12-minute read

You’re either working on your sobriety, or you’re working on your relapse.

Sounds simple, right? You’re either doing things daily that are pushing you towards a better life in sobriety, or you’re taking daily steps towards a relapse …. whether you know it or not.

Do you know how to identify and overcome self-sabotage in your recovery? Not everyone does! So, it’s an important question to ask yourself. If the thought of falling victim to self-sabotage in your recovery scares you, keep reading.

Now I didn’t come up with that opening line. It’s a common one in recovery circles, but boy, oh boy, is it ever true! Unfortunately, though, you might find you’re trying to be a better version of yourself on the daily, working on all your sobriety goals, and then all of a sudden, you’re doing something not so smart and self-destructive.

Sound familiar? I know this sounds all too familiar to me because I do this All. The. Time.

It’s called self-sabotage, and it’s a HUGE block between you and the recovery you deserve. It is undoubtedly my #1 struggle in sobriety.

Oola, we call self-sabotage a Blocker because, as the name implies, it blocks you from living the best life possible. I’m going to break down what self-sabotage in recovery is, what causes it, why you do it, what it looks like, and the 3-step process on how to stop self-sabotage in your recovery so you can overcome it to get your sober life back on track, in balance, and heading in the direction you want it to.

What is self-sabotage in recovery?

When you get in your own way of your goals and values, that is self-sabotage. Sometimes you’re consciously aware that you’re doing it. Other times not.

Self-sabotage in recovery can show up as behaviors or thought patterns.

If you find yourself repeatedly doing things that aren’t in alignment with your goals and happiness, that, my friend, is self-sabotage. You’ll find yourself behaving in the exact opposite direction of your goals.

An example of this would be trying to get sober but not saying “no” to the invitation to go out after work for happy hour. Instead, you cave and have a few with your coworkers even though you know it’ll cause issues with your partner and kids when you get home.

Similarly, if you find yourself wanting to go after a better life, but you find yourself thinking things and having the Manson Family taking over the self-talk in your head, that too is self-sabotage.

Let’s go back to that happy hour example. Let’s say you were invited, but you did say “no.” Instead of patting yourself on the back for the challenging yet essential step in the right direction, you start to tell yourself how much of a loser you are for missing out on a social outing, start telling yourself how “weak” you are because something so simple feels so damn hard, etc.

Self-sabotage in recovery can easily be considered 
psychological self-harm because you are hurting yourself and your life.

What does self-sabotage in recovery look like?

Even though I gave you a couple of examples of self-sabotage in recovery earlier, identifying it in your own life isn’t always that easy or cut and dry. Recognizing our thoughts and actions as self-defeating will take time, awareness, and insight. Still, as long as you keep trying to acknowledge your self-sabotage, you’ll undoubtedly make slow and steady progress.

Negative thinking patterns: Becoming mindful of your thought patterns is critical in sobriety. Your thoughts affect your emotions, and in turn, your emotions affect your behavior. If this sounds familiar, that’s because this is the basis of 
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).

If you go through your recovery floating around haphazardly and utterly unaware of what’s going on in your head, you’ll be thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways that don’t line up with where you want your future to go.

Let me give you an example of a negative thought pattern I find myself in more than I care to admit. At times I find myself thinking, “I don’t care.” It’s almost the same as a “F**k it” mentality, except I’m not saying it to myself as a way to give up and give in to destructive behavior; I’m saying it more as a justification before doing said destructive behavior. It’s a subtle difference but an important one. I wrote a little something about this very phrase, and 
you can read up on it here.

Self-pity, guilt, shame, and black-and-white thinking are all negative thought patterns you have to be aware of and stay away from. Of course, there are many more negative thought patterns than just these, but this short list will give you an idea of what to start looking for and staying away from.

Isolation: Self-sabotage in recovery can also look like isolation. Addiction THRIVES in isolation. Community is the anecdote. Wanting to be alone every now and again is perfectly normal and healthy, especially if you’re an introvert like me. Alone time is how I recharge my batteries. However, when you start skipping out on social activities, particularly your sobriety-related activities, that’s a huge red flag for self-sabotage.

Refusing help: Not accepting help can look like a lot of things. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and don’t want help because others won’t do it right or not as well as you. Perhaps you’re independent as hell, maybe to a fault, and refuse help because you simply know you can do it yourself (I’m raising my hand on this one.). Maybe refusing help is your way of pushing people away and is an extension of isolation.

These are all self-sabotaging behaviors because we all need help at some point in our lives, especially when we’re in recovery. Accepting and receiving support keeps us out of isolation and builds community, something we have to have in order to recover and have quality sobriety.

Procrastination: We all have things we put off. That’s to be human. Procrastination on this level is usually a prioritization issue. But, when you put things off to the point that it causes damage and hardship in your life … that’s self-sabotage. Procrastination to this degree is based in fear, low self-esteem, and low self-worth. We’ll dive deeper into these things in the next section.

Romanticizing: This is a negative thought pattern in disguise. Glorifying your active addiction days or, specifically, your DOC (drug of choice) is when you think about ONLY the good things that came from addiction, the good feelings, the better days of drinking or using before things went crazy bad. It’s also called euphoric recall, and I have a video blog post that will help you find ways to stop these thoughts in their tracks.

Getting sober was the first step.

Building the dream life you deserve is the next step.

Grab your copy of the Happy, Sober, and Balanced Workbook today to get started.

Think of it as a vision board for your sobriety!

What causes self-sabotage in recovery, and why do you do it?

