What can you do if you are drug addicted, alcohol dependent, and desperately in need of help? At this point the typical alcoholic feels completely trapped by their addiction and has nowhere to turn to. They feel like they cannot go on another day with their drinking and drugging, and yet at the same time they cannot imagine facing the idea of total abstinence either. They know from past experience that they are miserable without their drug of choice (at least in the short term).
This is a classic point in the journey of recovery known as “the turning point.” If you have reached it, consider yourself blessed and lucky, because everything is about to change for the better.
Have you reached the turning point yet? Are you willing to do anything to recover?
Nothing can change in the world of the addict until they reach this turning point. The problem is that the alcoholic will still be clinging to the idea that they can control things, that they can overcome their addiction by themselves, that they just need to drink less somehow. Of course this is the completely wrong attitude for an alcoholic to have because there is no way possible that they can actually “get it under control” or even “drink less” consistently over the long run. Their disease is that they cannot control it, and that eventually they always wind up in trouble again. This is the nature of their disease and their own thinking is not enough to overcome these harmful patterns. They need a way to rise above their struggle and they cannot figure it out on their own. This has nothing to do with intelligence though because in fact they are completely trapped by their own addictive mind. The only way to rise above it is to surrender to their disease and ask for help. If they are going to get better then they must ask for help from other people and follow advice. This can be a tough pill for the ego to swallow, and this is why alcoholics can stay in denial for years or even decades. They don’t want to follow directions, they don’t want to submit themselves to the recovery process, they don’t want to listen to others and do what they are told. And yet this is the secret to success in early recovery: Get out of your own way and take simple advice from other people. Living sober is not that tricky to figure out, but if you are the one who is stuck in the brain of an alcoholic, you are not going to be able to figure it out on your own. At least not in early recovery, when your mind is already clouded, and you have been battling addiction for years and years.
The turning point that is described feels very cathartic. You will feel like you just can’t go on when you reach this point. Some people mistake it for being suicidal but this is not quite right. In fact what you are realizing is that you cannot go an any more with your addiction. That old life has to die. And because you have been drinking (or drugging) for so long, you tend to identify with the addict in yourself. So it feels like you are going to literally kill yourself if you go through with total abstinence. I can remember this distinctly and it felt to me like getting sober and embracing abstinence would be a fate worse than death. I was that afraid of sobriety that I equated it with death.
So you will feel torn. You will feel as though you cannot possibly go on any longer using your drug of choice. And you will also feel like you cannot possibly live sober and become abstinent either. But I have news for you: Anyone can become sober. There is no magic to it, really. It only takes guts. And some people are forced into (such as being thrown into prison).
So in reality you will not die if you become sober. You will not kill yourself out of fear and despair if you give up alcohol. It may feel that way but in reality life will go on, things will get better, and you will become happy again without your drug of choice. This is very possible for any alcoholic or addict. The body can be retrained to enjoy life without chemicals. This is not manipulative or controlling, you are being set free. When your body is dependent on alcohol every day or drugs, that is not natural. You were not born to dump chemicals into your body every day just to feel “normal.” There is nothing natural about addiction or alcoholism.
You will know when you have reached the turning point when you say “yes” to treatment.
You will know when you have reached the turning point when you are willing to take suggestions from other people in order to stop drinking.
You will know when you have reached the turning point when you become willing to do whatever it takes to recover.
What you should do when you reach your breaking point and are ready to change
When you reach your turning point then simply ask for help.
Ask whoever is available to help you. Tell them you want to be sober. Tell them that it is different this time, that you really do want to change.
If you have lived a life anything like the typical alcoholic, your friends and family may not even believe you at this point. It is like the boy who cried wolf. You have finally surrendered to your disease, but no one knows it and you could never fully convince them, because you have tried and failed so many times before.
But those times in the past you were not serious. Not ready. You had not hit bottom yet. You were not standing at the turning point like you are now. Now, you are willing to follow through, to go to rehab, to do whatever it takes to remain sober. You are desperate for a new life in recovery. You are desperate for change.
