No one likes to ask for help when it comes to overcoming alcoholism.
This is normal. This is natural. It is not the least bit unusual that a struggling alcoholic would hesitate to ask for help.
There are all sorts of reasons that we would want to stay quiet, to figure it out on our own, to resist the idea of getting direction and guidance from other people.
Pride and ego get in the way of asking for help
Your pride and your ego are the first thing that get in the way. No one wants to admit that they have this huge problem. No one wants to admit that they need serious help.
Many alcoholics suffer grave consequences because they were too proud to ask for help. To proud to seek treatment.
Our ego tells us that we can figure out how to overcome an addiction on our own. We are smarter than the average alcoholic, right?
Surveys prove that nearly everyone believes that they are smarter than the average, that they have a good chance at outwitting the disease where the average alcoholic fails. And yet, we are all average.
I thought that I was pretty smart myself, but my addiction proved otherwise. It’s not about being smart anyway. It’s about surrendering and getting the help that you need. I tend to think that intelligence is a liability when it comes to outsmarting an addiction. I don’t really think you can outsmart the disease, period.
Part of the problem is the lens through which we view our problem of addiction.
When you first realize that you are an alcoholic you are treating this as just another problem in your life. Perhaps it is a big problem with vast implications but it is still just another problem that you have had to face in your life journey. And so every alcoholic who encounters their addiction at first will have to figure out how to handle it.
And this is why it is so powerful–because no one has (generally) had an experience like an addiction in their past. Everyone has had problems in their past and they have faced challenges, but not usually on the same scale as having to overcome alcoholism.
This is a massive problem.
So the typical alcoholic is viewing their problem through this certain “lens” if you will. They are thinking that: “OK, I might very well be addicted to alcohol, but this is nothing I can’t handle. I got this. I can control this. I am smarter than most people and I am resilient and I can figure stuff out. I can handle this.”
And of course this is not a good attitude or approach when it comes to fighting alcoholism. It sounds like a reasonable and very positive approach, but in fact it is setting the alcoholic up for failure.
So what do they do? They back off the drinking a bit. Try to control it. Use their normal problem solving approach that has worked on other challenges in their life before. And inevitably this just leads to more chaos, drinking, and misery in their life.
The key, of course, is total and complete surrender. But that is not a concept that most of us are taught when we are gaining life experience, growing up, and so on. So getting to the point where we admit total powerlessness and defeat against our addiction is really pretty strange. It is not something that most of us are in gear to do.
No one likes to admit that they are out of control
Why would a person convince themselves that they need to check into rehab unless they were out of control?
I mean think about it: If you are in control then you don’t need treatment.
If you can completely control your drinking and drug intake then you don’t need to go “lock yourself up in treatment.”
What rehab essentially does is to give you a safe environment with no drugs or alcohol and therefore no temptation to relapse. Your chance of relapsing while at an inpatient facility is essentially zero.
Sure, you are also there to learn about how to overcome an addiction. You are there so that you gain exposure to support groups, maybe meet a therapist or a counselor, do some group therapy, and so on.
But the central thrust of inpatient rehab is that you are tucked away in a safe environment where you cannot possibly drink or use drugs for 28 days. That’s the main idea behind going to treatment.
And no one really wants to admit that they need this. No one wants to say “OK fine, you’re right, just lock me up in rehab so that I can’t drink any more!”
And this is essentially what the decision to go to rehab is all about.
Now we try to tell ourselves that it is much more than that….that in fact it is about learning about recovery, and meeting new people who can help us, and finding new support systems, and so on. But ultimately if you are a struggling alcoholic and you are at the end of your rope then you will look at rehab in the way that I described above. It is a place to “lock yourself away” so that you don’t drink or use drugs. You are putting yourself there because otherwise you can no longer control yourself.
