One of the biggest reasons that struggling alcoholics avoid treatment is because it seems like an extreme measure.
This is based on a couple of things. One is that of the stigma.
In general, no one wants to feel like they have to go to an inpatient rehab in order to get control of their problem. They don’t want to wear that label of being an alcoholic or a drug addict.
Every person who struggles to accept their condition goes through this process. They have this image in their mind of what “a real alcoholic” is like. And they are not this image.
So for example, you might think of “a real alcoholic” as being someone who suffers legal consequences and has been pulled over multiple times for drunk driving. Or you might think of a real alcoholic as someone who has been to jail several times due to their drinking. Or maybe you think of an alcoholic as someone who has lost their home and who lives on the streets and drinks alcohol out of a brown paper bag.
Whatever it is, most of us have this mental projection of what it means to be a “real alcoholic.” And the important point here is that we don’t believe that we fit that description. We say things to ourselves like “Well sure, I may drink a little too much at times, but I’m not lying in the gutter each morning drinking out of a bag.” So we minimize. We rationalize. We compare ourselves to the “worst case scenario” in order to justify to ourselves that it isn’t that bad yet.
It’s not that bad. We aren’t that bad yet. Maybe we drink a little too much, but we aren’t THAT bad.
So we tell ourselves.
And when it comes to the idea of treatment, these rationalizations jump to the rescue. Actually they do the opposite and they get in the way of our potential healing. Because when someone suggests that we go to treatment, we immediately reject it based on the fact that it is an extreme measure.
One reason we avoid inpatient rehab is because it seems like an extreme measure at first
No one wants to go to treatment at first. No one wants to go check in somewhere for 28 days in order to quit drinking.
To do so is an admission of our condition. If you are willing to go stay in inpatient rehab then it must mean that you have a serious problem, right?
So not only does it seem like an extreme thing to do (go stay in a facility for a full month just to stop drinking) but it also feels like an admission of the problem. Like if you go into rehab than you have to wear that label, that it defines you as an alcoholic. We instinctively want to avoid this stigma of addiction. Some of us feel shame over the idea. We don’t want to face the idea that we might have this huge problem, and that this problem might be a part of our identity. “I am an alcoholic.” No one wants to embrace that. No one wants to get real about their problems. Our tendency is to minimize, to avoid this at all costs, in hopes that the problem will fade away on its own, with minimal damage to our ego.
Of course the problem with alcoholism and drug addiction is that it is progressive. It tends to get worse over time. So therefore it forces the alcoholic to eventually make this admission to themselves, to realize that they need serious help.
I can remember being at this point of surrender myself. It was a crushing admission to admit to myself that I needed to be locked up in a rehab for an extended period of time. It was tough for me to reach that conclusion. Everyone else could see that I needed help and the people who cared about me did not really mind the stigma. So what, you have to go to rehab in order to heal your life….it is still worth doing, right? Everyone else could see that but me. I was too worried about my pride, my ego. I did not want to wear that label of alcoholism. I did not want to admit that my life was out of control. I did not want to face my fears and have to ask for help.
Make no mistake, it is fear that prevents the struggling alcoholic from getting the help that they need. It is fear that holds people back.
Fear of the unknown limits people from attending rehab
If you have never been to inpatient treatment before then your fear is understandable.
You don’t know what to expect. This makes it twice as difficult to attend treatment.
I can remember wondering what happens in rehab when I was still drinking. I had never been to rehab before and I wondered how they could help someone to become sober. “How does that even work?” I wondered to myself. Do they somehow brainwash people? Do they somehow convince you to not want to drink? How does that even work?
Well it turned out that my fears were unfounded, they don’t have any brainwashing techniques at rehab. Even if you go to AA meetings (where they are sometimes accused of trying to brainwash people) there really is nothing of the sort to be afraid of. There is no such thing as forcing people to want to become sober. There was a time when I really did not know any better though, and I imagined that any rehab that was worth its salt would have to have a way to motivate people to want sobriety.
Rehab doesn’t work that way. You don’t go to treatment in order to find motivation. They can’t convince you or motivate you to want sobriety.
They can show you how to get sober. They can help you to get sober. But they don’t make anyone want sobriety. That is impossible.
So that was part of my own fear, at least in the beginning. Before I had ever gone to rehab I imagined that they had some way to force people to want to change. And I was afraid of that idea. I wanted to be “free.”
