This is a very fair question, and not an easy one to answer for any struggling alcoholic:
“How can you surrender if you still enjoy drinking?”
I stayed stuck in denial for many years because I “enjoyed” drinking. But at some point I had to get honest with myself and realize that I was really lying to myself about how much “fun” I had while consuming alcohol.
I thought that I was unique. I thought that I was just different from everyone else.
I thought that I just really, really liked alcohol.
What if I just really like alcohol? What then?
So maybe you are at the point that I was at….you believe that you are unique, and that you are special, and that you aren’t necessarily addicted to alcohol, but in fact you really do like it a whole lot.
What is it about addiction that makes us fool ourselves like this?
Why do we believe that we are special in that we are the first non-alcoholic person ever who just really, really likes to drink?
Excuse me for the bluntness, but wake up!
You don’t “really like alcohol,” that is a lie that you are telling yourself in order to feel good about yourself.
You are addicted to the substance. That is the truth. It has nothing to do with “liking alcohol.”
Maybe the first few times you drank you “liked” the experience of drinking.
But now you are lying to yourself if you believe that this is what is motivating your behavior. You don’t destroy your life from the inside out just because you “like” alcohol.
And yet this is what I was telling myself when my life was crumbling all around me. I told myself that I was not really addicted, but that I just really enjoyed drinking. I lied to myself about it. I told myself that I enjoyed the social aspect of alcohol. I told myself that I enjoyed the taste of certain beverages.
What a load of garbage! This is how the alcoholic mind tries to justify the outrageous behavior to itself.
Alcoholics don’t actually care about the taste of the drink! If they tell that to themselves then they are just lying. It is a convenient excuse to detract from what is really going on: They are addicted and they need to self medicate every day.
Let’s put it this way: If I actually cared about the taste of alcohol, if I actually cared what a certain mixed drink or a fine wine tasted like, then why was I eventually drinking liquor straight (sometimes) at the end of my drinking career?
I’ll tell you why. Because it was all about the effect for me. I didn’t care about the social aspect of drinking. I didn’t care about the taste of various drinks. Those were all lies that I told myself in order to feel like less of an alcoholic.
But in the end that was all a bunch of garbage. I had to admit to myself that I did not really like alcohol, but in fact I was addicted to it. I would drink it every day even if it tasted awful. I would drink it every day even if I was no longer having “fun” (I wasn’t). I was simply addicted to it.
So you can tell yourself that “you actually like to drink and enjoy it” but at some point you may have to get real about the fact that:
1) You are, in fact, addicted.
2) You have to drink just to avoid feeling miserable.
3) It is no longer fun any more (but it used to be).
Every time you catch yourself saying “I just really enjoy drinking!” you should review these three facts about alcoholism. It is progressive, fatal, and at some point it just isn’t any fun any more. And that point is probably well in your past by now.
Getting honest with yourself about the true benefits of drinking
Alcoholism is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.”
Part of the reason for this is because it actually does have some benefits.
Of course it has benefits. If there were no benefit at all to alcohol then there would be no alcoholics. This much is obvious.
But the benefits do not scale up like we expect them to.
Meaning that everything that alcohol does for us in the beginning it eventually takes away from us in the end (“It gave us wings to fly, then it took away the sky”).
This was really evident in my own experience because I have always been very shy. When I first discovered alcohol I was amazed because drinking fixed this part of my personality perfectly.
I am not just saying that….alcohol honestly, truly fixed this part of my personality. And it did so easily and effortlessly. Just a few drinks and I was suddenly a social person who was funny, smart, and actually able to socialize with people without fear.
Now if this benefit could have been captured and harnessed it would have been nice. But the benefits of alcohol do not scale well. So as my addiction took hold this benefit was quickly erased. What once made me more social later isolated me. I got to the point where I was so afraid of blacking out that I tended to drink by myself and avoid other people entirely. This was happening to me in my early twenties no less! My disease accelerated quickly.
