Alcoholism Treatment Just Won’t Work for Me, Waah, Waah!

Alcoholism Treatment Just Won’t Work for Me, Waah, Waah!


I have to admit that this was me at one time.

I used to whine and complain that treatment would never work for me, and I had a million and one excuses to back this up.

The truth is that anyone who is claiming that treatment can never work for them is simply playing defense, operating out of fear, and has no real idea what rehab may or may not do for them.

In short, it’s a hollow excuse.

No one can predict (with certainty) the outcome of treatment in the long run

First of all, it is crazy to believe that you can predict what the outcome of addiction treatment is going to be for a single alcoholic in the long run. The fact is that it is just such a life changing event that can have so many different implications that trying to make assumptions about those changes is just silly.

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For example, I went to three treatment centers throughout my journey of addiction and the first two were complete flops. I may as well have just not gone to them at all (apparently) because I just got right out of inpatient rehab and went right back to my same old pattern of self medicating. These first two trips to rehab apparently had no effect at all on me and were a complete waste of time, right?

Wrong. Even if rehab “fails” for someone, it can still plant a seed of hope for the future. Getting clean and sober is a process, and it may take place over years or even decades. This is all part of the process of surrender. I understand that most people want for treatment to be this magic bullet, an absolute cure that works instantly when anyone attends, but it doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, even if treatment “fails” it may still be part of a long term process whereby someone eventually finds sobriety.

But, try to explain this to an addict or an alcoholic who is stuck in their addiction and is heavily resisting treatment, and they are going to think you are crazy. “What is the point of rehab if it does not work for me?” they will argue. If you try to explain that it still may have long term value and be part of a process of change they are going to think you are nuts and probably not grasp the long term possibilities. That is fine and if you can convince them to go to rehab anyway, my opinion is that you should still do so.

Some people will argue against this, saying that “If someone is not ready then treatment is a waste of time.” I am not sure that I agree with this, because I know for certain that I went to treatment at least once when I did not want to attend. The short term outcome of that rehab was bad because I went back to my addiction immediately, but then a year later I finally “saw the light.” So I do not think that particular trip to rehab was entirely wasteful, and I believe that it may have set the stage for my eventual surrender a year later.

The fact is that out of the three times that I went to addiction treatment in my life, no one could have accurately predicted the outcomes with any degree of certainty. It is sort of like other medical procedures–it is an art, not a science. We do our best and we make predictions and we give the best treatments available, but ultimately we are never positive that we will get the exact outcome that we want. Recovery from addiction is definitely more “art” than it is “science” at this point. The medical community would love to make great advances and turn it into a science and be able to promise a greater level of success, but right now it is just not at that point. We do the best we can and we encourage people to go to rehab and sometimes it works and sometimes it does not.

Those who are willing to give rehab a chance end up having a good chance at long term recovery. But if you are not even willing to give treatment a fair try then obviously you are not going to find recovery at all. Stubborn refusal to cooperate is a sure sign that you are not ready to change, at all.

Fear keeps us from facing a decision like getting clean and sober

When someone says that “rehab can not possibly work for them” what they are usually motivated by in this statement is their own fear. I know this all too well because I used to make this argument myself and when I look back and get real honest with myself I know that–deep down–I was simply scared. I was afraid of rehab and I did not want to face my fear in order to try to recover.

There were really two separate fears for me in wanting to avoid rehab and I am sure that nearly every alcoholic has at least one of these two fears.

The first fear was a fear of facing life without drugs or alcohol. It was the fear of total and complete abstinence, of being left defenseless against life without anything to self medicate with. I was afraid of having to deal with my life without my drug of choice. In addition, I was afraid that I would be completely miserable without my drug of choice, because I really believed that getting drunk and high was the only way that I could ever be happy in this world again. I though that I was doomed to rely on drugs in order to be happy and if I had to be completely abstinent that I would never be able to have fun or be happy again, ever. I really believed this and so a big part of my fear was that I would just be so miserable in my recovery that I would surely kill myself out of hopelessness from being without my drug of choice.

