Alcoholism and drug addiction are both traps. They trap you into a cycle of destruction and chaos and misery.
Over time it becomes more and more difficult to escape from this trap because doing so brings on such temporary discomfort. The pain of withdrawal is not pleasant, and it is easy to believe that this pain will last indefinitely if we are to stay sober.
In order to design a program of recovery that works for your life, you have to do certain things and take certain actions. It isn’t just going to fall into your lap because you are sick and tired of addiction. Some level of effort is required to build a new life that you are excited to be living, and this is exactly the standard of success that will help to keep you sober in recovery. In other words, you can’t just quit drinking and expect to enjoy your life without putting in some serious work!
So how exactly can the struggling alcoholic or drug addict overcome this trap of addiction, and how does inpatient treatment play a role in this process? Let’s take a closer look and see.
Why you need to escape from the trap of denial
If you look carefully at how alcoholics actually recover, you will realize that they all tend to follow a similar process that starts with denial. Every alcoholic is, at one time, in denial. This is part of the disease and it is how they justify their drinking.
So before you can even get started on building a new life in recovery, you must first shut the door on the old life completely. You cannot do this if you have one foot in each door, so to speak. You have to reach that point where you make a decision and you are truly done with the idea of self medicating using drugs and alcohol.
I personally had to reach a breaking point. I had to reach this point where I was so sick and tired of my addiction that I no longer cared about myself, I no longer cared about whatever fears I was facing in sobriety, and I honestly did not even care if I became sober and was even more miserable. How could it get any worse? I felt that if it were any worse than what I was experiencing that I would just die. So in effect I became willing to take a chance on sobriety because I had become so incredibly miserable in my addiction.
Of course in order to get to this point you must admit to yourself that you are miserable. If you deny your misery then you will continue to self medicate and tell yourself that it is not that bad, that you are actually happy when you are drinking, and so on.
The great illusion of the alcoholic is that they can one day both control their drinking while also enjoying it. But what happens over time is that this gets harder and harder to achieve. The alcoholic will think back to certain moments in their drinking career and they will remember a time fondly when they were both able to enjoy their drinking and also control it. This is fantasy. It really did happen, this memory that they are clinging to, but they can never go back to that point with their alcohol consumption. They have progressed far beyond that point. And this probably only happened a few brief times until their tolerance took over and forced them to start drinking more and more booze to get the same effect.
Therefore the alcoholic stays in denial and they cling to this idea that they can drink like a gentleman and enjoy it too. They blame the outside world. They blame circumstances. They figure if everything would go perfectly for once then they could drink in moderation and still enjoy it while doing so. Again, this is fantasy. Their tolerance has wrecked this possibility for them. If they try to control their drinking consumption for a day they will certainly not enjoy it. And the converse of this is that if they decide to let it rip and go nuts then they will enjoy themselves but they will also lose total control and create chaos and consequences. There is no happy medium any more. In their past they may have had brief episodes when they found a happy medium, but those times are gone forever. You can never go back to them because your body is alcoholic, it has an allergy, and your tolerance has shifted forever.
I actually experimented with this once while I was addicted to alcohol and drugs. What happened is that I found myself in a situation where it was only convenient for me to drink alcohol and use drugs about one time per week. (At the time I was in a lot of trouble!). So what I noticed was that when I went for a whole week without drinking or using drugs, it did quite a bit to “reset my tolerance.” In other words, I would really feel the effects when I would finally drink again each week, because I was taking six days off before hand.
The problem? It doesn’t scale. So I discovered this great thing, you take six days off and then you get ripped for 3 hours and it is really amazing. But so what? Then after a few hours you are miserable again and wanting to use. But if you want to reset your tolerance then you have to go through six more days of agony and restraint. And how fun is that? What kind of way is that to live? Going for six days of restraint just to get wasted and “happy” for a few hours? It’s just not worth it.
