One of the most important questions that you can ask of yourself when you are struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction is:
“How far am I willing to go to get clean and sober?”
It is an important question for a couple of reasons. First of all, most people do not realize at first just how hard it is going to be to get clean and sober in the first place.
For most of us it is the most difficult challenge we have ever faced in life thus far. This is because it is an enormous lifestyle change. So if you have ever lost a significant amount of weight and kept the weight off, then you have an idea of the level of challenge we are talking about when we speak of overcoming addiction. It is not something that you can just casually take on and succeed at on a whim. You have to dedicate your life to recovery if you expect to get decent results.
My story and what I wasn’t willing to do for a long time
My own story illustrates this concept very well.
I was struggling with drug and alcohol addiction for several years. I knew that I had a serious problem with it so I argued that I was not really in denial. But in fact, I was in denial because I was denying myself the solution. Friends and family encouraged me to go to rehab and to attend AA but I was too stubborn to do it. And in fact the reason that I was so stubborn was because I was afraid. I was terrified of facing life without the crutch of alcohol and drugs. I was terrified of facing myself, of the person that I had become.
Therefore I was not willing to take action and I preferred to stay stuck in denial, all the while telling myself and arguing with other people that I was not in denial, because I knew that I had a problem. Well, I was still in denial, I just wasn’t willing to accept a real solution in my life. I had an excuse for everything, why nothing would work for me.
As time went on my addiction ebbed and flowed. It got worse at times and better at other times. But if you look back and plot anyone’s alcoholism or drug addiction you will see that it gets steadily worse over the long haul. This is due to the progressive nature of the disease. It always get worse, never better, on a long enough timeline. We can fool ourselves very easily because anyone can sober up for a week or two, or they might be able to cut down for a while and control their drinking temporarily. But the hallmark of alcoholism is that eventually they always lose control again. The problem comes back. It resurfaces. The control that we had was just an illusion, it was temporary. That is how addiction works. It ebbs and flows. It goes in cycles. So we can fool ourselves and stay stuck in denial because we might have a few good days, weeks, or months where nothing really bad happens. But if it always gets crazy again eventually then you know that it is a serious addiction and a real problem that has to be dealt with.
Eventually in my own journey I got pretty miserable. I wasn’t having fun any more. The party, it seemed, was finally over. Yet I was still drinking every day, trying to recapture that euphoric feeling that I once had. So I agreed at times like this to go get help for myself. I agreed at this time to go to rehab, to check into an inpatient treatment program, to go through detox and to stay in a residential treatment program where they introduced you to the 12 step program.
I did this a total of 3 times. The first two times I went to treatment it obviously did not work out for me.
The reason it did not work was because I was not ready. I had not surrendered fully to the disease of addiction yet. I admitted that I had a problem, but I had not ACCEPTED in my heart that I needed a solution.
Note the difference there because it is critical. You can admit to your problem and believe that this means you are no longer in denial. But if you admit that you are alcoholic but refuse to do anything about it then you are still technically stuck in denial. Getting through your denial means that you accept and embrace a new solution in your life. And it is highly likely that this new solution is not one of your own making. If you design your own solution for addiction then it is probably just your addict brain manipulating you into failure. You sabotage your own recovery efforts because deep down your brain wants you to keep drinking and taking drugs. The only real solution is to get out of your own way and listen to other people.
I went to inpatient treatment the first two times and I failed both times. In both cases they asked me to do certain things in order to follow through on my recovery. I failed to do those things and therefore I relapsed very quickly.
At the first treatment center they told me to go home and start attending AA meetings every single day. I was, at the time, terrified of the meetings. Therefore I refused to go to them and it was easier to return to a life of drinking and drugs. My fear of sobriety was far too great at the time. I wasn’t desperate enough for change yet. I wasn’t afraid that my addiction was going to kill me (yet). So I avoided the meetings, I failed to follow through, and I went back to my addiction.