If no one will help you then you must help yourself. There are basically two or three options that you might pursue in order to get help for yourself:
1) Call up treatment centers and see what it would take for you to come in. Maybe you have no money and no insurance. In that case it will depend on what country or state you live in as to how much help may be available to you. Some places may have funding set up to help people in your exact situation. You don’t know unless you ask. So get on the phone and call up treatment centers. Start a written list. Start calling all sorts of rehabs. Call up rehabs in surrounding states. If they can’t help you, ask them who can. Ask them if there are any funding agencies that might be able to help you. Be polite. Keep calling different rehabs until you find answers. If you run out of leads then expand your search, look at surrounding areas. Be persistent. This is your life you are fighting for.
2) Go to a local AA or NA meeting. Be honest with the people there. Tell them your story and your situation. Tell them you are struggling to get clean and sober. They will probably tell you to keep coming back. Do that if it seems to help. Many people have become sober through simply attending meetings. Some people have even been directed into professional treatment this way. So just go, be honest, and see what you can learn.
3) Do the same thing as AA/NA but with a church community. Find support, talk with others, learn a new way of life.
Note that in the second two cases you are not getting a medical detox, which may be somewhat dangerous depending on your level of dependence and which substances you are addicted to. In other words, you may need medical detox (like you would get at a rehab) regardless of where you go to get help.
Being persistent enough to get the help that you need
Some people give up before the miracle happens.
I know people who have gone to 15 rehabs in their life. Fifteen times! That person is sober now today and has been for many years. They are living an awesome life in recovery. Lucky for them they were persistent enough not to give up before the miracle happened.
One of the problems with rehab is that it is expensive. Even if you find a place that is very cheap (or even free), the cost of that health care must be paid by someone. Health care in general just keeps going up and up as far as costs. And another problem with treatment is that it rarely works the first try. Most people that I know who are clean and sober today had to go to rehab more than once before they finally “got it.” So you can add multiple trips into the cost of rehab, on average.
This cost factor is unfortunate because most alcoholics and addicts are in a position where they have lost most (or all) of their money. Many alcoholics lose their jobs and their income as well at some point. So alcoholics and addicts are not generally a demographic that has a lot of extra money laying around to spend on treatment. And if they are in the US then they likely will have to have a full time job in order to have health insurance that would pay for treatment.
Some places allow Medicaid or Medicare to pay for treatment, but this is not always the case. And in many cases there are alcoholics who do not qualify for those programs who also do not have any employer-related health coverage either. There are gaps everywhere.
So the key is that if you are struggling to get sober then you need to be persistent. Be humble. Be eager to learn and to change. And be polite. Treatment is expensive, and if things don’t work out right at first, you may need to jump through some hoops in order to get into rehab. That’s OK though. The benefit of treatment and sobriety is worth the persistent that is required to make it all work out. Keep trying. Don’t give up on the idea of professional treatment. If you have reached your turning point then it is time to take action.
How to follow through in early recovery
The way to follow through in early recovery is to do what you are told to do. In traditional recovery they call these “suggestions” but in reality you had better do at least 90 percent of what is suggested if you want to stay clean and sober.
In traditional recovery you basically have a structure where people who have already become sober are helping newcomers to do the same thing. This is how an AA meeting functions and this is also how most of professional treatment works as well. It is all based on the idea that someone got clean and sober, now they are going to teach this newcomer how to do it based on their experience.
So if you are new to recovery and you don’t know how to live a life of sobriety yet, then your best bet is to listen to the people who have already done it successfully. The counselors and therapists who run the treatment centers are usually people who have become sober themselves. So their experience can help you directly. The same thing is true when you are sitting in an AA or NA meeting. The people there are clean and sober, have been so for various lengths of time, and they are now willing to talk to you and to tell you exactly how they did it.
Now once you get this information (of knowing exactly how other people managed to get through early recovery and stay sober) then you have to act on it.
This is what we mean by “follow through.” If all you do is sit in AA meetings all day and never act on the information that you receive, then you are not following through.
The way to follow through is by taking positive action. Recovery is all about change. You are living a certain way, you are reacting to the world a certain way, and all of that needs to change if you are to remain sober. “The only thing you have to change in recovery is EVERYTHING.” They say this because it is true, or at least it feels true to the alcoholic who has managed to live through early recovery and find stable sobriety. They ultimately changed everything, they changed their whole life, they changed how they deal with stress and anger and frustration, and they changed from the inside out. This is why they say they changed “everything,” because they really changed who they are as a person, from the inside. And they probably also made a lot of major external changes as well, though these are really secondary to the internal changes. For example, they may have changed jobs, who they hang out with, stopped going to the corner bar every night, etc.
