How does an alcoholic or a problem drinker get rid of their drinking tendencies? How can you go about changing this particular pattern of behavior?
Let’s take a closer look at the process in order to uncover the truth.
Becoming honest enough to face the truth
The first step in the process is always going to be an acknowledgement of the problem.
Before you can change a problem in your life then you must first acknowledge that the problem even exists. Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest hurdles for people in early recovery.
Anyone who is struggling with this process is in denial. The person who refuses to acknowledge their problem with alcohol is in denial (unless, of course, they really don’t have a problem). But if there is no problem then there is no problem. In other words, people who are truly not alcoholic will not continue to have problems with drinking again in the future.
If you want to face life and live it without drugs and alcohol then at some point you are going to have to break through your denial and discover the truth. The first truth on the road to recovery is the hardest truth to accept for most people: That alcohol is no good for you and you would be better off without it.
This is very hard for many people to accept because they would prefer not to have to give up their “friend” entirely, but rather just to cut down some. So this is where the madness of alcoholism comes into full swing as the alcoholic struggles to try to control their drinking. Of course at times they will succeed in this mission and that is what makes denial so insidious. The alcoholic may succeed in controlling their drinking most of the time, or some of the time, or even 90 percent of the time. But in the end they always lose control eventually.
The alcoholic mind will struggle with this. It will say: “But you see, I am able to control my drinking and still enjoy it for much of the time. It is only every once in a while that I totally lose control and go off the deep end and create these consequences in my life.” This is denial. The alcoholic is clinging to the good examples and minimizing the bad examples.
So what happens over time is that the negative consequences will continue to pile up. More and more destruction will occur due to the disease. At some point (hopefully) the alcoholic will be forced to admit that things are out of control (yet again). But furthermore, the alcoholic has to get to a point where they admit to their innermost self that their disease is never going to get any better. The alcoholic has to get honest, really honest, about their future. They have to glimpse the future and realize that their drinking is never going to improve. That it will only get worse.
In order to have that revelation you have to take a step back and look at your overall life. You have to look back at the drinking you have done and look at where it has got you. You have to be honest with yourself and realize where more drinking is likely to lead you.
It took me several years before I finally had this revelation. And to be honest it felt like a bit of divine intervention. I just suddenly realized that I was never going to be happy if I kept chasing happiness in the bottle. I realized the futility of it all. And this happened very suddenly, without a lot of consequence. I just happened. I realized that I was only going to create more and more misery if I continued to drink and use drugs. That was the revelation that led me to sobriety.
Before any alcoholic can get sober they have to realize what a poor choice more drinking would be. Sometimes they have to be alone for that to happen. And by “alone” what I mean is: Everyone in their life has walked away from them or even given up on them. They may have to be isolated. They may have to be in jail or in the hospital before they have this revelation.
Something has to make the alcoholic realize that they are only going to be miserable if they keep drinking.
If you have the means to do so I recommend that current drinkers start keeping a written journal. Start writing down how you feel each day. Are you happy? Keep answering that question in written form. Are you happy in life? Because if you keep drinking and you force yourself to keep exploring that question then you will eventually be forced to admit that what you are doing (drinking every day) is not working. By keeping a journal you are forcing your brain to realize that it is miserable.
Otherwise your brain will be happy to stay stuck in denial and fool itself into believing that it is really happy when it is not.
Making a decision to take action and get help for your problem
So after you break through denial your next step in the process is to ask for help.
It is not worth getting all worked up over the details. If you commit to a path of recovery then the details will take care of themselves.
Ask anyone who is a positive influence in your life. If you do not have anyone positive in your life then simply call up an alcohol treatment center and ask them for help directly. Tell them your situation and that you really want to get some help.
It really is that simple.
Then you need to take action. Your friends and family will likely push you towards rehab. Or you may call up a rehab directly. At that point they will try to do what they can to get you admitted into treatment. You may have to jump through some hoops to get funding. So you jump through the hoops. Big deal. All you do in your addiction is jump through hoops anyway! You may as well work on recovery rather than working on more drinking, right?
In other words, recovery is going to take some effort. It will not be automatic and it will also not be easy. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible. You should be prepared for the challenge that it presents. It takes work to become and to stay sober. The rewards of doing so are well worth it though.