Later on I went to treatment and I eventually relapsed and attended 3 different rehabs in total. After the first rehab I was past this initial fear and I knew that they could not brainwash me. But I still had fear even before I went to that final rehab, even though I pretty much knew what to expect.
My fear in the end was about living sober.
I still had no idea what it would be like to live my life sober, and what it would really be like. And I was afraid that if I was sober I would be even more miserable than I already was. What I was really doing was to project the discomfort of withdrawal on to the rest of my life in sobriety.
So in other words, I had gone through some brief periods of alcohol withdrawal. I had stopped drinking for a few days or a week here and there before. And I knew the discomfort that it brought to go through withdrawal.
And what I was doing mentally was to project that discomfort on to the rest of my entire life if I were ever to get and stay sober. So my mind really believed that if I were sober on a permanent basis that I would feel that same level of misery for the rest of my life, that misery that I felt during withdrawal.
Of course this is nonsense. You don’t feel miserable in recovery, not if you are taking positive action. Your life gets better and better and you start to feel really good eventually. It takes a bit of time but this is true for nearly any struggling alcoholic or drug addict. But for whatever reason my mind could not be convinced of this when I was still drinking. I had this intense fear that if I were sober that I would be miserable forever.
A simple cost benefit analysis shows how necessary inpatient rehab can be for someone
If you look at my own example and look at the “cost” of treatment, it was more than worth it.
When I was still drinking I used to think that the cost of treatment was way too high. Not the monetary cost but the time investment.
So for example, when someone suggested that I go to treatment for 28 days I would recoil in horror at this idea and exclaim: “28 days? Really? You want me to waste 28 days of my life being locked up in a rehab center? Those are 28 days I can never get back! I may as well be in jail at that point!”
That was really my thought process. Then when I finally went to treatment and they suggested that I go live in long term rehab for 6 months to 2 years, I really flipped out. How dare they suggest that I “waste” that much time! It was ridiculous. I immediately compared the idea to being in jail or prison. I was outraged. Why would they want me to waste my life like that? I could not understand it.
For me, at that time, the time investment was too high for me to attend rehab. I was not willing to put in the days in treatment in order to turn my life around.
I had a few problems in my logic at that time.
One, I was underestimating the scope of the problem. I was minimizing my alcoholism. I was basically saying “why would someone need to live in rehab in order to simply give up alcohol?” What I was really arguing was that it should be easy for me to quit drinking if I really wanted to do it. But of course I was fooling myself because I argued that I did not really want to stop, but if I did want to stop it would certainly not require inpatient rehab!
So I was overestimating my ability to stop drinking on my own, and in reality I was not accepting that label of “real alcoholic.” If I had accepted that label fully then I would have been more willing to attend rehab in order to fix my problem. But I was still in denial of the problem and not accepting that label yet.
Second of all I was making rehab out to be as bad as jail or prison. In my mind there was no real difference because I was so afraid of the unknown. I was afraid of treatment and I was afraid of sobriety so if they were going to “lock me up in rehab” then they may as well just lock me up in jail. Due to my poor attitude there was no real difference in my mind. For example, when it came to long term rehab, I had no real concept of the fact that you can still have a real life while living in long term treatment. Forget the fact that you can get a job, have real relationships, go outside of the facility every day, and so on. To me it was as bad as being in prison. That was just my limited perception that was being twisted by my own denial and fear.
So when I was stuck in denial I was totally unwilling to pay these “costs” for treatment, which were really just time investments. I was not willing to do 28 days in residential treatment, nor was I willing to live in long term treatment for 6 months or more.
And yet I was stuck in addiction, stuck in denial, and completely miserable.
But I would not admit this to myself. And I would not admit that if I were sober one day that I might be happier.
If someone could have somehow convinced me of the truth, that would have been a neat trick. The truth is that I eventually accepted that label fully (of alcoholic) and I lived in long term rehab for 20 months and it totally changed my life for the better. So instead of being miserable all the time I was able to turn my whole life around and become much happier. And now it has been over 13 years since I became clean and sober and to be honest it was well worth the time investment after only a few short months. But having gone for a full 13 years of peace and contentment without drinking, it has been more than worth it. Well worth it. Had I known the reward for sobriety I would have sacrificed nearly anything in order to get sober. I would have gladly checked into prison for several years if I knew that it would get me this sort of lasting sobriety. You cannot put a price on the last 13 years of my life because it has been such an incredible gift. So the fact that I had to go to rehab and live in long term treatment for 20 months is absolutely trivial. That was a very small price to pay for the gift of sobriety. But at the time when I was stuck in addiction I could not know this. I was trapped in my fear based thinking and my denial, believing that going to treatment was no better than being locked up in jail. How foolish of me!
