When it comes to quitting drinking, following the right piece of advice can mean the difference between life and death, contentment or misery, happiness or suffering. One problem though is that there can be quite a bit of conflicting advice out there.
For example, I got a lot of advice on my journey to simply “cut down” or “cut back” on my drinking, which was not really helping me out at much. In fact that advice was really only serving to make things worse for me. In the end I had to get real with the fact that no amount of alcohol was safe for me to drink, period. Yet I often heard advice from people that was contrary to this, even though they were just trying to help.
So if advice can be conflicting when quitting drinking, what is the right thing to do? What constitutes good advice?
I stand by what is written below. Read on.
Admit to yourself that you have a serious problem
Most of the concepts you are going to read about here are fairly universal. Nevertheless, it is possible to get advice out there that runs counter to some of these ideas.
So the first piece of advice is that the alcoholic has to admit that they have a serious problem.
Without this critical admission, no progress can be made. The alcoholic will just continue to self medicate, try to cut down, switch from liquor to beer, and so on. None of those “half measures” will result in any sort of positive change and will only lead the alcoholic into more and more chaos.
When you admit to yourself that you have a serious problem, you have broken through that first layer of denial.
But it doesn’t end there. For example, have you ever heard an alcoholic say something like:
“Well sure, I might have a problem with alcohol, but if you had my problems you would drink too!”
So is this person still in denial?
You bet they are. They have broken through the first level of denial and admitted that they do, in fact, have a problem with booze. They admit this. So they are no longer in denial when it comes to recognizing the problem.
However, they are still in denial.
They are still in denial because they believe that alcohol is their only solution. They are still in denial because they don’t think that sobriety and happiness are possible for them. They are still in denial because they are self medicating with alcohol and they are afraid to face life sober.
There are multiple levels of denial. Admitting that you have a problem is only the first level. But if you stop there, you will never get sober.
Work through your denial on all levels
So how do you work through all the levels of denial?
If the first thing is to admit you have a problem, then the second thing is to admit that you need a new solution in your life.
Too many alcoholics admit to alcoholism without fully accepting it. There is a difference.
Any drunk can admit that they are a drunk. Any drunk can claim the title of “full fledged alcoholic.” They will happily do this and continue to drink themselves into a stupor.
But in order to break through that next layer of denial, the alcoholic has to realize that what they are doing is no longer working.
This is not measured in terms of “addicted” versus “not addicted.” Most people who think of denial believe that it has to do with whether you realize you are addicted or not. Again, that is only “level one of denial.”
But the real action happens on the next level of denial. This is the level of denial where you tell yourself that alcohol is your magic potion, and that it can make you instantly happy even if you are having a bad day.
Every alcoholic is guilty of this.
Every alcoholic does this.
Every alcoholic, at some point in their drinking career, started worshiping alcohol as their new higher power. They were amazed that it could make them instantly happy. And so they were forever convinced in that moment that alcohol could solve all of their problems. If they were feeling down or having a bad day, all they had to do was drink more, and they would become happy again.
Because in the beginning, alcohol really did this. It actually worked. This was before dependence developed and their tolerance betrayed them. Yes, alcohol actually worked as described above in the beginning stages of addiction.
When I first started drinking alcohol, before I was a full blown alcoholic, I could be having a bad day and be in a bad mood and I could drink a certain amount of alcohol and it would magically fix me. IT WAS MAGIC. This is why I became an alcoholic. Because the stuff really worked. It made me happy almost instantly. And it did so very thoroughly. It magically transported me to happy land. I wanted to drink it forever and just drift away.
This is why an alcoholic becomes what they become. Because the alcohol works so well that it completely overrides any other sort of happiness in their life. It is no contest. It is just so much easier to drink.
Now, back to the ever so tricky second level of denial.
One, you admit that you have a problem. That is level one of denial. Most drunks can get past that without too much fuss, actually.
But level two of denial is about your happiness. It is not about addiction, it is about your happiness.
And so the alcoholic is stuck.
They are clinging to the idea that alcohol is still a magic potion for them.
They are clinging to the idea that alcohol can still fix any problem and make them instantly happy.
