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We Don’t Need No Expectations

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“Hey! Anxiety! Leave my brain alone!…”

Alright, alright. Anyway.

Expectations are tricky.

On one hand, it’s important to have standards and boundaries. Not just important, but necessary. It turns out that standards and boundaries aren’t at all the same thing as expectations, though.

I used to drive myself crazy playing out entire conversations in my head with somebody who would invariably go off-script immediately if a conversation even took place. I’d work myself up into a frenzy of excitement about something coming up, only to be met with intense disappointment when people either weren’t as excited as me about something, or didn’t act the way I wanted them to act, or whatever. It could ruin my dinner, my weekend, my entire holiday.

I tried not to be that way, I really did. Deep down, I knew that it was pretty miserable to always be disappointed. But even then, I still placed the blame for my emotions on the other person (or people). If they just acted right, I’d feel better. It was their responsibility.

This year has been pretty different. I’ve been sober 3.5 years, so it’s not my first sober holiday. Interestingly though, this is my first sober holiday that hasn’t been marred with constant (and I do mean constant) cravings, romanticizing of alcohol, feeling like a martyr, feeling sorry for myself, whatever.

Sure, I’ve had good holidays in the past couple of years, but those pesky “poor me” feelings have been so intrusive. I could go months without so much as thinking about a drink, and then Thanksgiving would hit and I’d be a mess until spring. This year though, it’s been a non-issue so far.

I’ve made an effort to adjust my expectations, and I think that’s made a manage expectations in sobrietyhuge difference.

I no longer expect anything from anybody, as a general rule. If I need to get something done, I plan to get it done myself. I’ll ask for help if I need it, but only if I can ask for that help without holding a resentment if the answer is no.

This isn’t a perfect rule across the board, of course – I have expectations that my children will listen to me, my husband will be faithful, etc. Those don’t change, but those are also more like standards than the kind of expectations that I’m referring to.

This realization hit me at breakfast this morning. Waffle House, of all places. Jay and I were discussing the upcoming holiday break, and all the different family events and plans going on. I could feel myself tensing up, anxiety settling in. I’d had expectations that I didn’t even realize I’d had, and they were being trampled completely (or at least, that’s how it felt emotionally – not how it really was).

Rather than throwing them all aside and just doing what everybody else wanted though, I voiced some of my issues. I knew I would absolutely need some time to rest, so I talked to him about some of the ways I would like to make sure that could happen in between all the plans.

And just like that, my anxiety calmed. I realized this is what I had been missing in the past. I wouldn’t have voiced any of this before. I would have just barreled through, seething with resentment while trying not to feel resentful, and telling myself that nobody understands me. Seriously, so unproductive.

This is one of my favorite passages about expectations:

“Perhaps the best thing of all for me is to remember that my serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations of Max and 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.” – The Big Book of AA, pg 431

In recovery, expectations can be particularly dangerous.

We talk about the “pink cloud” in 12 step meetings, as something to be careful with, or at least acknowledge for what it is. It isn’t that it’s bad to feel good about recovery, not at all. It’s wonderful.

The danger is when we expect sobriety to always feel good, or it must mean we’re doing something wrong if it doesn’t. It doesn’t always feel good for most of us. Dealing with life on life’s terms, without anything to numb or cushion the raw edges of emotions and situations, is tough.

When loved ones don’t pat us on the back anymore (if they ever did), or when we lose a job, or get a divorce, whatever the case, sometimes it can feel like staying sober just isn’t worth it anymore. What’s the point, right? Why bother staying sober when life sucks either way? That’s how it felt for me sometimes.

That’s a deeper question than I can really answer in one blog post, if at all. But I can say this: expectations are the real problem in many of these situations. I can’t expect life to be easy and rosy now that I don’t drink anymore. In many cases, it’s much harder now. When I am anxious, I am all the way anxious. When I’m angry, I’m all the way angry. But when I’m happy, I’m also all the way happy and joyous and free. It’s a trade off that is worth it, nowadays. In the beginning, it took a little while to see that.

When I’m feeling that poison of expectation creeping in, I try to readjust.

I pray, and let God handle whatever is going on. It’s easier to say that than it is to really do that, and it took a lot of practice and awkward praying to start understanding this concept. But now, it happens a lot easier (usually).

I’m far more in tune with my emotions and myself these days, so usually I notice pretty quickly when I’m out of sync. That takes a lot of time, and I’m still just a baby in recovery. I have no idea what else is in store for me. Good and bad things alike, I’m sure.

This holiday season, I have almost zero expectations.

I just put our tree up yesterday – 10 days before Christmas. A lot of crappy things are going on, but a lot of wonderful things are also going on. I’m choosing to focus on the wonderful things, and deal with the crappy ones only as needed.

Christmas or not, life still happens one day at a time. Today, I’m 1,320 days sober. That’s pretty awesome. And that’s all, folks. ♥

Related reading:

How I Stay Sober Through the Holidays

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect. Be Present.

The Pink Cloud of Sobriety (from

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Sitting on top of Pike's Peak in Colorado, a little over 2 years sober.

Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around.  Read my story...

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