Foreboding Joy Is a Challenge in Addiction Recovery

September 19, 2023 Kelsi Cronkright

Foreboding joy is a concept I discovered recently. In her latest book, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown describes 87 emotions that humans experience. While I could recognize and identify times when I felt most of the feelings she listed, foreboding joy was difficult to understand. Why do I run away and catastrophize when things are going well? 

How Foreboding Joy Shows Up in My Life

A few weeks ago, I told my therapist that life is steady and stable for the first time in decades. Because I removed alcohol from my life, I have been a reliable employee for over two years, my bills are paid in full and on time, my dog and I are healthy, my home is cozy, my plants are watered and thriving, and my refrigerator is full. I have a solid daily routine, and I have created a life I do not want to escape from. It is also September, the most beautiful time of year in Michigan. Dare I say life is good? 

And yet, I lie awake at night worrying about everything that could go wrong. In the past, every time something good happened in my life, it was followed by something tragic. By waiting for the other shoe to drop, I am foreboding joy. I am allowing my fears to get in the way of experiencing delight in the current moment. 

Why Do I Forebode Joy?

Being sober in a world that is full of pain is tricky. Sometimes, when I go out into the world, all I see is pain. In 2022 alone, six of my past rehab roommates died addiction-related deaths. It can feel selfish to lean into joy in today's cultural, political, and capitalist climate. Folks are losing rights and barely scraping by, making my joy practices seem frivolous. 

Joy also feels just as vulnerable as pain, so naturally, I avoid it. Yet, a significant component of sobriety is learning to embrace all 87 emotions. While it is true that joyful moments won't last forever, it is also true that painful moments won't last forever, either. Leaning into joy is a lot like leaning into love. It can be terrifying because it is fleeting.

By Foreboding Joy, I Miss Out on Everything that Makes Life Worthwhile

Last night at sunset, I planted 25 tulip bulbs in front of my house. After a long winter, the vibrancy of perennials always fills me with joy. Joy practices do not need to be elaborate. Often, the simplest moments outweigh the extraordinary ones. By foreboding joy, I miss out on everything that makes life worthwhile. I miss out on all 87 emotions. I miss out on getting to know myself. According to Brown, each time I fill my cup with joy, I also create a safe space within myself for pain to exist.1 


  1. Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. Random House.

APA Reference
Cronkright, K. (2023, September 19). Foreboding Joy Is a Challenge in Addiction Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Author: Kelsi Cronkright

You can find Kelsi on Instagram and Substack.

January, 13 2024 at 12:32 pm

I have this problem too... you are worthy of all the joy and happiness the world has to offer @SoberKelsi

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