Before you can get clean and sober you have to admit that you are miserable.
This is really the essence of denial in most cases. The alcoholic or the drug addict refuses to admit to themselves, to fully accept the fact, that they are miserable nearly 100 percent of the time due to their addiction.
Or if they do admit to it, they blame this misery on anything other than their outrageous drinking or drug habits.
The myth of happiness while being trapped in addiction or alcoholism
The alcoholic and drug addict lives in the fantasy world where their drug of choice is the one thing in the world that can make them happy.
They discovered this at some point in the past and they have been clinging to this idea with all of their emotional strength. It becomes like their highest truth in life: They may not be sure of much, but they know that if they are feeling down they can always turn to their drug of choice and it will pick them back up. And if it doesn’t work at first then they just need to drink or consume more of the drug.
This becomes their solution in life. I believe the saying is: “When all you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.” That is exactly what addiction became for me in the long run. Bad day on the job? Let’s get drunk. Relationship problems? Let’s get drunk. Want to celebrate something good that actually happened? You guessed it–let’s get drunk.
This becomes the default solution for everything in life.
It no longer mattered to me if I was having a good day or a bad day, if I was already happy or if I was feeling down–drinking had become my default solution for everything. I lived to self medicate. Addiction had taken over my entire life.
And in living this way for many years I had myself convinced that I was happy, that this was the only path to true happiness. Sobriety was boring, or so I believed. I did not want that boredom. I didn’t want to go back to a boring life in sobriety. I wanted the excitement of addiction, or so I told myself.
And slowly over the years I started to become miserable. Even though I was telling myself that I was on the path to real happiness, I was still quite miserable and it was getting worse and worse. This is always going to happen due to the progressive nature of the disease. For every true addict and alcoholic in this world, the negative feelings that they have in addiction will only get worse over time. It never gets better. Sometimes we can fool ourselves by thinking that it is temporarily better, but the long term trend is always negative. Always. It always gets worse.
And so in my own personal journey it was definitely getting worse. I was less happy with each passing year that I continued to self medicate. I had been to rehab a few times but I obviously had not been ready to stop drinking yet. I wasn’t ready for real change in my life. I had not surrendered yet.
At this point in your addiction it becomes much more difficult to deny the misery. So your denial takes another turn on you: Instead of trying to outright deny that you are miserable, your brain will accept that you are miserable but it will not accept that it is the fault of your drug of choice.
So your denial essentially says: “OK, I admit it, I am pretty miserable. But it is everyone else’s fault, and not the fact that I drink and take drugs every day!”
This would be like the classic image of the angry alcoholic who blames everyone else for their problems in life, even though 99 percent of their misery and problems are brought on by their own outrageous behavior. They cannot see that their drinking or drug use is the root of all that is wrong with their life. So they blame other people, they blame society, they blame their past and what has happened to them, and they blame everything and everyone else except for themselves and their addiction. They protect the idea that their drug of choice can give them happiness at all costs. They will agree to just about anything except for that idea. Please don’t take my drug of choice away. It’s all I have left….
How can you convince yourself to accept your own misery?
So let’s assume that you are the struggling alcoholic or drug addict and you realize that you are miserable.
How do you force yourself to realize that your addiction is the root of this misery, that getting clean and sober could lead you to happiness in life?
It is not an easy thing to do. I am not so sure that you can even reason through it with logic in such a way that would lead to action. Because obviously the hold that alcohol or drugs has on a person goes far beyond logic. If you could just talk sense into the alcoholic using logic then the disease would be quite easy to defeat. Obviously this doesn’t work.
So the issue is emotional as well. There is an emotional component to addiction. We have come to trust and rely on our drug of choice. It was our best friend and was always there for us when we needed to turn to it.
There is a spiritual component as well. Drugs and alcohol substituted for meaning in our lives when we could not find purpose in any other way. They buzz and our drug of choice became our higher power during our addiction. It became our source of hope.
So there are more layers to this transition than simply saying “I like to drink but I need to quit.” It is not just a physical addiction. And it is not just a mental addiction either. It is emotional, spiritual, physical, and even social. There are many layers of addiction.
The social aspect can be particularly difficult if you drink or used drugs with other people on a regular basis. Younger addicts find this very difficult to deal with. Who wants to give up all of their friends when getting sober? Who wants to walk away from all of the people they care about just so they can get clean and sober? This is a huge challenge and a very real problem for many people. The addiction can keep you trapped from this social perspective because you are afraid of being alone.