I don’t think you should have to convince yourself that rehab is so much more than this concept. What is more important (I believe) is that you surrender to the fact that you do, in fact, need to protect yourself from yourself for a while. That you do, in fact, need to “lock yourself up” so to speak. Is that really so bad? We tell ourselves that it is bad and we deny that we need that level of help and this keeps us stuck in addiction. But instead of trying to make rehab out to be something other than what it really is, let’s just admit to the fact that we need to lock ourselves up temporarily in order to get control of our drinking.
I suggest that because in the end that is the level of surrender that allowed me to find sobriety. I had to get real with the fact that I needed serious, professional help.
Could I have just gone to outpatient rehab, went to counseling, attended AA meetings each night, and still done OK without locking myself up in a 28 day program (and then later living in long term treatment)? I don’t think so. I believe today that it was necessary for me to “check in” somewhere.
Was there shame in needing to be locked up? I might have felt shame at the idea, which is why I resisted it for so long. But looking back now I don’t feel any shame about it. I was caught under the spell of drugs and alcohol. So what? I was screwed up and I needed serious help. I am grateful that I got that help. If I had to do it again I certainly would. The rewards of sobriety are well worth it. I don’t feel bad at all that I had to “lock myself up” in rehab. I don’t feel ashamed at the fact that I lived in long term rehab for 20 months. This treatment helped me to build an amazing new life in recovery.
So I realize that many (perhaps all?) alcoholics and drug addicts will feel some shame and some hesitation at the idea of asking for help, or of locking themselves away in treatment, or whatever. I felt that shame too and I don’t think there is any way around it. Other than to embrace the solution and ask for help anyway, knowing that your life will get better if you do these things. Trusting that your life will improve if you ask for help.
No one wants to admit that they have lost the path to happiness
We all like to believe that we are experts at making ourselves happy.
Why would someone else know what it takes to make us happy? How would they know any better than what we ourselves know?
They are not us. They don’t know what we like, what makes us happy, or what makes us feel good about ourselves. So how can someone else give us advice that makes us happier than if we take our own advice?
This was the dilemma that I faced in very early recovery. I believed that I alone knew what could make me happy, and that other people trying to give me advice or suggestions were just wasting their time. Because how could they possibly know how to make me happy better than I knew myself?
Well, when I finally got clean and sober I learned quite a bit about this little dilemma. Because you see, I reached a point in my own addiction where I was totally and completely miserable. And at the time I was also completely alone in my life, which was what I wanted. I had been unhappy for quite a while and I blamed that unhappiness on other people in my life.
Well, those people all left (some permanently, some temporarily) and I was all alone. At first I was happy with this. Now I could drink and use drugs and be happy by myself, without others getting in the way and screwing up my happiness.
Or so I thought.
Then the reality of my addiction came crashing down around me.
I slowly realized that I was still unhappy.
Unbelievable. Here I was, all of my excuses for being unhappy were gone, and yet I was still unhappy.
I had plenty of booze. I had drugs. And I was finally alone and able to self medicate to my heart’s content.
And yet I was unhappy.
This was my moment of surrender. This was what led me out of my denial.
Because you see, my denial told me that I could be happy whenever I wanted, so long as I drank and used drugs in sufficient quantity.
And later on when my addiction complicated my life and relationships complicated my life, I clung to the false belief that I could be happy whenever I wanted so long as these certain people would just go away and let me self medicate.
And of course the people did not go away because they were my friends, my family, and my girlfriend. They were my excuses for unhappiness. If they would leave me alone then I could drink and use more drugs and then I would finally be happy (I told myself).
So that was my denial.
Well it just so happened that everyone left for a while, they took vacations, and I had a full supply of drugs and alcohol.
This was it! My moment of true happiness! Now I could finally be happy, for real.
Except that I wasn’t. And the reality of this came crashing down around me. I was indulging in drugs and alcohol all by myself, yet the party was over (insert shot of me with a sad little party hat on in an empty apartment. Maybe one of this little noisemakers sticking out of my mouth).
And that was when I finally broke through the last of my denial. It was over. I was miserable and there was no one and nothing left to blame but myself.
I had to own the fact that I was unhappy. And that it was all my fault.
I could not cast blame on anyone else. Nor anything else. It was all me.