But even when I was stuck in that isolation I would cling to the fact that, with just the right concoction of drugs and alcohol, I would once again be able to socialize without fear. I held on to this belief even though I was isolated and drinking myself miserable every day. Denial.
In order to see through denial you have to get honest with yourself. When I was at the end of my drinking career I was (finally) no longer saying “but I really enjoy drinking!” Instead, I was realizing that I was, in fact, miserable. I was finally admitting this pain and misery to myself. It is pain that motivates the alcoholic to face their fears.
Life without alcohol is a gift, not a punishment
If you want to convince yourself to go to rehab then you have to realize that sobriety is not a punishment, it is a gift.
I think even when I finally surrendered and was in the process of turning my life around I still thought of sobriety as a punishment. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you cannot instantly become grateful for your recovery.
It takes time.
Give yourself time to heal. Give yourself time to realize that sobriety is a blessing and not a curse.
Every recovering alcoholic who has multiple years in recovery knows that sobriety is a gift. But when you are in your first week of detox you probably don’t realize what a gift that it is just yet. And that is OK. You have to give yourself time to realize the full benefits of recovery.
If you go to several AA meetings you will eventually hear someone say “It gets greater, later.” (OK there, you just heard me say it!)
And I know that is not what you want to hear right now (probably), but that doesn’t mean that it is not true.
It really does get greater later.
This is how sobriety works. You don’t find ecstatic joy and peace and contentment all within your first week of sobriety. It takes some time.
You have to build a new life in recovery. You have to slowly change who you are on the inside. You have to do a lot of footwork on the outside as well (changing people, places, and things). And all of this takes time, and energy, and effort. And you have to seek help and advice and wisdom from other people. And you have to bump your way along and figure some things out on your own. You have to hear the truth, then maybe resist it for a while, then experience some things and finally accept it. So you learn and you grow. And it all takes time.
The end result of all this is that some day you will have multiple years sober and you will be at peace with yourself. And you will be happy. Much, much happier than you ever thought that you could be while sober. And this is a miracle, and a gift. But it doesn’t happen overnight and it is going to take persistence and real work.
When you are stuck in your addiction it is impossible to see this future and appreciate it. Someone can try to describe to you how awesome and rewarding life is in sobriety and you will not be able to share in that excitement or get enthused about it much. And the problem is that you don’t really believe that it applies to you. Because you are different, right? And you really enjoy drinking, remember? So how are you ever going to be happy and excited about life if you are not even allowed to drink or use drugs anymore?
This was the place of frustration that I was stuck at when I was still in denial. I could not get with the idea that I might be happy again some day if I had to deny myself alcohol and drugs. I could not picture my life with peace and happiness and contentment if I was “not allowed to drink any more.”
Because I really believed that alcohol was the only way that I could be happy. I was stuck in that line of thinking, that I would never be happy if I was to be sober.
And of course this is wrong, and any alcoholic can find peace and happiness in sobriety if they do the work. If they surrender first. If they break through their denial.
The light at the end of the tunnel after you surrender
So hopefully if you are stuck in addiction then you will begin to focus on your denial. Focus on your pain and misery. This is what will motivate you to change eventually.
You must realize that you are miserable and that alcohol is no longer helping you to be happy.
You must start measuring your happiness in life. How happy are you, really? How much joy does alcohol and other drugs really bring you?
If you get drunk today, how many hours of joy and happiness does that bring you? Really try to measure this.
This is how you work through your denial. You have to get honest enough with yourself to see that drinking every day is a bad deal. You are trying to buy permanent happiness but what you are getting is actually 99 percent misery.
An advanced alcoholic is almost never happy. Yet they still stubbornly believe that if they could just drink enough that they would be happy all of the time. Really, 100 percent of the time! And yet they are constantly miserable. This is blatant denial. To get out of this you have to start paying attention to your own misery. Focus on it. It will eventually set you free.
When you surrender you stop struggling. You stop trying to control things. You let go of everything. You let go of the need to self medicate, you let go of the drive to be happier, you let go of the need to be right. You let go of all of it. It is a total ego death.
