Drug addiction and alcoholism are certainly topics that produce a lot of tough questions. I can remember that before I got clean and sober, I had at least a few questions about the recovery process that never really got answered fully, at least to my satisfaction.
And maybe that is impossible. If you are stuck in denial and you don’t want to get clean and sober, then probably no answer is going to satisfy you. I understand that. But I am still going to put some answers out there to the big questions that I had, in the hopes that it might get the right people thinking about sobriety in a new way.
If you can get even a tiny bit of hope from something that you read, or from something that someone says to you, then it might be the thing that eventually turns your life around. And that can be pretty amazing.
I am not sure why I finally surrendered to my disease, but I am grateful every day that I did.
So let’s take a look at some of these questions…..
Will my cravings for alcohol and drugs ever go away?
Yes, your cravings will go away.
I never used to believe that. I was stubborn when I was stuck in denial and I did not believe that my cravings for alcohol and other drugs would ever disappear.
I told myself things like “I must be wired differently than other people because I enjoy drugs and alcohol so much.”
I could not figure out why I was so dependent on alcohol and drugs, or why I was made this way. That’s just how it was though. I accepted this fully and I tried to convince myself and others that I would never, ever, ever be happy in my life unless I was drunk, or high, or both.
So when I dabbled in sobriety at first I was totally miserable. Of course this is only normal….if you take an alcoholic and suddenly remove their booze, of course they are going to be miserable. You aren’t giving them any solutions. You aren’t providing an alternative. You just took away their one means of coping and dealing with reality, and you expect them to be happy about it? That’s not going to work. Of course they will be miserable at first.
Even the body itself is going to be upset in early recovery because it is going through physical withdrawal. You are going to experience instant discomfort, at least for a little while.
So it is completely understandable in my opinion that people would be depressed about the idea that they may never feel happy again if they get sober.
I viewed sobriety as a punishment. I wanted to be drunk so I could be happy. Take my alcohol and drugs away and I would be stuck in misery, or so I believed. This was how my mind operated.
But the answer to the question is:
Yes, your cravings will go away. They absolutely will. You have to have faith in that. You have to believe me, even though your mind probably doesn’t quite accept it, that one day you will be completely sober and totally happy. There is no way for you to know this in advance, and no way that I can really assure you that it is true, other than to give you my word and my testimony.
I was miserable when I first got sober and I truly believed that I would never be happy again if I stayed sober. How would I be happy without booze? I had no hope for the future.
And yet, here I am today, sober and happy and loving my life.
You are probably asking yourself: “Well, how did he do it? What is the big secret then? How do I go from being miserable to being happy and joyous and free?”
The answer to that question is that it takes work, it takes time, and it takes real effort.
Unfortunately no one wants to hear that answer. They want to hear about an easy solution instead. They want to hear that you can go to rehab for 28 days and come out totally cured and never have to think about recovery ever again. It doesn’t work that way.
They want to hear that you can take a new medication that completely eliminates cravings for alcohol or other drugs and that this makes it totally easy to remain clean and sober. Just pop this pill and you are cured. But again, it doesn’t work that way. This is fantasy. They have tried (and they continue to try) to develop such medications, and while some of them do make a small impact, none of them are anywhere near the cure that we are all hoping for. I repeat: these medications do not cure addiction, and don’t even really come close.
Everyone wants to take the easier, softer path to recovery. But the truth is that it takes a lot of willingness, a lot of commitment, and a lot of hard work.
The first day that I noticed that my cravings were gone, I believe that I had roughly 5 or 6 months of sobriety under my belt. And I was living in long term treatment at the time and I went to meetings every day and talked to counselors and therapists and sponsors. I was reading recovery literature all the time, writing in the steps and in my journal, talking with peers in recovery every single day, and so on. In fact, my entire life and existence was completely focused on recovery related stuff. And after about six months I realized that my cravings and my obsession was pretty much gone completely. I could go through an entire day without thinking about drinking or using drugs, not even once. And that, to me, was a miracle. I was truly shocked when I got to that point because in the past I believed that I would forever be miserable in sobriety. I did not think the obsession would ever go away. I did not think that it was even possible. And yet here I was, at only six months sober, completely amazed at how free and happy I had become in sobriety.
