/addict

curbing your hopes with your loved one

Posted Jul 15, 2011

Expectations are part of our daily life. They can be in the smallest form like expecting our car to start to a more emotional investment like hoping to be offered a job so desperately wanted. Even though every precaution has been made for a perfect outcome, sometimes something comes out of left field and everything can end up exploding in our face.

However, when it comes to our loved one's recovery process, it is immensely difficult to curb our expectations as our hopes reach unprecedented proportions as we look for the smallest crumbs of success to fulfill our dreams. But, pinning those invisible and emotional expectations on the alcoholic/addict and their recovery is more often than not doomed to failure.

If you can be bold enough, strong enough to let the alcoholic/addict's recovery unfold as it is meant to, not as you want it to you will be ahead of the curve; your expectations will have nothing to do with you or your failing to provide the perfect recovery program, as it is not your program is therefore out of our control.

Even with the best intentions toward recovery, the alcoholic/addict may have a relapse or two. Not only will your expectations be unfulfilled, but the alcoholic/addict may be frustrated by not meeting the expectations he has put on him or herself. 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 too, 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 we successfully deal with our expectations?

1) Keep 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 thirty or maybe sixty 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, that he or she looks healthy, talks with confidence and is really feeling good about themselves. 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.

2) Don't be over zealous about small victories or too nonchalant about larger accomplishments. I believe the more we keep things "normal" and stop looking at our alcoholic/addict in a "fish bowl" the more relaxed, understanding and patient everyone involved can be.

3) On the other hand, don't diminish the hard work and dedication that went into striving for a life of sobriety. Keeping it balanced, not only for your sake, but for the budding recovery of the alcoholic/addict will be a cornerstone for possible recovery issues that may lie ahead. 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. 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.

4) Presenting a matter-of-fact attitude, staying neutral, and extricating yourself from babysitting their recovery program will help you to keep your expectations to a minimum. 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 is celebration enough. If the alcoholic/addict does not, then don't dwell on it, grill them and demand answers as to why this happened. They are in a place where they are doing what they want to do and hopefully they will turn themselves around.

It can be very detrimental to have any expectations in a recovery program. Every person's expectations are different and the pressure of fulfilling them for oneself or another can be a great strain.

One day at a time is not only a wonderful, simple slogan that not only 12 step recovery programs adhere to, but also, people being people in everyday life realize that taking one day at a time is the only way to go.
So try to leave your expectations in the closet, in a box deep in a back corner. It will be healthier for all involved.

If I can be of service, please visit my website and I invite you to explore my new book Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict at

I am pleased to announce that I will soon be launching a phone seminar discussing topics from boundaries, communication, baiting and punishing, recovery contracts, the dry drunk and more. If you are interested in being notified when these will occur, please e-mail me at