It is no secret that drug addicts and alcoholics are generally pretty miserable people. They are chasing happiness in the form of self medication and they never really reach it. Yet their denial convinces them that they just need to drink the right amount of alcohol or use the right combination of drugs. Or they blame their unhappiness on external events or circumstances. They blame other people for their own unhappiness when it fact it is their addiction that is dragging them down.
Being miserable in addiction is like being caught in a trap that you cannot escape from. The misery feeds on itself and keeps you stuck in the cycle.
Why being miserable is actually comfortable
Most alcoholics and drug addicts have been miserable for so long in their addiction that they don’t know any other way to live. The believe that everyone must be at about the same level of misery and drudgery in their lives, simply because they have been miserable for so long. This is just one of the ways that they justify their addiction to themselves. “Everyone else is doing it too because their lives are just as screwed up as mine. Everyone has problems.”
There is a balance in addiction between the misery you are experiencing due to alcoholism and the fear that sobriety presents you with. Getting clean and sober takes a huge leap of faith, one that most alcoholics are very anxious about making. In fact they are downright afraid of the unknown.
You see, at least the misery is known. At least it is comfortable. The alcoholic knows what to expect out of life when they continue to self medicate every day. It is predictable.
Getting clean and sober is not predictable at all. It is extremely scary to the alcoholic who has never made this leap of faith before. So in a way our misery in addiction is comforting. It is familiar. It is a way to hide from our fear, to stay stuck in the misery of addiction.
What are you really afraid of in recovery?
At some point though you have to ask yourself what you are really afraid of in recovery? Of course everyone knows that it may be a rough week when you first quit drinking or using drugs due to the physical withdrawal. But after that is over (and it will be over very quickly for any alcoholic), what is there to be afraid of?
Is it that you are afraid to deal with reality without medicating yourself? Reality will take care of itself whether you are drunk or sober.
Is that you are afraid of social interactions when you have not been drinking? I can assure you that you look much smoother and more confident when you are sober than when you have been drinking. If someone is shy and they drink just the perfect amount then this can give them a boost of courage, I admit that much. But if you are a shy alcoholic then drinking “just the right amount” becomes increasingly difficult over time and eventually it is impossible. The window of opportunity closes as your tolerance increases. You get to the point where you are drinking and it is never enough, then suddenly you have drank far too much and you are out of control. At that point you are not fooling anyone and you look ridiculous rather than confident.
Are you afraid of treatment itself, that it might be scary or intimidating while in rehab? Because I always say that it is easy to be in rehab, no matter how messed up your life may be in terms of addiction. Treatment is controlled. They try to keep you comfortable. There are no real threats in a treatment center. It is completely non-threatening. There is nothing to fear at the actual treatment center.
Are you afraid of AA meetings or being forced into the 12 step program? There is no reason to be afraid of meetings, even if you have anxiety around people. Again, these people are completely non-threatening and just want to help others. They especially want to help the newcomer, which is you. They are not going to try to intimidate you or berate you in any way. I have been to a wide variety of AA and NA meetings in early recovery and I never felt intimidated or scared. This is fairly remarkable because I have some amount of anxiety around groups.
Are you afraid of failure? That you might try to get sober and the effort will all be for nothing, that you will have wasted your time and your energy in pursuing sobriety? This fear is completely unfounded, because the risk and reward profile is skewed heavily in favor of your trying to get sober. In other words, if you fail at recovery then you go back to where you were at. No change, status quo. If you succeed in recovery then the rewards are insanely good. Your life gets so much better that it is difficult to measure it. You cannot afford to not take this risk of seeking sobriety.
Are you afraid of success? That you might turn your life around and have something worth living for, and then set yourself up for even greater failure in the future? This is another silly argument. You are miserable now in addiction, and you might be miserable in the future (no one knows for sure what the future will bring), but you should at least try to improve your life. If you don’t try to improve then you know for sure you will stay miserable. A zero is going to remain a zero unless you try to build something positive. So you may as well take positive action.