When I finally was able to break through the last bit of my denial, the moment actually built on the idea I just mentioned. What I remember is glimpsing my future, and seeing myself struggling to be happy for the rest of my life if I continued to drink and use drugs. And in this moment of clarity I realized for the first time–really believed it deep down–that I was never going to be happy as a drinker. It was never going to happen. I would always be miserable if I kept chasing happiness in the bottle. For whatever reason, I finally saw that clearly. People had been trying to tell me that for so long, and I could not see it. I really thought that I was unhappy in life and that alcohol was the one thing that gave me a little bit of joy. But I had it all backwards. I had it all wrong. Life is joyous if you just get out of your own way. Life is joyous with very little effort really, so long as you are not screwing it up totally. And I was screwing it up totally by believing that I could buy happiness in a bottle and deliver it to my system at the drop of a hat. This was the “magic” of alcohol that had me so enamored for so long, that I could drink booze and instantly alter my mood. And it actually worked, until it didn’t. Because after a while in addiction it stops working.
How does alcohol stop working? Because it no longer takes you to that happy place.
When you first get addicted, alcohol works really well. I not lying. It really does make you happy, and if you drink some booze at any given moment of your life it really will make you happy. But if you become alcoholic (through no choice or fault of your own, it just happens) then the alcohol stops working. It will no longer make you happy. Unfortunately this happens in stages, it gets worse and worse over time, and that is how denial gets a foothold to begin with. We start to make excuses for the alcohol as soon as the effectiveness starts to wane. And this is how our denial builds over time. We cling to the idea that alcohol is our magic potion, that it can make us happy when everything else in our lives is miserable.
It is simple math. When I first started drinking, I could drink every single day and alcohol would keep me happy nearly 100 percent of the time.
But at the end of my addiction, I would drink every day and I might be “happy” for an hour or two each month, if I was lucky. The rest of the time I was miserable and making excuses for why I wasn’t happy. This is denial. It is denial to not realize just how miserable you have become in your addiction, and to deny the fact that the alcohol no longer does its job. Alcohol stops making you happy like it promised you in the beginning!
In order to break through your denial you must realize this simple fact. In the beginning, alcohol made you happy. It no longer works. It has stopped working.
Now you can get sober for a week and then take a few strong drinks of booze and you will be “happy” again. But then do my this little favor: Measure how long that “happiness” lasts for when you do this experiment. If you are a real alcoholic then it will be a matter of hours. And this will force you to realize that the happiness that alcohol can provide you with no longer scales. It won’t work every day because your tolerance won’t allow it. This is how to force yourself out of denial. You must realize that it is impossible to achieve lasting happiness while drinking every day.
Motivating yourself to take serious action
The only way to get serious motivation in recovery is to surrender first.
This is very counter-intuitive. You would think that you have to get pumped up and ready for this big battle in your life, but the exact opposite is the case. You actually need to give up in order to win. You have to let go.
The way to reach this point is to focus on breaking through your denial. Not just to admit that you have a problem, but to admit that you are miserable in your addiction and that you would rather face the fear of the unknown and go ask for help. Because that is where the transformation will really occur, when you ask for help and start following directions.
Unfortunately you cannot just motivate yourself on a whim. You can’t just declare that you want your life to change and then snap your fingers. The moment of surrender will come after you have gone through enough pain and chaos and misery that you will no longer care about facing all of your fears.
We hesitate to recover because we fear sobriety. We fear the solution. We have anxiety about facing life without alcohol and drugs. It is fear that keeps us stuck in addiction.
The thing that motivates us is pain. Most people do not really realize this. It is pain that forces the alcoholic to finally change. They want to escape from the misery of addiction. This is the only reason that anyone ever goes to rehab and makes it actually work in the long run.
Many people go to treatment for the wrong reasons. For example, they might go to appease their family members, or they might go to get a warm bed and regular meals for awhile. But the only reason to go to treatment that will actually produce real results is that you are sick and tired of the misery of addiction. You have to be fed up with the pain that addiction is causing you. No other reason seems to produce decent results in the long run. In the short run, anyone might stay sober temporarily, but this is of little value after a relapse.