Self-sabotage has a lot to do with the devil we know. It’s based in the comfort of the familiar. Change is hard! Even if it’s a positive change that will give you the life you’ve always dreamed of ….. doing the work of getting there will be extremely difficult.

This is even more true for us addicts. Active addiction is the ultimate self-destruction and self-sabotage! You can easily get addicted to the emotional turmoil that comes from addiction. In sobriety, that emotional upheaval is lessening, and it might throw you for a loop because you’re not used to it. Therefore, you (consciously or unconsciously) do things to bring that emotional chaos back into your life, so you feel “back to normal.”
At its most base level, this means you can’t deal with negative feelings and thoughts in a healthy and positive way. Instead, you fall back into old negative thought patterns and behaviors because you don’t know how to deal with the difficulty of change in a constructive way.

Another cause of self-sabotage is a lack of self-worth and low self-esteem and self-confidence. You are a walking, talking self-fulfilling prophecy. To one degree or another, you feel unworthy of good things, a better life, or whatever specific goals you’re trying to achieve, so you get in your own damn way. This typically happens unconsciously, making it hard to identify, face, and overcome. Difficult …… but not impossible!

I am a HUGE advocate for working on self-esteem, self-talk, and mental health in sobriety, and the link between self-sabotage and self-worth is precisely why. My sobriety journey improved ten-fold when I did the work in this regard. I want others to feel the shift that self-love brings to their recovery, and that’s why I became an 
Oola Certified Coach, so I can teach others how to shift their lives and mentality in profound ways.

I also have other blog posts on this topic, so I encourage you to dig deeper if this is a battle for you too:

How to stop self-sabotaging behavior and overcome it.

Oola has a simple 3-step formula that you can utilize to overcome self-sabotaging behavior and any other Oola Blocker getting in the way of your goal sober life. It’s called Ready, Set, Go. It’s one of the many tools that I teach to my coaching clients.

Step one: Get Ready!

Awareness … recognition … realization … acknowledge .... identify.

No matter what you want to call it, awareness is the first step to overcoming self-sabotaging behavior. YOU CANNOT CHANGE WHAT YOU DON’T ACKNOWLEDGE. You have to identify the patterns before you can do any work to change. You have to recognize the self-talk and negative thought patterns that are not serving you and the life you want to build. You have to realize the behaviors that are taking you further away from your dream sober life instead of closer to it.

Call it out. Now that you’re aware of your self-sabotaging behavior, it’s time to call it out and find it in your life wherever it’s at.

Ask yourself these questions to help you dig deep and find it in all the places it can hide:
- Where does self-sabotage occur in your life in recovery?
- Where globally? Meaning, where does self-sabotage take place in other areas of your life not associated with sobriety?
- Where is it affecting your goals?
- Where is it affecting your dream life in sobriety?

Step two: Set it in its place.

Take a moment, step back, and really look at what your behaviors and thought patterns are doing to your life and dreams. Then, WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, I want you to be honest with yourself and ask some more questions to help you objectively look at the self-sabotaging so you can help yourself move through it and past it.

First, ask:
- What will my life look like if I give in to self-sabotage?
- What setbacks would I face?
- What feelings would come up if I let the self-sabotaging behaviors or thoughts win?

Next, ask:
- What would life look like if I pushed through the self-sabotaging behaviors?
- How much further along would I get if I didn’t entertain the sabotaging behaviors or thoughts?
- What feelings would come up if I didn’t entertain the behaviors or thoughts holding me back?

Step three: Go. This is where you take direct action to overcome self-sabotage.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume your answers to the final three questions above are more in line with your dream life, right? So how do you get yourself to blast through the self-sabotage? With 20 seconds of courage.

All it takes is 20 seconds of courage to push through the desire to self-sabotage. If picking up a bottle is the behavior you’re facing, take 20 seconds to pick up the phone and call someone who can help, someone you trust and who knows what you’re going through.

If blindly spending money on an impulse is the thing you’re facing, take 20 seconds to breathe deeply, focus on visualizing the empowering emotions that will come after NOT spending the money, and follow it up with “I am” affirmations to help with self-worth.

It’s common for fear to be a big part of why you want to self-sabotage, and if that’s the case for you, here are a couple of past blogs of mine that talk directly about fear:

Give Fear the Middle Finger
How I Face My Fear

Remember, any behavior learned over time can be unlearned. You ARE NOT stuck and can absolutely change over time. It takes practice and persistence. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate this part of your life where you’re learning how to acknowledge, face, and overcome self-sabotage.

You didn’t get this way and learn this behavior overnight. You sure as hell aren’t going to fix it overnight. But, baby steps taken consistently over time will lead to significant changes.

You got this. So keep going.

What was your biggest takeaway from this content? Please share it with me below in the comments. The best conversations are where we can learn from each other, so I would love to hear what you learned from this post. Drop your comments below.


  1. My biggest takeaway was the questions in step 2. They're great! Now I have to remember to use them and ask them before I do something stupid.
    Melissa Wilson AUTHOR  08/26/2021 07:19 PM Central
    I LOVE hearing this! I hope you use the questions frequently because they really help put things in perspective. Keep me updated!!
  2. readandreviewit  09/01/2021 01:53 PM Central
    Love this! This is such helpful and thoughtful advice which I'm sure anyone struggling with recovery will be incredibly grateful for. Thank you so much for sharing x
    Melissa Wilson AUTHOR  09/01/2021 01:56 PM Central
    Thank you so much for the kind words! Reaching back into the fire and helping others get out is what I'm all about.

    Thank YOU for reading and commenting.

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