Ask yourself: “What am I really afraid of in sobriety?” Whatever fear is holding you back is just an illusion. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking this leap of faith. Don’t stay stuck in the misery just because of your fear. You can examine your fears and then reason through them. You can confront your fears and make progress towards surrender.
The trap of addiction and why detox and treatment are so threatening
We all know that addiction is a trap.
The basic trap has to do with withdrawal and detoxification. When you suddenly stop using your drug of choice, you feel really bad inside. This bad feeling forces the alcoholic or addict to seek out their drug of choice again. And the cycle continues.
I have to admit that in my own journey I was guilty of projecting this withdrawal feeling onto my entire concept of sobriety. This is an important point so stay with me here.
Every alcoholic and drug addict has gone through brief periods in their addiction where they went into withdrawal. For one reason or another they stopped using drugs and alcohol, at least momentarily. And when they did this they felt the effects of withdrawal. They felt the bad feelings that accompany detox and withdrawal. And they obviously do not like it, no one likes it. It feels terrible to stop using drugs or alcohol.
So most alcoholics and drug addicts, having experienced this brief moment of discomfort, go right back to their drug of choice. And then they are probably making a mistake that I was making: They are projecting that bad feeling of withdrawal onto sobriety itself.
So in effect they are saying: “If I ever try to sober up for good, I will feel bad permanently like I felt during withdrawal in the past.”
You don’t have to say this to yourself consciously. Your brain is working this out behind your back, whether you like it or not. Your brain simply noticed how miserable it was to go without drugs and alcohol in the past, and so it “knows” that this is what long term recovery would feel like.
But of course that is a lie. You don’t feel the misery of withdrawal forever in recovery. You don’t feel crappy after you’ve been clean and sober for a year or even a month. In fact, after just a few days in detox you start to feel better. After a week you will probably be feeling completely better from a physical standpoint. Granted, your mind may take a little bit longer than this to snap back into full functioning, but you are not going to be miserable from a physical standpoint. You will start to feel good in a matter of mere days.
Not to mention the fact that treatment centers have become fairly effective at keeping people comfortable during the withdrawal process. You are not made to suffer during detox.
So don’t make the mistake of believing that you will be miserable forever in recovery.
I also made this mistake from the standpoint of “fun” and happiness. I believed that even if I made it through the physical discomfort of withdrawal that I would be forever unhappy in my recovery if I could not reward myself with alcohol.
How was I ever going to be happy again if I could not reward myself by getting drunk and high all the time? What would the point of life be if you cannot live it up and have some fun? That was how I was thinking before I got sober.
The answer to this question is not what the alcoholic wants to hear. The answer is: Your idea of fun will change in recovery.
But the alcoholic does not even believe that. They are trapped in addiction. And the trap forces them to believe that the only way they can have fun in life and be happy is to self medicate. So when you tell them that their idea of fun and happiness will shift in recovery, they look at you funny. Because deep down they do not believe you.
This is why I felt so hopeless and trapped in my own addiction. First of all, I thought that I would be physically uncomfortable forever if I were to get sober. And second of all, I thought that I would be bored with my life forever without being able to drink or use drugs. The party would be over, might as well go home. No more fun allowed.
But of course this was all wrong. I had much to learn. And in order to learn this new way of life I had to make a leap of faith.
Because I did not believe that I could be happy again in sobriety. I did not believe that I could feel good again while being sober. I did not believe that it was even possible so it required a leap of faith for me to even try to get clean and sober.
Giving recovery a chance and how long it takes for someone to do so
In order to get clean and sober you have to give recovery a chance to work in your life.
Now if you take a struggling alcoholic and you put them in detox for 5 days, then you turn them loose back into the wild without teaching them anything, do they really have a shot at remaining sober?
I would argue that no, they do not really have a chance. Five days of treatment with no real follow up is not going to help anyone. They will just go back to drinking.