I knew that when I was facing the idea of getting sober that I would lose all of my current friends. This is because all of my friends were people who used drugs and got drunk with me. These were real friendships, but they were all based on that mutual interest of getting wasted all the time. So people might argue with this and say “they weren’t really your friends” but that is not true. They were my friends and I cared about them and it was very, very hard to walk away from them all. And they missed me when I left to go live in rehab and they told me as much. And that wasn’t easy. So there is definitely a social component to this transition that should not be ignored. It is not fair to say to someone “oh, they are not really your friends, they are just drinking buddies, and you will meet new friends in rehab or AA.” That may be partially true but it is also a very tough pill to swallow if you are struggling to get sober.
I knew that when I made the leap to sobriety that I would lose that existing social circle. The thought of that was pretty miserable and I did not know if I could go through with it. To simply walk away from all of my existing friends, even though they were technically just “drinking buddies.” My thought about this was that it would make me so miserable that I would die on the spot. Really that was my irrational belief about walking away from my drinking buddies. I thought I would be so miserable that it would kill me.
And this kept me stuck in addiction for a very long time.
Part of the solution here is not in overcoming or avoiding misery, but in accepting it. Embracing the misery.
In the end I had to embrace that misery and fully accept it as my own. This is what finally set me free.
But it was not clear to me how to do that for a very long time. I had to struggle and try to figure out how to cling to happiness. And I had to fail at that, over and over again.
Writing it down every day
So how exactly do you move past the misery? How do you force yourself to recognize it?
My suggestion is:
Write it down.
This will wake up your conscious mind to the reality that you are experiencing.
Let’s repeat that because it is the whole point of this exercise. We want to wake up our brain so that we are not living in denial. We want to force ourselves to accept the truth, the real truth, what is really going on in our lives.
Writing it down works. It may not be the best technique for every person but it will likely help just about anyone who gives it a real try.
I suggest you get a journal. Start writing in a private journal, just for yourself. Put the date down each day and then start writing.
Do this every single day. Never skip a day. If you miss a day do not beat yourself up. But try to do it every single day. This consistency is important. Keep doing it. If you stop doing it even for a day or two then it is easy to let it slide entirely. You must be consistent at it.
So what are you writing down? Your fears, your anxieties, your pain, and your misery. Write down what is really going on in your life. Get honest with yourself. Try to write down your real feelings.
In order to do this you may want to talk to a therapist or a counselor and tell them to help you identify what are your feelings versus your opinions. This is an important distinction. You want to be able to identify your feelings, your emotions, the stuff like sad, happy, scared, angry, hurt, etc. And if you write those feelings down each day and try to explain them then you will be forcing your brain to wake up.
The old path in life was to just live day to day without paying attention to your feelings. Or even worse, you were self medicating so that you did not have to acknowledge those feelings at all. You completely blocked them out by medicating with drugs or alcohol. And so you were totally out of touch with what was really going on inside. And if you are that out of touch with your feelings then you don’t have access to the truth, you can’t respond to your life, you can’t correct course or make important changes based on what is really important.
So this is how you force the issue.
This is how you accept your misery and work through it.
You write it down. You don’t even have to go back and read your old journal entries. Just writing them down is powerful enough in itself most of the time. It will force your brain to realize the truth.
This works no matter where you are at in your journey, so long as you are honest with yourself. So long as you write down the truth.
For example, if you are still drinking and using drugs, you can force yourself to get honest with yourself and realize just how miserable you are on a day to day basis. Writing it down helps you to embrace your misery. And you will quickly realize that your solution, your drug of choice, no longer really works for medicating this misery. By writing your feelings down each day this will become readily apparent to you. You are forcing your brain to realize that your addiction no longer serves you well. So this process pushes you closer to real surrender. You are working through your denial, in writing. But of course you have to be honest in writing down your real feelings (and not just your opinions).
Another example is in long term sobriety. You can benefit a great deal from the same exercise when you are already sober. This is because most of us are still suffering from a million different forms of denial, even after we put down our drug of choice. I have 13 years sober now and I still manage to lie to myself at times. I can be in denial about things other than drinking or drug use. And so there is powerful growth to be realized if you can use this technique in recovery to get even more honest with yourself. Our personal growth journey is really just beginning when we get clean and sober, and it continues forever. So this technique of getting honest with yourself is always going to prove to be useful. It can always be used to unlock another layer of potential growth.
