The decision to get clean and sober is often full of anxiety initially.
Why is this the case?
For me, part of it was that I was using alcohol and other drugs in order to medicate my anxiety. This anxiety was already there, and when I went for a few days without drinking, not only would the old anxiety return due to sobriety, but one of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is…..you guessed it: anxiety.
So you have to realize, as a struggling alcoholic, that anxiety while getting sober is going to be a bit of a double whammy.
I did not want to accept this for a long time. I knew that when I stopped drinking for a few days that I had a terrible amount of anxiety, and I was afraid to deal with it. I was actually anxious about being anxious. How ridiculous, right?
So at some point I had to make peace with the fact that if I was going to get through early sobriety and come out on the other side of it then I was going to have to face some fear. I had to accept that fear that I knew was coming in early sobriety.
Going to inpatient treatment was part of this. I had been to rehab before, so I was not actually afraid of the rehab process itself, but I was still afraid of facing the world without the crutch of alcohol. I was afraid of facing my emotions again, of having to feel my emotions.
The idea of checking into a residential treatment center can be anxiety inducing, but I knew that when I got there I would settle in to the place and not be all that anxious any more. Being in treatment is actually pretty easy. Once you are there it is not so bad. The key is in making the decision to actually go, which may not really be a decision at all in the traditional sense. Rather, what you are seeking is the state of surrender, so that you can move past the fear and allow yourself to finally seek help for your problem.
Meaning that you are currently stuck between two things: Your desire to be sober and free, and your fear of it. Or, to be even more specific, the struggle is between the suffering and chaos and misery that you are experiencing in life due to your addiction, and your fear of sobriety.
So when I was at my worst in my addiction, I knew darn well that I had a serious problem and that alcohol and drugs were possibly going to kill me. I could no longer deny that fact. I was a mess, and I knew it. I was not in denial about this. I openly admitted that I was seriously addicted to alcohol and that it might kill me.
However, I was still stuck in denial. Why?
I was stuck in denial because I did not believe that “the solution” would work for me. I thought that I was different, that I was unique, that I was the only person in the world who truly loved alcohol and drugs this freaking much. And I also thought that I would be forever afraid of treatment, of AA meetings, of facing life without a buzz of some kind.
Therefore my mind recoiled in horror at the idea of getting clean and sober and going to rehab and attending AA meetings. I was terrified of all of it, and I could not possibly make peace with the decision. My family and friends would say things like: “Aren’t you sick and tired of all this? Why not just surrender and go to rehab and start attending AA meetings and rebuild a better life for yourself? Why not just do that?”
And the answer to that was, really:
I am too afraid too.
Alcoholism and drug addiction were painful. It was self induced madness and it was misery and chaos. The consequences were painful and living a life of addiction was a nightmare. Eventually, as the disease progressed and got worse and worse, there was nothing left that was good about it. The fun times were long gone, and now it was just a necessity to self medicate every day.
But I stayed stuck due to the awful fear, the anxiety that kept me stuck in addiction.
Looking back now it is easy to see the double whammy for what it was. Before I discovered alcohol and drugs I was shy and I had a bit of anxiety anyway. But alcohol withdrawal produces a lot of anxiety on top of this, so that really kept me stuck in fear. I was paralyzed when it came to the thought of quitting drinking. My mind shut down in horror when people suggested rehab, AA, total abstinence, or anything of the sort.
So what happened? How did I eventually get sober?
What happened is that I finally hit bottom. Enough of the enablers in my life were either gone or out of town for a few weeks, and I was content to just sit alone in my apartment and drink myself into a stupor. Only I wasn’t really content with this.
I thought that this was what I wanted–to be left alone and allowed to drink as much as I wanted.
And yet there I was, completely miserable.
I don’t know if you can arrange for this kind of moment to happen. It just happened. I had finally had enough, and the universe had finally lined up the right circumstances for me, and my higher power said “it’s time. Let’s get this kid sober.”
However you want to spin it, I was just finally done drinking. I had the sudden realization in that moment of clarity (while drinking 151 proof liquor, no less) that this just wasn’t any fun any more. And I realized too that it wasn’t going to suddenly become fun again. The fun times were over. And suddenly I realized this and saw the truth in it. Suddenly I realized that if I continued to drink and use drugs that I would just be chasing my tail forever, a few brief moments of happiness with the buzz followed by hours or days of misery.
And so that is how I finally surrendered to the fact that I did not want to drink any more. And at that moment I agreed to go get help, to go back to rehab and I knew in the back of my mind that I would face the fear and the anxiety of going to meetings, of going to rehab, of being put on the spot to talk at AA, or whatever was in store for me. I knew about the fear and the anxiety and I just did not care any more. I was so sick and tired of being afraid.
I was tired of being afraid.
So I made the decision to get help and to face the fear. I made the decision to face the anxiety because the alternative was to endure more pain and suffering and chaos at the hands of addiction. And I was so sick and tired of doing that.
So if you are the struggling alcoholic then you need to wake yourself up to the pain and the misery that you are enduring due to your addiction. Rather than try to force yourself to face the anxiety, instead, recognize the pain you are living in. Acknowledge the pain. Journal about your pain and suffering. Perhaps then you will bring about the magic moment of surrender, where you stop caring about the anxiety and you ask for help anyway. Like I did.