It can be really tough to know what to do when you are struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction.
Anyone who has been on this particular path will know exactly what I am talking about….you feel as if everything is crazy in your world and nothing makes sense. You are trapped. The consequences of your addiction have created this spiral of negativity, and yet you cannot picture yourself being happy if you were to sober up either. It is a horrible feeling and you don’t really believe that you have any good options.
At a certain point the alcoholic or addict will be “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Hopefully they will hit bottom and realize that it can’t get much worse, and just about anything must be better than what they are currently experiencing.
This moment of surrender is a realization that you are no longer happy, that you haven’t been happy for a long time, and yet the promise that alcohol made to you in the beginning was that you could always be happy just by taking a drink. And for a while, that promise was true. Alcohol worked great in the beginning, and you really could become happier just be having a few drinks.
But in the long run this was a lie. The alcohol (or drugs, it doesn’t matter what you were abusing really, alcohol is just another drug) stopped working for you. Taking your drug of choice no longer worked as well. Tolerance had cheated you out of something. You had to take more and more in order to get the same effect, and this led to horrible consequences. The negative consequences of your drinking caused you to drink and self medicate even more. And so the downward spiral continued. Things just get worse and worse in alcoholism.
That is, things get progressively worse for you if you continue to drink. If you can find a way out, then things will stop getting worse. In fact, the neat thing about recovery is that this trend reverses and things will start getting better, every single day. This is true even if you cannot really see it in the early days of sobriety. Some day you will look back on your early recovery and realize that you were, in fact, making progress on a daily basis. It can be difficult to notice that kind of progress when you are stuck on the path yourself. It is much easier to see such progress when watching someone else.
So the question is, if you are a struggling alcoholic, what exactly do you do? How do you escape the trap of addiction?
Let’s find out.
Start by asking for help and taking action
There are, of course, a number of steps when it comes to recovery.
The first step is always to make a decision. The struggling alcoholic has to decide that they want things to be different. This has to come first before any meaningful change can happen. For example, say that you take a struggling alcoholic and force them into jail and force them to attend AA meetings. Will this “cure” the alcoholic? No, it will not. If they don’t want to change and if they don’t want it to work then such changes will only be temporary. As soon as they regain free will, they are going to self medicate again.
So it is not enough to just go through the motions of recovery. You can’t force sobriety on someone who wants to get drunk. It just doesn’t work.
Before the decision can be made to change your life, something else has to happen as well. This would be the moment of surrender that comes after you reach your bottom. That moment of surrender is where you let go of the need to control everything.
If there was a magic method for creating this moment of surrender, I would tell it to you now. But there is no magic method. The best advice I can give on the matter is for the struggling alcoholic to start writing in a journal every day, and to focus on writing down how happy they are in life. This is the wake up call. This forces the alcoholic to face their denial, to realize how unhappy they are by drinking every day. It is only when we admit that we are unhappy in addiction that we may become willing to ask for help. So writing in a journal and being honest with yourself is one way to start working through your denial.
Any alcoholic or drug addict who continues to abuse their drug of choice is still in denial. Even if they know that they are alcoholic they are still in denial if they continue to drink. This is because they are in denial of the solution, not in denial of the problem. There is a big difference. And of course they may not believe that the solution will work for them, they may not believe that AA or treatment could possibly help them, and therefore they don’t think a solution exists. But a solution does exist, and anyone who denies it to themselves is missing out on a new life in recovery. You can know that you are alcoholic but still be in denial if you deny yourself the solution.
Therefore, after the alcoholic works through their denial, they have to ask for help.
We can’t do this thing alone and we can’t figure out recovery all on our own. If you could then you would not be an alcoholic.
Your mind is what created the addiction. If you try to solve the addiction problem with your mind, it will just lead you in circles. You need new information. Your own brain will just trip you up and get you to drink again. Your own mind, at least in early recovery, is the enemy.
Therefore the solution is to get out of your own way. You need help. You need new information. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how smart you think you are, you need someone else to tell you what to do in early recovery.
Let me repeat that because it is probably the most important point we have made so far:
If you want to recover from addiction, someone else has to tell you what to do.