How to tell if you are serious about addiction recovery
The way to tell how serious you are about recovery is to look at your willingness to follow directions.
Some people will argue that they are plenty willing, but are they willing to follow directions? That is the critical distinction.
Because I have met a lot of people who came into rehab and they said that they were willing, but it turned out that they were only willing to do certain things. They were using their own filter. To put it another way, their ego was in charge of their recovery.
This never works.
I worked in a treatment center for 5+ years and I can tell you that this never works. If you are only willing to do certain things for your recovery then you are not in the right frame of mind to recover, period.
True surrender must be deeper than that. What you really have to do is to get out of your own way by squashing your ego. You must remove yourself from the decision making process. Let other people (that you trust) make decisions for you.
This sounds horrific to most people. This is not how we are raised and it is not what we are traditionally taught in life. No one likes to defer to others for their decisions. No one wants to admit to weakness, to relinquish control. It is not in our nature. It is not what our society dictates to us. We are taught to be strong, independent, to be our own thinker. We are not taught to surrender.
I used to see plenty of examples of the opposite sort of “surrender” while I was working in rehab. People would come into treatment and they would be cocky. Too cocky. It was fairly easy to spot when someone was not going to “make it.” I knew that this was true because over time I noticed who came back to rehab later on for more treatment and who was showing up at the outside meetings and living a successful life in recovery. So my mind could not help but to start identifying the trends, guessing who was going to remain sober and who was headed for relapse. Anyone who had confidence in almost any capacity in very early recovery was setting themselves up for failure.
Maybe this is why the 12 steps incorporate humility. You have to be humble in early recovery and you have to be willing to take directions from other people. This is the best way to tell if someone is serious about recovery or not. If they are willing to listen to others and take direction then it means they are very serious about changing their life. If they fight for control of their decisions then that is a bad sign. This is just what I have observed over the years and it also correlates well with what I experience in my own journey.
How inpatient rehab can help to set you free
If you finally surrender and ask for help then it is likely that someone will suggest that you go to inpatient rehab.
It takes guts to check into rehab. It takes guts to admit to yourself and to the world that you need this level of help. To me it was a really big deal to go check in somewhere and stay for several weeks in order to regain control over an inanimate object (alcohol). There was just something about the whole idea that was very damaging to my ego. I could not believe that it had come to this, that I could not control myself any more. I think this is the most crushing admission to yourself in terms of surrender. That and the fact that you no longer know how to make yourself happy.
So when you reach this point of surrender and check into rehab, everything changes. Or rather, it will all change if you have the right attitude. If you are resisting the changes and the advice then you will just end up relapsing and going back to your old life instead. But if you have reached the critical point of surrender and worked through your denial then going to rehab can set you up for some amazing changes.
Of course being in treatment helps to insure your sobriety in the short run. I like to say “it is easy to be sober once you are in rehab.” And that is absolutely true. It may be difficult to convince yourself to check into rehab, but once you are there it is a piece of cake to remain sober.
After you leave treatment is it a different story. That is when you have to take massive action in order to overcome a thousand different triggers to go back to your old life. You must build momentum and take new actions in order to escape from your old patterns. This is one major reason why they recommend that you go to 90 AA meetings in 90 days–just so you are doing something different. Something positive. Something that is not drinking.
Rehab can set your free because it sets you up with a baseline of abstinence, then it gives you a road map for how to take positive action. Group therapy, counseling, meetings, sponsorship, and so on. There will be an endless line of suggestions and you will need to start taking them. Take all of the advice that you can get and apply it in your life. This is how to rebuild a new life in recovery. Being in treatment can give you the foundation for this to happen.
What about you, have you been able to overcome the trap of addiction? How did you do it? Did you go to inpatient treatment, or did you find another way? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!