The second fear that I was facing was that of attending AA meetings. I had already been to rehab before and so I knew what the drill was. I had also done a lot of research and spoke with a few counselors and therapists about what my options really were in recovery. The bottom line was that 12 step recovery was very widespread and pretty much unavoidable. If you wanted to get a lot of support in recovery then it would actually be pretty easy so long as you embraced the AA meetings and the 12 step recovery fellowship. What I experienced at my first rehab backed this up and what the counselors and therapists were telling me backed this up.

Now due to my fear of meetings and “social anxiety” if you want to call it that, I was terrified of being in AA meetings and being put on the spot and the idea of speaking in front of others. I was horrifically scared of this and it was enough to make me swear off the meetings forever at one point (as part of my excuse to keep self medicating). Counselors or therapists suggested things like “well when it comes to you in a meeting just say that you prefer to listen today.” Such suggestions missed the point entirely because even THAT little amount of attention was too painful for me to endure, and enough to make me want to avoid meetings entirely. Sitting in a meeting terrified me because they might put me on the spot, period. What I did at that point mattered little, in my opinion.

Furthermore, the therapists that I talked with at the time argued that it may not help me much to sit in meetings for the rest of my life and not share or speak at all. Where is the therapy in that? If you are not going to participate and share your story and add to the discussion then you may as well not attend at all. So they were sort of saying that I had to face this fear and learn how to become comfortable speaking in front of others if I was going to succeed in recovery.

So this was my second big fear about recovery and I held on fast to this fear and used it as an excuse to avoid taking action. I swore of meetings and recovery forever because I told people that I was terrified of meetings and that there was no way that I could overcome this fear. I was destined to die drunk because the solution for recovery was too social for me. I used to lament the fact that no one had designed a program of recovery that did not rely on speaking in front of other people. Deep down, I believe that this was really denial of the fact that drug addicts and alcoholics are actually medicating our emotions when we abuse drugs and alcohol.

What I should have done at the time was to really take a close look at the 12 steps of AA and realize that meetings were not a requirement at all in a successful path to recovery. Furthermore, if you read the old Big Book of AA you will find that meetings back in that day were quite scarce. Modern day recovery has evolved into this orgy of 12 step meetings and some people rely on a daily meeting just to remain clean and sober. For some reason this is not only tolerated now but it is expected by addiction counselors and alcoholism professionals. They assume that people will need daily meetings in order to maintain recovery and this is viewed as being perfectly normal and even desirable. My opinion of this (now) is that dependency on daily meetings is a liability in recovery, not a strength, and that anyone who absolutely needs to go to daily meetings is probably lacking something in other areas of their recovery.

It was foolish of me to fear the meetings all those years ago because ultimately I would come to learn that the meetings were strictly optional, and had little to do with my long term success in recovery. Meetings were not the foundation of success that the therapists and the counselors told me they were. But at the time I could not have known that and I had to take the professional’s word for it that AA meetings were the only real path to success in recovery.

My fear of this kept me in active addiction for a few years, and that was unfortunate. Had I known how hollow this threat really was, I may have been driven to take action sooner. As usual, our fears are almost always illusory. The problem is that we can only see the truth of that in hindsight. Moving forward, our fears are all too real, and can prevent us from taking positive action.

A hollow excuse is nothing more than a symptom of denial

Anyone who is complaining that rehab will never work for them is in denial. Plain and simple.

I know this because I used to be in denial myself, and I can look back and see how I was making excuses like this because I did not want to face my fears and get clean and sober.

When someone makes the statement “treatment will never work for me” they are in denial because:

1) They don’t know that for sure, they are just guessing. We never know (with certainty) what the outcome of rehab will be.
2) They are too scared to take positive action. Their fear is holding them back and keeping them in denial.
3) They are basing their statement on failed logic. This is almost always their rationale and it is always misguided and wrong, because they are a different person now than they were in the past.

The third point here is important, because nearly every alcoholic and addict uses this logic to defend against the idea of treatment.

What happens is that they, at some point, have given in and attended rehab, only to fail and relapse and be back on their drug of choice.