After the second treatment center they advised me to live in long term rehab. They wanted me to check into another treatment center and live there for 90 days. I thought that this was insane. Who would want to live in rehab for three months? What a waste of life, I thought. Of course the joke was on me. I refused to live in long term treatment and instead I relapsed. So I went back to drinking and my life returned to chaos. Only this time things were a lot worse and I was much more depressed. My addiction had progressed and there was very little fun left in the process. I was miserable and I was also trapped. I could not see the way out. I wanted so badly to just drink and be happy and have everyone leave me alone. That wasn’t going to happen though. I had crossed a line and now I was miserable nearly all of the time. And yet I could not see that alcohol and drugs had failed me. I could not realize that they only made me happy for a tiny amount of time each week. 99 percent of the time I was miserable. And yet I believed if I got sober I would somehow be even more unhappy.
The idea of living in long term treatment, to me, felt like being in prison. Of course I had never been to prison and I don’t really know what it feels like, but I imagined in my mind that living in long term treatment would be awful.
If you compare long term treatment to a 28 day program then yes, of course it would be awful. But in truth, long term treatment is generally nothing like a short term 28 day program. It is transitional living rather than an education in how addiction works. But I did not know this at the time, could not know this. I was just stuck in this mindset that I did not want to go to jail. And equated the idea of long term treatment with being locked up.
So what happened? Eventually I got miserable and desperate enough that I finally surrendered. And when you truly surrender you have the ability to go to any length. What you really have is willingness. And I became willing to do whatever it took to recover. I didn’t care any more. I reached a point of being so miserable in my addiction that I no longer cared what happened in my life, or what happened to me in general. If someone had threatened to kill me or put me in prison I would have shrugged my shoulders at that point. This is the point of desperation, where you are so miserable and so incredibly sick and tired that you just don’t care any more. In the program, they often refer to this as “being sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
I got to this point of sheer misery, of complete desperation. And with this extreme misery came willingness. I knew that I did not have the answers. This part is critical. If you believe that you can figure out your own problem then you are still stuck in denial. You have to be willing to accept a new solution, to listen to others, to take direction. I was at that point because I knew that if I tried to figure it out that I would just screw it all up and become miserable all over again. I knew that my own ideas about living would not make me happy. I did not have the key to happiness. I lacked the knowledge. And I finally admitted this to myself. “I really don’t know how to make myself happy in life.” My drinking led me to misery. I needed a new solution.
And so I became willing to listen.
So this time, when the therapists and the counselors at rehab told me to go live in long term treatment, I said “yes.”
I was still afraid. I was afraid that I would go live in long term rehab and that it would be terrible like prison and I would be very sad. I was afraid that I would be so miserable that I would just want to return to drinking in order to get a tiny bit of happiness, even if it would be fleeting happiness.
But of course you know what happened. I checked into long term treatment and it was the best decision I ever made. My life turned around, I found peace and happiness, and things have just been getting better and better for the last 13 years. I stayed in treatment for 20 months. It was nothing like prison. I had plenty of freedom.
And yet I had to be willing to take that plunge. Because in my mind it was going to be as bad as prison. And that is the same basic problem that everyone with addiction faces. Maybe you are not considering going to long term rehab, but the idea of facing the rest of your life sober is just as daunting. Everyone is facing the same big mountain of fear when they try to sober up. We all have this huge challenge in front of us and we have to rise to the challenge. We have to face our greatest fears head on, or we will always be running away from them.
In our addiction we essentially live in fear, and we medicate those fears with our drug of choice. In recovery we make the decision to stop self medicating, and therefore we have to face those fears head on, whatever they may be.
We all have fear. And therefore it is always going to be scary to get clean and sober.
It is fear that holds us back from a better life in sobriety
Your willingness is limited by fear.
When someone says that they are willing to attend an AA meeting, but they are not willing to check into a 28 day program, what is the limiting factor? Why do they have willingness to do one but not the other?
