When I was still struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction I often argued that I did not really need drug rehab.
My argument was based on denial, of course. I argued that I did not really need treatment to help me arrest my disease because, quite simply, I did not want my disease to be arrested at the time. I argued that I “enjoyed” drinking and using drugs every day, and if I really wanted to stop using, I probably could do that for myself without any outside help.
That was denial. It took me several years to work through that denial, to realize that I was fooling myself into thinking that I was happy while I was self medicating with drugs and alcohol every day. So it did not come until much later that I finally woke up to the fact that I did, in fact, need treatment. It took a long time before I was really willing to admit that to myself.
My goal today is to help you along on that same journey if you happen to be struggling with the question. Because let’s face it—some people seriously need treatment, and others do not. So how can you tell?
Test it for yourself first: Perhaps you really do not need treatment after all
First of all I would suggest that maybe you really don’t need rehab after all.
Now that might sound like a crazy suggestion at first, especially to make to someone who is obviously struggling and probably is very much in need of getting some help.
But let’s be clear here—the problem is not that the person isn’t in need of help, the problem is that the person is not convinced that they need help.
In order to break through denial, you have to convince yourself that you actually need treatment. That is a scary task for anyone to admit that they are out of control and that they need to go “lock themselves up” in order to get the help that they need.
Let’s talk about that phrase for a moment, the idea of “locking yourself up in treatment.” That is a horrible way to say it! No one is locking themselves up in treatment. What happens is that the alcoholic or drug addict realizes that they are sick and that they need help. Their body has become dependent on a substance and they need help in order to become free from that chemical.
You are not a bad person who has to go to treatment in order to become “good,” you are a sick person who might want to go to rehab in order to become healthy again. This is a disease and you can arrest it and get help for it.
Temptation, unfortunately, is everywhere. It is very difficult to sober up when you have temptations staring you in the face at various moments throughout the day. This is one reason why checking into treatment is a good idea.
Think of going to rehab—not as locking yourself up in a jail—but think of it as disrupting your disease. Think of it is a diversion, a disruption to a pattern. Because essentially that is what you are doing—you are disrupting your pattern of drug or alcohol abuse so that you can learn how to live a clean and sober life.
And maybe you don’t really need this disruption. Maybe you can simply walk away from drugs and alcohol on your own.
In order to make this decision you need to get really clear in your own mind about it.
First, acknowledge the fact that you are not going to control your drinking or your drug use. If you take in a little, that turns into a lot. You can’t control it once you start. If you still believe that you might be able to control your alcohol or drug intake then you are not ready to get clean and sober. If total abstinence is not the solution for you yet then you are not done with the madness. In order to become finished with your disease you have to get desperate for change, and you have to accept the fact that you can never successfully drink or take drugs again.
Many people have a problem with the idea of “forever.” That they have to quit drinking or doing drugs for the rest of their life. I don’t really have a solution for you. Maybe the “day at a time” philosophy will help you, or maybe it won’t. When you quit, you really have to make a deep commitment to yourself if you want it to work. So you have to get to a place where you realize that total abstinence is the solution, that you can’t sneak a drink here or there down the road. It is all or nothing, and you have to get that straight in your mind.
Second of all you need to make an agreement with yourself that you are going to take away every excuse. Meaning that you are going to seriously try to quit on your own, you are really going to try to stop drinking and taking drugs, you are going to give total abstinence a real try.
Let me tell you what I was doing in order to fool myself. I was trying to stop drinking, then I would fail at it, and then I would tell myself that I had never really tried in the first place because I did not want to.
So what I was doing was to let myself off the hook after I failed to quit drinking. I was rationalizing the relapse away, arguing that I never really wanted to quit anyway. But then some day if I really got serious and I really wanted to quit, I could probably do so easily.
This is denial, and you need to recognize it as denial. So in order to give yourself a fair trial you need to make an agreement with yourself. You need to make a deal. So get it straight in your head that you are going to make a serious effort to stop drinking on your own. No excuses. And after that trial is over, if you find yourself drinking or taking drugs again, then it is time to face the music and admit that you need serious help.
At some point I had to reach this point, where I admitted that I had really tried to stop on my own, and that I failed. And so I accepted the fact that I needed serious help in order to quit drinking.