Does that sound like fun? Do you like being told what to do?
Of course not. No one likes to be that humble. No one likes that level of ego deflation. No one likes being told what to do, how to think, and how to live.
And yet, this is the solution. You ask for help, then you listen. You take advice. You do what the therapists and the counselors and your sponsor and your peers in AA tell you to do.
It is that simple. If you try to “take your will back” then you will use your own ideas instead, and these will lead you to relapse.
Instead, you can follow “God’s will for you” and this will lead you to recovery. One way to find out what his will for you is to listen to other people in recovery.
They can tell you what to do and how to live, and following their advice will work. It just will.
“But what if I find stupid people and they lead me astray?”
Not likely. Recovery is dead simple, but we can’t figure it out for ourselves most of the time. So we need someone else to tell us how to not drink.
And it works. It worked for me, in spite of how smart I thought I was.
I asked for help in a moment of sheer desperation, and they told me to go to rehab.
So I went to rehab and I asked for help again. They told me to pay attention, to go to AA meetings, to move into long term rehab. They told me to go to therapy. They told me to go back to school. They told me to get a job. They told me to exercise.
And so I did this things without question. I actually did question some of it in the back of my mind, but I had also surrendered fully to the solution. So in effect, I had made an agreement with myself that was essentially this:
“I don’t care what they tell me to do, I am going to do it without question, because my way wasn’t working. I need new direction. I need to be told how to live. My way made me miserable.”
And it worked. Within a few short weeks, I had this revelation, this moment of intense insight. And during that moment of insight I realized that I was becoming happier. Even though I did not think it would work. Even though I thought that I would be miserable forever if I sobered up. I was slowly becoming happier in sobriety. It had only been a month or two, but it was slowly starting to work. I was doing what I was told to do. I had gotten out of the driver’s seat. I was no longer trying to figure everything out, I was no longer trying to manipulate the world to create my own happiness.
I was no longer trying to manipulate the world so that I could be happy. That is an important point.
I had let go of that need for control.
Because it wasn’t working anyway. I wasn’t happy any more at the end of my addiction. I was miserable. And yet I had been trying so hard to control my own happiness, to create a world for myself in which I would be happy through self medicating. And it didn’t work. So I had to find a different path. And I knew that I couldn’t find that path on my own, that someone had to show me that path.
That is real humility. You can’t just ask for help, you have to actually mean it. You have to completely kill your own ego, to get out of your own way, to really let other people tell you how to live and what to do.
Now then, if this is the solution, how do you go about implementing it?
What action do you take?
The answer to that can be fairly simple: Go to rehab.
Inpatient treatment is the strongest path in early recovery for most people
Inpatient treatment is the best solution for most people.
This is not to say that it is a sure-fire cure, because it isn’t. In fact, it is certain to fail for anyone who has not yet reached the point of total and complete surrender.
Let’s talk about surrender for a moment because it is vitally important.
There are different levels of surrender. When you go to treatment, it will only work for you if you happen to have reached the most thorough stage of surrender. I like to call that “total and complete surrender.”
So for example, the first time I went to treatment I was sick and tired. I realized that alcohol was a real problem for me at this point. I may have even called myself an “alcoholic.” But I also believed that I could successfully use other drugs, even if I were to give up the drinking.
That first rehab introduced me to AA meetings, and I was terrified of them. I was afraid to speak in front of other people. I was afraid to be put on the spot. I was afraid of that moment when everyone looks at you. They told me “well you can just pass then, say you are just here to listen.” Not good enough. I was afraid of everyone watching me when I said those words. I was afraid to sit in AA meetings.
So my plan was to leave treatment, avoid alcohol, and continue to smoke marijuana on a daily basis.
You can guess how badly this plan worked out for me. I was drinking again within a month or two.
So that was one level of surrender. I realized that I had a problem with alcohol. But I had certainly not surrendered to a solution. I was very much afraid of AA meetings and I was definitely not willing to use them as a solution. I wasn’t willing to embrace any solution at that point that wasn’t my own solution.
That is a key point. I was only willing to entertain my own solutions that point, and I failed miserably.