After that, life just kept getting better and better all the time, and after 13 years of continuous sobriety things are really pretty amazing today. Happy, joyous and free–yes, that is a real thing you can achieve! And I truly believe that this is available to anyone and everyone who is willing to commit to doing the work.
How will I make new friends in sobriety?
If you want to make things easy on yourself then I would strongly recommend that you do two things right off the bat in early recovery:
1) Go to rehab, and
2) Go to AA meetings.
Sure, there are alternatives to both of these things.
Sure, you could get sober by taking a different path. I for one do not really attend AA meetings any more, and I haven’t for a long time. But in early recovery I went to quite a few of them for about the first year or so. They were an important part of my foundation.
You could do much worse than to start attending AA meetings and end up making friends there.
I would caution you against making close friends in rehab, because the odds are stacked against that friendship from the start. Not that you can’t make really close connections while you are in treatment, but that is actually part of the problem. Once you leave rehab the odds that everyone that you “graduated with” from rehab will stay sober drop to nearly zero. In fact, if you take a random sample of about 20 people from short term rehab (28 days or less) and you revisit those same 20 people five years later, how many of them do you believe will still be clean and sober? Statistically (last time I looked at the data) only one of those people will be sober at the five year mark. And if that person is you, then how well do you think your peers will be faring at that point? Hence, this is not a strong group of people to base your recovery on. This is not where you make your friends if you can help it.
Much wiser is to leave treatment, say goodbye to the folks that you met there, and then get yourself to outside AA meetings that exist in the real world. Go to AA meetings that exist outside of rehab. Go to real AA meetings that are out there in the wild. Plug yourself into those groups and try to meet a few people. Ask them if anyone would be willing to have coffee with you after the meeting. Go sit in some coffee shops with AA people and just talk. If this fails, then go find another AA meeting and make the same offer–“Would anyone like to get coffee with me after the meeting and just chat, nothing heavy?” Keep putting it out there and you will make friends very quickly. Keep in mind that this is best done at outside AA meetings rather than at a treatment facility.
I once was a part of a treatment center where they would host AA meetings right on their own campus. So people who left rehab would then be able to come back to the meetings that were held there. Pretty nice, right? Well, there were some major drawbacks to this approach. The meetings were made up of people who were just new into treatment, and also people who had just left rehab and had less than a year sober, and usually less than 90 days sober. That is not what you would call a “high quality AA meeting” in terms of wisdom, knowledge, and experience.
But if you go to a real world, outside AA meeting that is not at a treatment center, the average length of sobriety is around 5 to 10 years or so. Then you get some real experience and wisdom from the table. This is where you want to go, this is where you want to make friends in early recovery.
I have to give it to them, the people at real world AA meetings are some of the nicest and most welcoming people that you will ever meet.
I’m not just saying that. They really do want to extend a welcome to everyone who comes in.
If you don’t make friends at AA meetings, where are you going to find sober people to hang out with? It can be done, I am not saying that it is impossible, but going to AA is certainly a nice shortcut. It makes it so much easier to find sober friends quickly.
Can I force someone else in my life to sober up? How can I convince them to change?
No, you cannot force someone to sober up.
No, you cannot convince someone to change against their will.
If you are struggling with this question then my best advice for you is to go to an Al-anon meeting.
There they will teach you (hopefully) that the best you can do in most cases is to set healthy limits and boundaries with the alcoholic in your life so that you can stop enabling them.
After that, it is generally a matter of letting the alcoholic experience their own consequences that they bring on to themselves through their own behavior. Your job as someone who is no longer enabling them is to get out of their way if they are screwing up.
Alcoholics and drug addicts live in pain. Their life is filled with pain. Their addiction fuels this pain even further because the consequences of drinking are negative.
Your job is to never deny the alcoholic of their pain. When you deny them of their pain you are helping to keep the charade going. You are helping them to continue with the madness, to continue to self medicate, to continue to run in fear and to hide from reality.
