teen in fear hiding on couch

F.E.A.R. in Recovery: False Evidence Appearing Real

12-16-2023Recovery Tools

One of the most common topics discussed in recovery is the topic of managing fear. Emerging from the haze of drug and alcohol use leaves most of us with a lot of pieces to pick up, and it often feels impossible at first. One of our favorite ways to work through this is to use the acronym for F.E.A.R.: False Evidence Appearing Real.

False Evidence Appearing Real is an acronym suggesting that we perceive threats or dangers as real or imminent, even in the absence of concrete evidence or when the evidence is distorted.

In this article, we’ll discuss what “false evidence appearing real” (sometimes called “false events appearing real”) means, and discuss how honesty in recovery and action can provide us with a much-needed perspective shift. In other words, we’ll turn fear on it’s head: Face Everything And Recover!

Fears are just beliefs about the future

When we’re new to recovery, it’s common to wonder what exactly everyone means when we talk about fear. After all, most of us feel as though we’ve just been through hell and back – there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore, right?

In many ways, fear is the mind’s way of keeping us out of trouble. If most of us were confronted by a grizzly bear, we’d have an immediate fear response. This is a good thing!

However, when we talk about “fear” in a recovery context, we’re referring to our beliefs and anxieties about the future which affect us and drive our actions.

A definition of fear

A simple definition of fear is laid out in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions on page 76 (Step Seven):

“The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear – primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded.”

Going back to the example of simple fears:

  • We fear grizzly bears, spiders, and heights because we worry that these things us can cause us to be seriously injured or die. In other words, we are afraid because of what we believe we may lose.

Apply this same logic to emotional fears:

Perhaps we fear close relationships because we believe that new friends will hurt us in the end. This fear will cause us to keep people at a distance, often dashing our chances of recovery.

Perhaps we fear being ourselves around others because we believe that we will be judged by them. This fear will cause us to try to “fake” our way through relationships, and cause people to find us unapproachable.

Perhaps we fear that our problems are too complicated to solve because we believe that our attempts to solve them will just lead to more trouble and heartache. This fear will often cause us to avoid even the simplest of actions toward building a better life for ourselves.

In each case, the fear is caused by a belief: the belief that we will lose something we value, or that we will not get something we want.

What is the “False Evidence?”

The trouble with these beliefs is that they cause us to avoid taking actions that would actually improve our odds of succeeding at staying sober – the very definition of irony.

Typically, these beliefs aren’t true; in other words, they are false.

Take, for instance, the newly sober individual who has been hurt by their friends in the past, and believes that their new friends in recovery will hurt them as well (a rational presupposition for someone who’s just been through the wringer of substance abuse).

The piece of the picture that they’re missing is that the game has fundamentally changed: their new friends in recovery just want what’s best for them, and they want to stay sober themselves.

The problem with letting F.E.A.R. run the show

When we were using drugs and alcohol, most of us made our decisions primarily based on fearful beliefs about the future. When entering recovery, we carry that pattern into our sober lives.

Knowing that relationships and community are critical in the recovery process, we know that allowing this “false evidence” to drive our actions would cause us to deny ourselves of very the community and relationships that will save us from ourselves in the future.

If this person “lives in F.E.A.R.,” their chances of staying sober and finding a happy, joyous, and free way of life are very slim.

The flip side: Face Everything and Recover!

The fact finding and fact facing process we go through in recovery is often referred to a “treasure hunt.” Along the path, we discover truths about ourselves that we never knew were there, good, bad, and indifferent!

The best way to examine the relative truth behind your beliefs are to utilize a 12-step sponsor and to develop relationships with those in meetings who you respect. By being honest with these individuals about the thoughts, feelings, and emotions you deal with on a day-to-day basis, you’ll discover which of the beliefs you hold may, indeed, be “false evidence.”

Forgetting Everything’s All Right

In our support groups, one of our favorite definitions of F.E.A.R. is “forgetting everything’s all right.”

Hear us out:

When we live in F.E.A.R., we completely forget where our feet are. Worrying about losing our job (in the future), being hurt by others (in the future), or not having enough money (to pay bills in the future) stops us from realizing that most of the time, we are okay right now!

The truth is that when we are in a meeting, we are fed, we are warm, we have a roof over our heads, and we are surrounded by people that care for us. We can relax, we can be honest, and we can have fun sober. In other words, we are All Right!

We hope this helps! If you’re looking for a support group of people in your area to connect with, get in touch with the FullCircle Program nearest to your location. We’ll work with you to determine if we’re a good fit for your situation, and provide you with suggestions and guidance if you need it.

God bless!