Until you reach this moment of true surrender, you won’t be able to rebuild your life in sobriety. All of your efforts will fall short, they will fall apart, and sobriety will elude you. True surrender is the moment when you break through the last bit of your denial and realize that, yes, I am a real alcoholic, I cannot quit on my own, and I need serious help. That is real surrender.
Any alcoholic theoretically could quit without help, but do they?
In theory it is very easy to beat alcoholism. You simply stop lifting drinks up to your lips. The act of not doing something should be so easy, right?
It is not a matter of whether or not you can quit, it is a matter of staying stopped. The problem isn’t getting sober, the problem is staying sober.
Every alcoholic and drug addict has brief periods of time when they stop using. Maybe they land in jail for a bit, or maybe they burn out after drinking or using hard for a few days, or maybe they run out of money, or maybe they lose their home and take a few days before they can get back on their feet and start drinking again. Whatever the case is, every alcoholic has gone through brief periods of time when they were not drinking or taking drugs.
Therefore the problem is not in stopping. If it were that easy then we would just lock alcoholics up in jail for two weeks and then turn them lose, fully cured. But there is no such cure. If it were that easy then the world would be so much easier to deal with. The problem is not in stopping, it is in staying stopped.
And therefore the problem is not really in going to rehab or not, the problem is in the amount of willingness that the alcoholic has to continue with their treatment after leaving rehab.
That is a tricky concept if you have never been sober before. The illusion is that you can go to treatment, get sober, and then move on with your life. That is fantasy though. You don’t just sober up for 28 days and then move on. Instead, you dedicate your life to sobriety and to a path of recovery and personal growth.
Let’s repeat that because it gives us an accurate picture of what it really takes in order to remain sober: You need to go to treatment, then leave rehab and continue to push yourself in recovery and push yourself to improve your life in various ways. The long term solution to addiction is personal growth. The only real solution is self improvement.
If nothing changes, is your life going to get better or worse going forward?
Ask yourself a question in regards to treatment:
If nothing changes for you in the near future, is your life going to get better, or is it going to get worse?
Please note that there is no such thing really as status quo in this case. You are not going to stay the same. There is no middle ground when it comes to drug addiction and alcoholism. It is an extreme disease and it is a volatile condition. You are either drunk and happy or you are miserable. We are always at extremes.
If you are like other alcoholics and drug addicts then you are stuck in addiction and you are getting certain results in your life. You put in a certain amount of effort and you get out certain results. So you need to ask yourself:
“Am I happy with my results?”
Are you happy with the life that you are living now? If you are stuck in addiction then the answer is going to be “no.” There really is no other answer because true addiction will always make you miserable in the end. Maybe you are in heavy denial and you can convince yourself that you really are “happy,” in which case there is no problem right now. The problem comes in a bit later when you can no longer keep up the charade that you are “happy” because your world is crashing down around you and you are facing heavy consequences due to your disease. At some point you have to face reality. At some point, every alcoholic wakes up in jail and realizes that the fun is long over with. Or maybe they don’t wake up in a jail cell, but they still wake up one day to this sort of realization about their life, about how it just isn’t fun any more, and how in the world did they get to this point?
Part of denial is the illusion that you might get different results in your life even though you don’t make any major changes.
Let’s think about that for a moment, because it is a very common thing for an alcoholic to believe. There is a secret hope that maybe your luck is about to change—that maybe your life will suddenly get better and everything will suddenly start to go your way. Every alcoholic and drug addict clings to this secret hope. People win the lottery, right? So maybe it is your turn next. Maybe you are about to get lucky in life, maybe everything is about to change for the better, even though you are still drinking or taking drugs every day.
I always had a secret hope that everything would magically work out in my life even while I was I still getting drunk every day. And in my mind it worked and made perfect sense, if only the universe would listen and respond to my every desire. If the pieces would just fall the way that I wanted them to then I could stay drunk and everyone would be happy and no one would ever get hurt.
Again, this is denial. If you are trying to design reality in your head and make it all work around the fact that you get drunk or high every day then you are always going to be miserable.