Some people would call such an approach “tough love.” You have to learn what is healthy behavior on your part in regards to setting healthy boundaries, because that is the only thing that you have control over. You can control your own actions, but no one else’s. And that is the single most powerful thing that you can learn and start to build from when it comes to this stuff.
No easy answers, unfortunately. Help and support can be vital to your sanity. Again, if you are struggling then find a local Al-anon meeting and start attending.
Is addiction treatment a scam, or does it really work?
It is very common for people to view addiction treatment as a scam because:
A) It costs a lot of money, like all health care right now, and
B) The success rates are quite low, ranging from around 3 to 6 percent typically, depending on what and how you measure.
C) Even if someone wants their life to change, they will often fail anyway. Most people relapse.
So it is easy to look at a specific example and call it a scam.
Think about it though, if treatment really worked the way that we all think it should (if there was a “cure”) then we would all be terrified of the implications.
Just think if you could take a hardened criminal and alcoholic, send them through a 28 day program, and have them come out completely reformed with no desire to drink alcohol any more.
Wouldn’t that be terrifying? To know that they can somehow brainwash people like that? To think that they can bend and manipulate human will like that?
We would be horrified if an addiction “cure” really existed. Because the simple truth is that most alcoholics love to drink.
Even when I surrendered and got sober for good, there was still a part of me inside that said “I love to drink and get drunk!” That part of me will never go away completely. It will never totally die. It will always be there.
And to think that we expect some sort of cure, to be able to erase that part of my identity? I don’t see that ever happening. I don’t think they will “cure” it in that way. The love of alcohol is just too close to my identity, it is a part of who I really am, deep down. I don’t think you can strip that away without turning me into a robot.
Treatment works when the alcoholic is ready to change.
Treatment worked for me when I finally surrendered. When I finally became willing to kill my ego completely, when I finally became ready to listen to other people and do exactly what they told me to do, that is when everything changed for me.
I had to be willing to live in rehab for the long term. That was originally very scary for me, and I honestly thought that I would never do it. I told myself that I would rather die from drinking before I moved into long term rehab.
But at some point I got desperate enough. I got sick and tired enough. And so I was finally willing to make the leap of faith that it took to move into long term rehab. I did not want to do this, I resisted the idea for many years, but I finally decided that it was either that, or go kill myself via heavy drinking. Choose life, or choose suicide via alcoholism. I had to choose. And luckily I chose life, I chose to get an intense amount of help and support by living in rehab for 20 months.
No, treatment is not a scam.
But it is not a cure, either.
It is somewhere in the middle. And right now it is the best option that we have. It is probably our strongest solution. Your best choice. There are other things that you might do instead, such as going to counseling, or attending AA meetings, or trying some new anti-addiction pill from your doctor. But ultimately your best choice is probably going to be inpatient rehab.
Can I find purpose and meaning in sobriety?
Yes, you can absolutely find purpose and meaning in sobriety.
For a long time I was looking very hard for purpose and meaning. I wanted to find purpose. I was reading books all the time about spirituality, and how to find my life purpose, and trying to figure out what I should do with my time and with my life.
And in the end those were good questions to ask, I think, but they never really led me to a direct answer.
Instead, I had to feel my way to the point I am at now. I had to start living my life, helping other people along the way, and allow my purpose to reveal itself slowly.
I think my most important piece of advice regarding this is not to rush. Slow down. Just stop rushing and thinking that you have to get organized so quickly.
There is no need to rush. If there is one thing that you have in sobriety, it is time. If you quit drinking, you have plenty of time. Quality time. And now you can spend that time on much more meaningful things.
So don’t push yourself too hard in terms of life purpose, or finding meaning. It will come to you in time as you remain sober and live your life. You will look back and see where the meaning and purpose came from. And you will be able to appreciate the gifts that you receive in sobriety.
Instead of being selfish in your addiction, you can be grateful for the little things in sobriety. Everything has special meaning when you practice gratitude every day.
What about you, do you have any questions about addiction and recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!