So now they have the ultimate excuse. “It doesn’t work, see?” They went to rehab and they failed, they relapsed. So now they can use this “failure” as ammunition to thwart future rehab attempts. Why go to treatment if it does not work, right? Why waste the time, money, and effort?

Such logic is common and I used it myself for years as part of my denial. The argument is deeply flawed though because:

1) It is impossible to predict if rehab will work or not. Every time that you go to treatment you are a different person than in the past. You change and evolve over time so you have no way of knowing if you are truly ready to change or not. The only way to know for sure is to go to rehab and see if it works.

2) Why waste the time and effort if rehab will not work? Seriously? Even if the odds are 99 to 1 against it working for you, it is still worth going. Even if there is a slim chance of success, it is worth trying. Staying stuck in active addiction is a non-starter, nothing can justify this continued pain and misery in addiction. You have nothing to lose by giving rehab another chance. So what if it costs time, money, and effort? The potential upside is enormous. If it works, your whole world will change and life will be joyful and worth living again. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving rehab a chance. If it fails or if you hate sobriety you can always go back to using drugs or alcohol again. The chaos of addiction is always an option, it is not going anywhere.

3) Arguing that treatment does not work for you because it failed in the past is flawed because you are not taking into consideration the key element: surrender. This is similar to arguing that perhaps you went to the wrong treatment center, or that you just need to find a better rehab program or something. Such arguments are nonsense because the truth is that you succeed or fail in recovery based on one thing and one thing only: your level of surrender. If you have not surrendered yet to your addiction then no amount of help or luxury treatment is going to help you to recover. On the other hand, if you have finally hit bottom and fully surrendered to your addiction then it doesn’t matter which treatment you choose or where you ask for help, it is likely that you will be successful.

Another tricky point is that it is difficult to know sometimes if you have really surrendered. I was second guessing myself in early recovery because I was not sure that I had fully surrendered myself….this was due to my overwhelming fear of AA meetings. On the one hand I had fully hit bottom and surrendered, but on the other hand I was scared of the solution. Ultimately my surrender won out over my fear of the meetings and I was willing to go to rehab and face the meetings anyway. But you may not really know if you have truly surrendered and truly hit bottom and so they only way to know for sure is to actually ask for help, go to treatment, and then follow through and start building a new life in recovery. If it works out then you can look back and see that you had, in fact, surrendered fully. If you fail then you will know that you were hanging on to some sort of reservation about recovery (in which case, you should try again!).

I am unique and special because….

If you are arguing that rehab will never work for you because you are unique in some way, then welcome to the club. I argued the same thing as part of my own denial.

My argument was based on my social anxiety. Other people had no fear of meetings, so rehab and 12 step based programs were well suited to other addicts. But I was unique, I was special, I was different, and therefore treatment could not work for me.

I argued that I was so unique that no person in history with my level of anxiety and my same fears had ever been able to get clean and sober before. No way. Because if they felt like me and if they had my fears and my problems, they could not have possibly got clean and sober. Impossible.

This is just denial, and it is ridiculous. Thousands of people have preceded me in recovery and many of them had even WORSE anxiety than what I have. I can promise that the same is true of your situation if you have fears about recovery.

Many others have come before you and others will come after you. Some of them will get clean and sober and some of them will probably fail. Many of them will face even greater challenges than what you face. You are not unique. Getting clean and sober is tough, and I am not trying to take that away. But it can be done and others have done it and they faced challenges just like you are facing.

The truth is, rehab works for anyone who wants it to work

Ultimately it all boils down to surrender and willingness. If you want rehab to work for you then it will work. If you do not want sobriety then just forget about it.

The key is in knowing when you should take action and ask for help.

If you are willing to attend treatment then this is a very positive sign and you should undoubtedly do whatever you can to make it happen. Even though the outcome is unknowable and you might fail, it is still about a thousand times better than avoiding rehab.

Take positive action and you might get positive results. Do nothing and you can expect no such miracle to occur. Remember the potential upside of success in recovery is nearly limitless.

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