Heck, some people go to jail or prison for years and because they don’t try to learn anything or change anything they go right back to addiction when they get released. The length of time they are sober is meaningless unless they are actively pursuing change.
That said, someone who is actively pursuing recovery still needs to pay their dues. You are not going to turn your life around overnight. It takes time to heal your life in sobriety.
When I tried to get clean and sober the first two times I went about it all wrong. I wanted to quit drinking and do basically nothing else for my recovery other than that. I thought that quitting drinking would be about simply not picking up alcohol, end of story. When I heard about people going to 90 AA meetings in 90 days I was horrified at the idea. Why so much effort? I thought. What is all the fuss about? Why not just stop drinking? This was how I was thinking during my first trip to rehab. I was nowhere near the point of true surrender at that time.
At that time I left treatment and relapsed immediately. I would end up doing so again in the future—going to treatment and then relapsing immediately after leaving. I was just not ready to commit to recovery yet. I was not ready to do the work that was required.
Recovery takes a great deal of work. You can’t just decide to stop drinking and then go on with your life and change nothing. If you ask successful recovering alcoholics what they had to change in their journey they will tell you “everything!” They had to change everything. Because if just eliminate the drinking then you will still fall into all of the old traps, all of the old behaviors, and it will all lead you right back to the bottle.
In order to recover we have to surrender first. And the level of surrender is what is really important. Because if you do not surrender totally and completely then it basically insures that you will relapse at some point in the future.
How do you surrender “totally and completely?”
You surrender to the fact that you are alcoholic.
You surrender to the fact that you need serious help in order to change.
You surrender to a solution. You embrace a new way of life.
If they tell you to go to AA meetings every day and you resist this then you are not in a state of total surrender.
The solution itself is arbitrary to some extent. Sobriety is not rocket science, but you still have to take action. So in order to do that successfully you need to embrace a new solution in your life. The solution that you embrace will not be perfect. I know this because I have looked carefully at all of the solutions, and none of them are perfect yet. We don’t know enough about recovery to create the perfect solution just yet. We might have a perfect solution in the future but right now we do not. AA is one solution and it works for many people but it is definitely not perfect. That said, if you embrace AA as the perfect solution “for you” and you apply yourself and take action then you will likely remain sober.
But in order for that to work you have to surrender first. You must surrender totally and completely. Not only to your disease but also to a solution.
What your first step should be if you want to change your life
If you have decided that you are sick and tired of being miserable then here is what you should do:
* Surrender to your disease and be willing to surrender to a solution. That means you have to put your pride on the shelf and get your ego out of the way. Stop believing that you can think your way out of your addiction and start listening to other people instead. Take their advice and act on it.
* Ask people you trust to help you. Ask them to guide you to professional help.
* Go to detox and treatment. This is the best starting point, by far.
* Be willing to listen to others and do what they tell you to do. Make an agreement with yourself that you will ignore all of your own advice for one year. No more listening to your own ego for a full year. Only take advice from others, not from yourself. For one full year.
If you do these things then I can assure you that you will remain sober. But it is very hard to do these things and escape the trap of misery in addiction. It takes a leap of faith in order to ask for help and really follow through with it. Because your ego will try to prevent it, it will try to talk you back into doing the safe and the comfortable. Which is to go get drunk or high and be miserable again. Because the ego wants to be in control and at least if you are getting drunk and high then it is in control again, even if you are miserable in the process.
But getting clean and sober is a leap of faith. The ego is afraid because it is no longer in control and it doesn’t know what to expect. So you have to push yourself to overcome this fear. You have to take the plunge in recovery and trust in the idea that it will all turn out for the better. It is a risk to stop drinking for the alcoholic. Most people do not see the risk but if you are the one who is addicted then it feels like a huge risk to quit drinking. Because there is no assurance that you will be happy again in the future. You feel like you might be trapping yourself even further into more and more misery.
The solution is a leap of faith. You must take the plunge into sobriety without any reservation. Kill your ego and trust that other people will guide you to happiness.