Fantasy makes us miserable. Having this perfect vision of happiness based on getting drunk or high every day is always going to make you unhappy in the long run, because it can never come true. We know it cannot come true because addiction is madness, it is destructive, and people get hurt. Addiction destroys things and tears lives apart, and yet you have this vision in your head where you get to drink and get smashed every single day while the world somehow works smoothly and perfectly all around you in spite of your disease. This is fantasy. It will never come true.
The alcoholic or addict can remember a time in their past where it was true, though. They can think back and remember a time when they got really drunk or really high and no one got hurt and the world worked out perfectly, everything flowed smoothly, and there were no problems. Why can’t we go back to that? Why can’t life be like that every day? This is the fantasy that fuels the alcoholic. They cling to a memory of the perfect drunk in their past. They want to go back to it, they want every day to be like that perfect drunk. And so every day when they start drinking again they are secretly hoping for that perfect time, just like they experienced in their past that one time.
This is denial. This is fantasy. It can’t be perfect every day. Yet the alcoholic stays stuck in denial and keeps hoping for this perfection, for this fantasy.
And it will never happen. The alcoholic must accept that. They have to get this glimpse, this moment of clarity, where they realize that the good times are over….forever. That those days are long gone and the fun times with drugs and alcohol will never come back. And after they glimpse this moment of clarity, after they have this insight, they have to be willing to take action and make a change.
Accept for a moment that the good times are over forever, that you can never go back to those good old days of drinking or drug use. Really accept that. Now ask yourself: Is it worth it to keep trying? Is it worth it to try to drink and take drugs, knowing that you will never really achieve that perfect fantasy in your mind where you drink every day and it is always fun and everything always works out?
Is it still worth it to drink and take drugs if you are always going to be miserable doing so?
This is the realization that will break you through denial.
How to make a decision and arrest your disease in its tracks
So how do you make the decision then?
Work through your denial. Start writing it down every day. Get out a notebook and write down the date today and state how happy you are today. Are you happy? Are you happy with your life and the direction it is headed? Yes or no. Write it down. Then do the same thing tomorrow. Keep writing down your emotional state, keep putting it in writing how happy (or unhappy) you truly are.
Then watch what happens. If you document your misery like this then you force your mind to work through your denial. You can’t keep telling yourself that you are happy in your drinking if every day you admit and acknowledge just how miserable you really are. So keep writing it down, keep logging how happy you are each day, and thus work through your denial.
Once you reach a point where you have had enough misery, you will become willing to face your fears.
Every alcoholic and drug addict—whether they admit it or not—is afraid of change.
Every single alcoholic has this fear. It is universal.
If an alcoholic did not have this fear of change then they would not have a problem, they would not be alcoholic, there would be no issue at all.
The fear is real. Most of us would never admit to it though. It took me several years to look back at my early sobriety and realize that it was fear that kept me drinking for so long.
Eventually you get sick and tired in addiction. What are you sick and tired of though? The answer is this: You get sick and tired of being afraid. It is exhausting to live in fear.
Recovery is how you step out of that fear. You let go absolutely, and in doing so, you let the fear wash over you completely. It is like stepping off of a huge cliff into the great nothingness, because you have no idea what is going to happen in sobriety. The alcoholic is terrified of facing life sober. What will sobriety really be like? No one knows, it is an adventure, and yes….it is scary.
So what? You live in fear in addiction anyway. Admit it. Your life is dominated by fear in addiction. So getting clean and sober is scary too. It is a leap of faith. You step off the cliff into the great unknown.
And so it all comes down to that single moment that your future may hinge upon. Will you stay stuck in addiction, or will surrender and go to treatment? No one can force you to want to be sober. No one can force you to face your fear in sobriety, or to continue living in fear in addiction.
You pay a price either way, whether you go to treatment or not. If you stay in addiction then you make an agreement with the universe to keep living in fear and misery. If you choose treatment then you are agreeing to face your fear head on, to face the unknown, to give recovery and sobriety a chance.
The payoff is that if you get clean and sober you will one day look back and realize that the fear just an illusion. Sobriety is easy, peaceful, and full of joy and happiness. But in order to get to that place you had to step off of that cliff into the unknown.
Are you ready to make a leap of faith and give treatment a chance?