The person will make excuses. They will tell you why they cannot attend the 28 program. Maybe they have a job, or they have family to attend to, or certain responsibilities on the outside. They will make excuses. “I could never go to a 28 day program, because of this or that.”
All of that is garbage. Addiction kills people. Do you know how ridiculous it sounds to make an excuse for not attending rehab, when many people who have done that in the past ended up dying the next day due to their addiction? Would you rather be dead from your addiction than to check into a 28 day program?
The rest of your life is a long time. Therefore 28 days is nothing, it is a drop in the bucket. Heck, I lived in long term rehab for 20 months and it was just a tiny blip in my past. It was over in the blink of an eye. I moved on and I have been sober ever since, going on 14 years now. Those 20 months were nothing.
And yet I had been afraid to invest those 20 months. I had been so afraid that if I checked into a long term rehab that I would be “wasting” my precious life here on earth. I honestly believe that it was better for me to stay out of treatment and to drink myself stupid every day than to go invest those 20 months in treatment and get my sobriety. That was ridiculous.
And here is the real interesting part: Living in long term treatment wasn’t bad at all. It was ultimately just a place to live and a lot of extra support. I had a few groups each week and other than that it was still…life, I was still living, I was very content and happy. It was nothing like jail or prison. I would do it again if I had to, without hesitation. Living in rehab is not a punishment. It is an opportunity.
Peak misery and your moment of surrender will help you conquer your fear
In order to “get there” you have to reach the peak of your misery.
I would suggest, for those of you still stuck in addiction, to start measuring your misery. Take a look at how happy you are. Then start looking at this every single day. Figure out if you are truly happy in life, or how often you are happy.
This is important. The alcoholic mind is telling itself a big lie. The lie is this:
“I can drink alcohol or take drugs and become happy whenever I want.”
This was true in the beginning. This was true for you in the early days of your addiction. Back then, when you first started with your drug of choice, you could make yourself happy at will. Even if you were angry or in a bad mood, you could use your drug of choice and instantly become happy. This is how you got addicted.
Somewhere along the way it stopped working. Somewhere along the line, your addiction progressed and your tolerance shifted and it became much more difficult to achieve that peak happiness. And ultimately you got to a point where you were almost always miserable. All the time. Nothing but misery. Every once in a while you may drink or take enough drugs to achieve that moment of peak happiness, but it is always fleeting. And so you stay stuck in the misery.
But you keep telling yourself the same lie: “I can be happy any time I want by taking my drug of choice.”
Really? Start measuring. Get a journal and write it down. Are you happy right now? At this very moment?
Write down today’s date. Write down how happy you are. And then do this every day.
You will reveal the truth to yourself this way. And the truth is that alcohol and drugs stopped working for a you a long time ago. Your brain just won’t admit it yet.
This is denial. The way you break free is to see the truth. So start writing it down every day, how happy you really are.
Dedicating your life and yourself to sobriety is the price you pay to beat your addiction
So how serious are you? Ready to go to meetings every day? Ready to check into treatment? Maybe even life in long term rehab for a year?
You are probably wondering: “Do I really have to do all of that? Don’t some people get sober by doing much less?”
Sure they do. But they are generally willing to do whatever it takes. And that is the key. Not necessarily that you go do it all, but that you are willing to do it all. That you become willing to listen, to take action, to follow through when people give you advice.
The price you pay for a life well lived in recovery is that you commit fully to it. You must do the work. You must take action. And therefore you have to dedicate your life to recovery. That has to be your one and only priority for the first year of recovery. If that means living in rehab then you might need to be willing to do that. If that means going to AA every day then do that as well. If you are not willing to make those sort of commitments then you are probably not ready to turn your life around just yet. You may want change and you may hope that things are different, but until you become willing to dedicate your life to sobriety, you will not see any real progress. It is the commitment to massive action that transforms your life in recovery. You have to have the willingness to make that leap of faith, to accept a new solution in your life, to listen to the advice of others and to really act on it.
What do you think? Are you willing to commit to a new solution in your life? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!