In order to truly follow through you have to be willing. You have to have the willingness necessary to take orders from other people. In order to do this you must be in a state of total surrender and be willing to give your life over to the ideas of others. This takes guts. Or rather, it takes desperation. You have to be in a certain zone where you can say to yourself “OK screw it, I am just going to do what other people tell me to do for a while, and I am not going to go with any of my own ideas anymore.” And then you start living that way, and you start following advice, and you start acting on the things that people tell you to do. And you keep doing this consistently for a few days and that turns into a few weeks. And suddenly you will realize that your life is getting better by leaps and bounds, and you are not even in control any more. You gave that control up, you handed it over when you decided to ask for help and to follow the ideas of other people. And you will be suddenly amazed that your life is improving so rapidly even though you are not even trying hardly, you are not even required to think much, you are just following what others tell you to do. Ride this wave for as long as you can. This is “surrender.” You have given up control of your life for a while and in return you get to crawl out of the pit of despair. Other people can tell you (quite easily) how to get out of that pit, but you have to listen to what they are telling you to do, and then you have to do it. You must take action. You must follow through. And as you do so, your life will get better and better.
Me, I was shocked that my life got better. For some reason I thought that I was smart and that everyone else was stupid. Typical alcoholic, I suppose. So I believed that if I gave up control and listened to other people that my life would get worse, or at least it would be boring and uninspired. Of course I was proven wrong. This is the miracle of recovery. That other people can help you, if you are willing to let them help. That other people can give you orders and you can follow them and your life will improve by leaps and bounds. But you have to be willing. You have to crush your own ego and get yourself out of the way. It’s tough. Most people won’t do it, they have too much pride. But if you have fallen far enough in your addiction then you may just be desperate enough to give it a chance.
How to get one year clean and sober without relapse
What is the key to getting through that first year of sobriety?
The whole thing hinges first on your level of surrender. If you have not reached that elusive “turning point” then you are not in a position to reach the one year mark in recovery.
One year sober is significant in my opinion because it clearly shows potential. If you can get a full year then you can certainly make it work in the long term, if you choose to stay on this positive path of growth. Anyone who makes it to a full year sober should realize that they can stay on the path to “permanent sobriety” if they so choose. Of course many people do relapse after multiple years sober so there are no guarantees. But at least if you make it to one year then you know the potential is there. You are like “I can do this, I really can!”
So if you were desperate enough in the beginning then you should be willing to make the sort of changes that are required to see you through the first full year. What that means is that you cannot just sit around in AA meetings for the first year, do nothing else, and expect to make it. Recovery requires action and demands change.
My progress in recovery has always been measured by the amount of positive changes that I have been making.
I try to make changes in my life based on two ideas:
1) Improving myself (internal changes, how I deal with the world, how I deal with anger and frustration, etc.)
2) Improving my life (external changes, getting a better job, hanging out with the right crowd, talking with my sponsor, etc.)
I think it is important to focus on both of those areas in order to build an effective life in sobriety.
“Improving myself” can also include things in the holistic health perspective, such as exercise, nutrition, and so on. My goal is to be healthy in all areas of my life, not just spiritually. Or rather, it may be appropriate to say that holistic health is actually a part of “being spiritual.”
Completing the cycle and giving back to others
If you are in desperate need of help because of your addiction then one day you may get the change to reach out and help others.
At this point you will have come full circle, and you will hopefully be able to guide someone else who is struggling with alcoholism to get sober.
This is essentially how AA and NA are set up to work, and is the basis of step 12. Get sober, learn a new way to live, then help teach that to the newcomer who is struggling to get sober. Thus the cycle is complete.
The key is that you can do this in many different ways, without necessarily going to AA meetings. For example, you may give back to others through a church community, or by simply living as an example of someone who is sober and responsible today. Or you may want to jump “into the trenches” and work directly with people who are struggling to overcome alcoholism. Either way, the reward of helping others in recovery is that your own sobriety is then strengthened.