I had everything that I wanted. I had everything that I believed that I needed in order to be happy.
And yet here I was, unhappy.
Who would want to admit to such a defeat?
What alcoholic would want to admit that they are all wrong, that they have been wrong all along, that their ultimate idea of happiness turned out to be a total sham?
Who would want to admit that?
No one wants to admit it. I certainly did not want to do so.
Until I had no choice. Until I was all alone with everything I ever wanted and I was still unhappy.
At that point I said (to the people who still loved me):
“Yes, I am ready to go get help.”
And I wanted to tell them that I was serious this time, but they had heard all of those promises before. And so I kept my seriousness a secret, I did not try to convince them that I had truly surrendered this time, because what was the point? If I was serious then they would know in time, when I stopped drinking every day and turning my life into a train wreck through drug and alcohol abuse. If all of that changed then they would know soon enough.
And that was how I came to ask for help. I had to first admit to myself that I was unhappy, AND that it was all my fault.
Let’s review this critically important point:
1) I had to admit that I was unhappy.
2) I had to stop blaming others and admit that it was all my fault.
3) I had to ask for help (as in, maybe others can tell me how to achieve happiness, since I cannot figure it out for myself?)
How to crush your ego and move on to get the help that you need
And so I squashed my own ego.
I went to rehab and started going to AA meetings every day (the rehab had them in-house).
I also moved into long term rehab. Group therapy twice a week. Counseling. More AA meetings. Sponsorship. The whole bit.
And very early in this process (first two weeks I believe) I made a decision.
My decision was actually the third step of AA, though I did not put that together at the time (you will see why).
The third step of AA is about turning your will and your life over to a higher power. Over to God.
My decision was worded in my own mind like this:
“I am done listening to my own advice. Every time I get an idea it gets me into trouble. So instead of listening to my own advice, I am going to ONLY listen to other people’s advice from now on. No more using my own ideas. They only get me into trouble. I will take advice from therapists, counselors, sponsors–but never from myself.”
That was my commitment to myself.
And it worked. It started working so quickly that I was honestly shocked.
I was taking advice from other people and I thought that it would be a real drag.
Because remember my basic premise and belief (that I think everyone has):
“Why would other people know how to make me happy any better than I know myself? How can taking their advice possibly lead me to happiness?”
So it came back to that idea.
But here I was, in full surrender to my addiction, and I was sick of being miserable. So I was willing to take advice.
I was willing to squash my own ego, to ignore my own ideas, and to follow suggestions from other people.
I was willing to do these things even though I did not really believe (deep down) that it would lead me to happiness.
And so I was completely shocked when my happiness started increasing exponentially during the first few months of my recovery.
By the time I hit one year sober I was completely transformed. And it was all thanks to the decision to GET OUT OF MY OWN WAY.
I had to kill my ego. I had to ignore my own terrible ideas for a few months.
And in doing so I relied on the advice of other people.
And like I said, this was actually how I applied the third step of AA in my life.
I had turned my life and my will over to something other than myself. Something other than my own reckless ego.
And it took a certain amount of faith to do this. Maybe you don’t believe in a higher power, but it still takes faith to squash your ego and live by the advice of other people. It is still an act of faith to do what I have described here, regardless of your spiritual beliefs.
Why you cannot do it alone in early recovery
Alcoholics and addicts have a tendency to sabotage themselves, especially in early recovery.
If you could do it alone, you would.
That is a simple and profound realization so take a minute to think it over:
“If you could recover on your own, you would do so.”
Has that happened? How many times do you have to make excuses as to why is has not happened yet until you admit that you need help?
Alcoholism and drug addiction is really defined by one thing: That you cannot control your addiction on your own.
Think about it: If you CAN control the addiction, then we don’t label it as an addiction! It’s just casual drug or alcohol consumption. No problem.
If there is no problem then there is no problem! Another profound truth that you might reflect on.
So if there is a problem, then you need to take care of it.
And the way to do that is to ask for help.
Because we can’t do it alone.