You don’t necessarily have to journal and write things down, this just makes it simple. You could sit and meditate and see what anxieties pop up during the stillness. Then you could address those anxieties and achieve personal growth by doing so. But writing it down forces the issue. If you are stuck in denial then it helps to have the truth staring back at you in written form.
You could even go a step further and write it down in a public forum, such as the one here at Spiritual River. Then you could get feedback from others and possibly gain even more insight into your life and your issues. Of course a public forum is not for everyone, but in some cases it can help to bounce your thoughts and ideas off of other people. At the very least you can learn that you are not crazy, because others in the forum will surely identify with you and where you are at right now.
Forcing the issue on yourself through action
When I was near the end of my addiction I started to embrace my misery.
I wasn’t writing anything down at the time. I was simply at the point where I could no longer blame others. All the fingers were pointing back at me and my alcohol use. I was running out of excuses.
I can remember feeling like I was truly going insane, and I started to become genuinely afraid for my own sanity. I no longer knew what was right or wrong, what would make me happy or sad. I put my faith in my drug of choice and I decided to try to get fully medicated in order to be “happy.”
I realized even in this fog of addiction that I was playing a mental game with myself. The game was this: I was telling myself that I was holding back, that I was not really experiencing the perfect setup of drugs and alcohol and life situation, and that if I could experience the perfect conditions then I would finally be happy.
I was saying to myself: “Yes, I drink and use drugs every day, but my situation is not quite perfect, and that is why I am not happy. If I could get every variable just right, then I could finally be happy.”
And I was telling myself that some day these variables would be perfect, and that I would continue to drink and use drugs and be happy forever. No more misery! I would just be happy all the time because things would finally be working out perfectly for me. My situation would change and the things that made me unhappy would simply fade away.
This was the fantasy that I was telling myself.
And I got to this point where I realized:
No, this is not the truth. If this is really the truth that I can achieve this happiness whenever I want, then I should be able to go buy drugs and booze right now and achieve this happiness.
I shouldn’t have to wait for my life situation to change, I should be able to use my drug of choice and create instant happiness. Right here and right now.
So I can remember doing this experiment, and going to buy a whole bunch of drugs and booze. I loaded up on supply because I wanted to prove to myself that I could still achieve instant happiness.
Looking back on it now, I can see what I was really doing. What I was doing was not measuring how much drugs and alcohol I needed to become “happy,” what I was really doing was measuring my misery. I was measuring my lack of happiness under ideal conditions in my addiction. Load up on plenty of drugs and alcohol, then see how happy it made me. That was really what I was doing.
And of course I was miserable. I had plenty of supply but I just couldn’t feel like it was a party any more. I had failed. The instant happiness was nowhere to be found. It never materialized. I was miserable in spite of my best effort.
Here I was…..I had some money, I had plenty of drugs and booze, and yet I was still unhappy.
This was the moment when I broke through denial. My mind was in a fog of course, but it was still sharp enough to see this simple truth. I was unhappy and I couldn’t cover that up any more. I couldn’t blame it on anything or anyone else, because I had taken away all of my excuses.
I had finally stopped playing that game with myself, and I did this experiment where I was going to prove that drugs and alcohol could make me instantly happy.
So when the experiment failed, that was when I surrendered. That was when I said to myself: “This just isn’t worth it any more.”
I was sick and tired.
Sick and tired of what, you ask?
I was sick and tired of being miserable all the time.
Embracing the fear and facing it head on
The fear is what stops you.
Perhaps you finally embraced your misery and worked through your denial, but now you have a choice.
You always have a choice.
Stay stuck in the misery of addiction, or face the fear of recovery.
That is always the choice that you face when battling addiction.
You can stay stuck in misery, or you face walk through the fear and build an amazing new life for yourself.
You pay a price either way.
If you stay in addiction then you live in misery.
If you choose sobriety then you have to walk through the fear.
I am not going to trivialize this fear, or tell you that it is easy. Because obviously it is not easy to face your fear and recover. The fear is brutal. It traps people. It kills people.
But I promise you that facing this fear is the path that leads out of misery…..