They are clinging to the idea that even if they have a bad day and they are in a very bad mood that drinking enough alcohol can make them happy again.
This is level two of your denial. This goes beyond the idea of saying “OK, yes, I realize I have a drinking problem.”
I know this because I admitted a long time ago that I had a serious problem. I knew this but I stayed drunk for a long time anyway.
I stayed drunk and in denial because I did not believe that they solution would work for me. I did not believe that the solution would make me happy.
I was still clinging to the magic elixir. The idea that alcohol could make me happy, and that was really the only thing that worked for me.
So this is another piece of advice to you:
If you want to get sober, then you have to work through all levels of your denial.
Admit that you have a problem, yes.
But then also admit that you need a new solution. You need a solution, and you don’t know what that is. You don’t have the answers.
How do you work through both levels of denial?
It’s not a comfortable thing to do. Most people don’t like to do it.
What you have to do is to get really honest with yourself. And if your life is spinning out of control due to your drinking or drug use, then that also means that you are living through a lot of chaos and misery and negativity.
So what you have to do is to get honest about that misery.
You are miserable. Admit it.
Then, accept the misery. Embrace the misery. Stop running from it. When you run from it you self medicate, that is the whole point of addiction.
Are you afraid that the misery will overwhelm you and kill you somehow if you face it head on?
I was. I was afraid that if I stopped drinking that I would become so miserable that I would just die on the spot.
That fear turned out to be false. You won’t die of misery.
Therefore you must embrace your misery. One way to do that is to start writing it down, every day. Write down in a journal how you really feel each day. Write down your feelings. Keep doing that until your brain wakes up and realizes that it is sick and tired of being so miserable.
There is a battle going on inside of every alcoholic. That battle that rages on is between two things:
Fear and misery.
Yes, the alcoholic is miserable.
But the alcoholic is also afraid of change. They are comfortable in their addiction. It is known. They know what to expect.
And the alcoholic fears the unknown. They fear sobriety. They fear the AA meetings and the new life they might find.
And so this battle rages on between fear and misery.
Fear keeps you stuck in the misery.
Think about that. Process it for a while. Because the alcoholic is living in fear, they are afraid to get sober, it keeps them stuck in addiction.
And yet what do they do? They try to minimize their misery, they try to medicate it away, they try to hide from the misery.
This is the wrong approach.
Flip it around.
Start embracing the misery. Notice it. Watch it. Watch it from behind your eyes, as if it were a separate thing. Because actually, it is separate.
That misery is not you. You are living it every day, but you have a choice.
You can erase the misery and rise above it, but only if.
If you are willing to face your fear.
You must face the fear of sobriety.
You must walk into the unknown.
You must be willing to throw all caution to the wind.
It is almost like throwing yourself off a bridge. Except instead of doing that, you are throwing yourself into the solution. You are throwing yourself into a new life of recovery.
Ask for help and take action
Piece of advice number three: Ask for help and then take action.
So what do we have so far? You admit to the problem, then you work through your denial and realize that it is time to face your fears and embrace a new solution. Being miserable gets tiresome. Time to try something different. That “something different” is about asking for help.
So here is what you do:
Find someone that you trust, and ask them for help, and then do what they tell you to do.
This is not easy. It takes guts.
First objection might be: “I don’t have anyone that I can trust.”
Fair enough. Then get on the phone and call a help line. Tell them you need help to quit drinking. Tell them you can’t trust anyone. Tell them you want to go to treatment.
Or, wander into an AA meeting. Tell them that you need help and you don’t know what to do. Start following advice.
Or, call up a treatment center directly. Call a rehab. Get on the phone. Start asking questions. Tell them you need help, you want to stop drinking. Ask them what you have to do in order to get checked in. If they can’t help you, ask them if they can refer you to someone who can.
Simple advice: Ask for help and take action.
Do it. Do it now. Pick up the phone and just start reaching out and asking questions. The faster you do it, the easier it will be. Don’t sit and stare at the phone and agonize over this. That will just make the phone weigh a thousand pounds. Instead, pick it up quickly and dial up a rehab. Start asking questions. This won’t kill you. And it may just save your life.
Admit to your problem, work through denial, then ask for help.