Then you ask for help. Yes, I want to try to go to rehab and get sober. Yes, I know I have tried it before. This time I am really defeated though. This time is different because I am truly sick and tired of this life.
So you (hopefully) go check into rehab. You start attending meetings in treatment. Group therapy. Counseling. All of that stuff. And you start to slowly heal.
Even while you are in a 28 day program you may glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. You may realize, if even for a brief moment, that you might actually get some relief from the addiction that seems to drive you. The idea that you might one day walk around like a “normal human” and not have to obsess over drugs and alcohol all day long. You may get a glimpse of this in treatment.
I personally thought that my obsession with alcohol would never leave me. I had one week sober and I said “OK, maybe some day I will be strong in my sobriety and I won’t drink, but I bet that I will still be thinking about drinking and drugs every other minute, all day long, forever and ever.”
I really believed that! I really thought that I was doomed to obsess over alcohol forever, and just be miserable the whole time while denying myself.
I have good news! This is not how recovery works. The obsession to drink and use drugs goes away entirely at some point.
Where is that point? It is going to vary a bit from person to person. But basically you go to rehab, you do 28 days or so, and then you get out and start going to meetings. At this point your obsession is still haunting you a little bit but it is greatly reduced from what it was during your first week of sobriety.
But then, at around the three to six month point of your journey, something magical will happen. You will make it through a whole day and realize that you never even thought about drinking or drug use one time. Not even once! Complete relief from the obsession of addiction.
This will happen, and it should happen during the first year. Maybe even the first three months of your recovery.
And after that it just keeps getting better and better. Because now you are free. Free to realize that your happiness does not depend on medicating yourself. Free to pursue other forms of personal growth. Free to pursue peace and happiness and better relationships in your life. Free to enjoy your life without needing something, without depending on a crutch every day. This is real freedom and real happiness.
And of course if you are going to get to this point then you need to first admit to yourself that “I just really like to drink” is a big fat lie. Liking something and being addicted to it are not the same thing.
Pain is what motivates the alcoholic to change, unfortunately
When someone declares that they are going to quit drinking forever, how do you know when they are serious about that declaration?
They are as serious as their actions tell you they are. They are serious about quitting if they ask for help and then follow directions.
The extent to which someone is ready to get sober is the extent of which they are following orders from other people.
If they want to do everything their own way then they are probably not finished drinking yet.
My belief is that it does not do much good to try to convince the alcoholic that they can have a better life in sobriety.
I was in treatment once and someone at an AA meeting (the chairperson) tried to convince all of us newcomers (who were all in detox) that we could have this awesome new life in recovery. I was really moved by his speech but this did not motivate me to get sober. I relapsed after I left that rehab and I later went to a second rehab and relapsed after that one too.
Then later I hit bottom. I surrendered. Went to a third rehab center. And have been sober ever since.
So I really don’t think that you can motivate people by telling them about how amazing and happy their life will be in recovery.
The alcoholic who is truly stuck is not going to get that message. Or rather, they will hear that message but it does not apply to them.
It doesn’t apply to them.
Because they are different. They are unique. They actually enjoy alcohol! You know, unlike all of these other alcoholics who must just drink because they are addicted…..but none of those alcoholics really like the alcohol, they don’t enjoy it like I do, right?
When I was stuck in my alcoholism, a small part of my brain believed this lie. I believed that I was the only person who had ever really fallen in love with alcohol and drugs. That the whole universe was made just for me so that I could medicate my brain.
And at some point I got so miserable in my addiction that I no longer cared. I was willing to do anything just to make the pain go away. I was sick and tired of living in fear, of being afraid, of being miserable.
And that is when I finally surrendered.
I surrendered when I my pain and misery had finally reached a boiling point. It was not the lure of a better life in recovery that enticed me, it was the threat of future misery. I finally glimpsed the future and realized that it was just never going to get any better.
And so I changed.
What about you? How did you surrender when you still enjoyed drinking? What was the mental process like for you? And how long did it take before you could see your sobriety as the gift that it really was? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!