Wanting to minimize the problem and save face is easier than confronting it head on
It is only natural for the struggling alcoholic to want to save face.
No one wants to admit to their problem. No one wants to admit how bad it is, or that they need serious help in order to get their life back on track.
Our ego is very powerful. It will do nearly anything to protect itself. This is why we minimize our disease rather than to own up to the fact that we need serious help.
The way to confront the problem head on is to realize that you need help and to ask for it.
We don’t like to appear weak in front of other people. Asking for help is usually pretty difficult for most alcoholics and addicts. We don’t like to show that we are vulnerable, that we need help.
It is so much more natural for a person to try to minimize their problems and sweep them under the rug. It is natural to do this, to protect the ego at all costs. This is why people stay stuck in denial for so long–because they are protecting their ego. They are desperately trying to save face.
You cannot save face and recover at the same time. You cannot keep your pride fully intact and also get sober and turn your life around.
If you want to make this positive change then you have to kill your pride. You have to sacrifice your ego.
Squash your ego like a bug. Tell it who is in charge. Tell it that you are going to ask for help, that you are not afraid to appear vulnerable, and that it is time to get the help that you need in order to start living a new life.
Tell yourself that you are going to follow advice. Who’s advice? People other than yourself. If you want to overcome alcoholism then you have to stop taking your own advice for a while. This is hard to do. You must sacrifice your own pride and your own ego in order to do this.
You must make an agreement with yourself that you are going to stop listening to your own ego for a while, and that you are going to take advice from other people.
It is easy to tell someone else how to become sober. It is easy to tell someone else how not to drink. But it is very difficult to do this ourselves, to direct our own recovery. We are too close to the problem and our disease is intertwined with our ego. So when our brain gets involved it is likely to lead us astray, to screw us up, to lead us back to relapse. We have to overcome this tendency in early sobriety by listening to other people rather than to our own ego. And in order to do this you have to swallow your pride.
You cannot keep your pride intact and get sober at the same time. Kill your ego. Sacrifice your pride. Ask for the help that you need.
Nobody wants to admit to themselves that they are completely out of control and “need to be locked up”
It is easy to think of going to inpatient rehab as “being locked up.”
Because essentially that is part of the solution: We are locking ourselves away in a safe place, away from the temptation of drugs or alcohol.
But being in treatment is nothing like being locked up in jail or prison.
For one thing, in most places you are not truly locked down in treatment and can walk out at any time (this varies by country and state, actually, but in most places you are totally free).
Second of all the atmosphere in treatment is one of healing. People are there to help and support you.
Third, you have a set of peers in treatment that are in the same boat as you are. This is very powerful. It also helps you to realize that you are not really as crazy as you once thought you were.
Nobody really wants to go to treatment. Nobody is ever jumping for joy at the prospect of going to inpatient rehab. But I certainly would have been ecstatic to go to rehab if I had been able to see the future, if I knew what the long term rewards were going to be. I would have knocked down the doors trying to get in to a 28 day program if I had been allowed to glimpse the future.
Luckily I got to the point where I became willing to attend treatment anyway, in spite of all my fears and hangups. This is because I had reached a point in my addiction where I had become so miserable that I no longer cared about the fears that were holding me back.
This is a key point when it comes to surrender: You have to get to the point where you are so uncomfortable in your addiction that you would rather face the fear and uncertainty of sobriety rather than to keep living in misery. It took me several years to get to that point. Once I reached it I basically said “I am sick and tired of this addiction, and I want out. Show me how to live my life. I don’t know what else to do.” So I was desperate enough to overcome my fears. I was desperate enough to escape from the misery that I was willing to do whatever was suggested to me. I was willing to embrace a recovery program at a treatment center and build a new life.
Does going to inpatient treatment seem like an extreme measure to you? What is the real source of fear that is holding you back from checking into rehab? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!