Hopefully if you follow these three steps it will land you in rehab. That is, quite honestly, the best possible outcome that an alcoholic could hope for.
That was certainly the best thing that ever happened in my journey.
Rehab saved my life.
Listen and learn from other people
OK, more advice.
You get to rehab and you start to learn about sobriety.
You start to learn about recovery. You start to see that it is a lot of work to remain sober. To build this new life in recovery.
So my advice at this point is to “listen and learn from other people.”
Most of you will probably go to AA meetings. There are other methods, other avenues of help, but AA meetings are pretty standard.
At any rate, the principle here applies no matter where you are getting help from. You have to actually listen and learn from people.
Alcoholics have a unique problem in that they cannot solve their problem on their own.
If they could, they would not have the problem.
Think about that one for a moment. The existence of alcoholism indicates that the person in question cannot quit drinking by themselves. Because if they could, we would not label them as “alcoholic.”
So once you work through your denial and you claim that label for yourself “My name is Pat, and I am an alcoholic….” then you ready to ask for help.
Because now you fully past your denial. You have this problem of alcoholism, you cannot figure out the solution on your own, and you know that you need help in order to overcome it. If you have figured it out to that point then you are well past all denial. You are on the right path.
I personally lived in a long term treatment center for almost two years. It was twenty months actually. This was the best decision I ever made, to check in there for 20 months. While I was there I actually listened to people. I learned a ton of valuable stuff during that time. I had a lot of peers in recovery and I watched many of them relapse. I learned what NOT to do. I learned how dangerous relationships could be in early recovery when you are still trying to find stability in recovery. I learned just how little I knew after 20 months in rehab and that I had a whole lot of work to do on myself.
I can remember making a decision when I had a few weeks sober and I was in treatment. The decision was this:
I said to myself something like “I am watching all of these people in early sobriety, and they all seem to relapse because they are sabotaging their own efforts. They are following their own ideas and this is what trips them up. They think they can outsmart their addiction and they don’t want to take the suggestions and do the hard work that people in AA are telling them to do. I don’t want to relapse like many of these people so I will do the opposite. I will deliberately ignore my own ideas for the first year of sobriety and I will only listen to the advice of others.”
That was the basic idea behind my decision. And I think I made this pact with myself somewhere in the first 90 days of my sobriety. I was still living in rehab of course, because I stayed for 20 months.
Now I don’t know for sure if I was just lucky, or if I was blessed by my higher power, or if my success in recovery had to do with this little decision of mine. But I remained sober while many of my peers relapsed. And so I had to assume that I was doing something right. And what I was really doing, in fact, was to simply get out of my own way. I was letting other people tell me what to do, and I was not using any of my own ideas. If I had ideas, I would tell them to my sponsor, and I would only act on them if he thought they were really good ideas.
In this way I was able to avoid self sabotage. I simply made an agreement with myself to ignore 100 percent of all my own crazy ideas for the first year of sobriety.
That, my friends, turned out to be really good advice.
Listen to your sponsor, your therapist, your counselor, your peers in recovery. But don’t listen to your own ideas. At least not in that first year.
Follow through and put suggestions into action
One final piece of advice:
So you admit to your problem, you work through denial, you ask for help, you listen and learn, and finally you take action and follow through.
Discipline builds an amazing new life in recovery.
I love to put recovery in terms of positive habits. Because this is how you build something amazing.
Where do you want to be in five years? How happy and healthy do you want to be?
How do you think that you can get there?
I can tell you how to get there, you have to take consistent action. And you can’t be backsliding. So that means you need a daily routine, a daily practice, that will be consistent for you.
So you take care of yourself every day, in all of these different ways.
You stop putting harmful drugs and chemicals into your body. You start sleeping better. You start eating better. You start exercising. You stick to sobriety. You start to work on yourself, on your issues. You drop some harmful “friends,” pick up some new positive people in your life. You stop isolating. Maybe you reach out and start helping others in recovery.
And you keep doing this. And you keep expanding it, keep learning more about yourself, keep building more positive action into your life.
Many have relapsed because they failed to follow through.
This is what has worked for me.
What has worked for you? What is your advice? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!