The second time around I was still in a bit of denial. I knew for sure I was alcoholic this time, and I was quite miserable. I was very much trapped, having thoughts of suicide even. I was not happy. And yet I clung to the idea that I would be even more miserable if they took away my alcohol and drugs. I was terrified of sobriety.
At this time my friends and family convinced me to attend rehab again. I agreed to go even though I stated that I was not ready and it wouldn’t work. You can guess how things turned out with an attitude like that. I relapsed immediately after leaving my second treatment center. I wasn’t ready. The reason I wasn’t ready was because of my level of surrender. I had surrendered fully to the fact that I was a real alcoholic, but I had not surrendered to a new solution in my life. Just the opposite. I was terrified of the solution.
Note that it was fear that held me back in this case. I was living in fear, and I was terrified of sobriety itself. I was terrified of AA meetings. And I was terrified of inpatient rehab. I had not yet reached total and complete surrender, and it was fear that kept me stuck in addiction.
The way that I finally got past that fear was to go out for one more year of my life and experience total misery and chaos. I drank and used drugs for another year of madness. I experienced more consequences and became even more unhappy and desperate.
The gift of desperation finally came to me. I was no longer just sick and tired, but I was sick and tired of being so sick and tired all the time. And I reached a point of misery where I realized that I no longer cared about the fear.
This is important. That fear that kept me stuck in addiction, that fear of sobriety, that fear of having to sit in AA meetings, it just came crumbling down one day. You could have pointed a loaded gun to my head at that moment and cocked the trigger, and I would have shrugged my shoulders. I just didn’t care. I was beyond caring. This was a result of being sick and tired due to my addiction. I had finally had enough, to the point that I no longer cared about anything. I didn’t care about myself, I didn’t care about anyone else, and I even started to not care about the fear that dominated my life. I had shrugged off my greatest fears.
So at that point of desperation, going back to rehab was not a big deal. “Sure, I’ll go to rehab again. I don’t care.” That was my level of surrender. I wasn’t jumping for joy, I wasn’t all hopeful and excited about starting some new life, none of that positive stuff. I was miserable and desperate and part of me wanted to die. Or rather, I didn’t really care if I stayed alive any more. I was just so sick and tired of living in fear, living in misery. I wanted it all to go away.
That is the moment of “total and complete surrender.”
That is where you need to reach in your life in order to turn your addiction around.
You reach that level of desperation, then you ask for help. Simple.
You go to rehab. You do what they tell you to do. And your life gets better and better.
It really is that simple. But in order for it all to work, you have to have the willingness to let it work. And that willingness will only come if you have reached this level of desperation that I describe, if you surrender totally and completely.
It is not enough to just say that you have a problem.
It is not enough to even just agree to attend rehab.
You have to make an agreement with yourself, an internal conversation in your mind, where you say “OK, this is it. I really will do anything to find a new path in life. I will do whatever they tell me to do this time. I will get out of my own way. I will listen.”
And then you do it. You ask for help, you go to treatment or rehab or meetings or wherever they send you. And your life gets better.
Dedicating your life to recovery and seeking massive support
When you surrender to the level that I described above (total and complete surrender), you become willing to dedicate your entire life to sobriety.
I personally went to inpatient treatment, then I lived in a long term rehab for 20 months. This sounds extreme, and it was pretty darn extreme. But that is what it took for me to succeed in early recovery. I was fairly young and all of my friends were addicted. I needed a lot of help. I needed a lot of structure.
Maybe you need less help than what I needed. Maybe you have more support structures in your life already. I had none other than my family, so I had to go to extreme measures.
Some people don’t have this option. So they may go to AA meetings every day. They may go to several in a day. The important thing is that they are willing to do whatever it takes in order to remain clean and sober.
So if you are sick and tired, here is the suggested path:
* Work through your denial. (Get honest with yourself in written format. Start writing it down every day. How happy are you?).
* Surrender. Totally and completely.
* Ask for help.
* Follow directions. Get out of your own way.
* Watch as your life slowly starts to improve.
Congratulations, you are now on a path to a new life in sobriety. Freedom and contentment await you….