If you make a decision to change your life then all you have to do are two things really:
1) Ask for help.
2) Listen and follow through.
In other words, you are asking for advice, and then you are taking that advice. But you must make sure that you do both of these things.
Because there are a number of people (quite a lot actually) who go to treatment and check in and resolve to change their life but then they fall short. They don’t follow through. They take direction at first but then they fall by the wayside. They give up before the miracle happens.
And what exactly is that miracle? That you can learn to enjoy life in recovery and get “higher” while you are sober than you ever did while you were drinking. This is the path of personal growth in recovery. Life gets better and better in recovery if you put in the work. Of course it takes effort and in fact it takes a sustained effort.
Recovery happens slowly. Sometimes it appears to happen very quickly and someone who is very early in recovery will appear to have all of these awesome benefits of recovery instantly. When that happens they are usually in for a bit of a roller coaster. (Sometimes they refer to this quick recovery as the “pink cloud syndrome”). Of course we all will have our ups and downs in recovery and it is not always going to be a perfect ride, but in the end if you put forth a consistent effort then your life will (slowly) get better and better.
You actually want the “slowly” part because that is much more stable. In the long run if you slowly build up this amazing new life in recovery then it is much more difficult for all of those benefits to be suddenly swept away. Easy come, easy go. If you build your life right in recovery then it will be strong and stable.
Learning how to live without drugs and alcohol on a day to day basis
A big part of the recovery process it that you need to learn some things about how to stay sober. This only makes sense because when you first get sober you know nothing about how to deal with life without resorting to alcohol.
The first day that I got sober I knew nothing about how I was going to live a new life without alcohol. I was clueless. How would I cope with stress? No idea. How would I be happy again without drinking? No clue. How would I make friends or feel comfortable around people without alcohol? No idea.
I had to learn these things, and a whole lot more. I had to learn a ton of new stuff in recovery. I had to learn how to function without alcohol. I had to learn how to process my feelings and emotions instead of covering them up with chemicals. And I had to learn how to communicate with other human beings again, because my disease had isolated me so much.
All of this is to say that recovery is a learning process. There are other steps in the process as well, but learning is a big part of it.
When you first get sober you don’t know what you need to know. You don’t know how to function sober. You don’t know how to cope with life without drinking. You don’t know all sorts of things and so therefore you need to learn them.
The question you need to ask yourself as a newly recovering alcoholic is:
“Where am I going to learn these things?”
I learned much of these things from the following sources:
1) I went to rehab and I stayed for 20 months in a long term treatment center. I learned a lot while I was there and this may have saved my life. I do not know if I could have learned what I needed to learn any other way.
2) I went to lots of AA meetings for the first year. After that I pretty much quit. But I may have needed those meetings as a foundation of knowledge. On some days I went to as many as 4 meetings. I was also chairing a few meetings here and there (running them).
3) I read books. Not only recovery literature but also books about spirituality. I read lots and lots of books that first year. I am not sure how much this really helped though because most of that knowledge (none of it?) was ever applied in my life. Perhaps it helped a bit.
4) I wrote a lot. I wrote about recovery and I also wrote in a journal every day. If you force yourself to write then it helps you to catalog your experiences and internalize what you are learning on a day to day basis. In other words, writing will help you to remember your life lessons.
This doesn’t mean that every alcoholic has to do all of these things in order to recover.
These are just the things that I did in order to learn more. They seemed to work for me, even though not all of them worked well or anything. It was sort of hit or miss.
To that end, I think it is important to try everything. To remain open. You may find something that works really well for you that you may not have discovered on your own. This is why it is important to stay open to suggestions from other people.
One sure way to fail in recovery and relapse is to close yourself off completely from new ideas or suggestions. If you try it do it all by yourself without any outside help you are almost sure to fail. I would say this is also true if you try to recover by yourself based entirely on book knowledge. Just reading the AA big book is not going to keep anyone sober by itself unless you go put those principles into action, and in particular, interact with other recovering alcoholics. Recovery is about people in the end. You need to build healthy relationships in early recovery and then learn what you can from those relationships. This is all part of the journey.
Protecting your sobriety in the future
Early recovery is not rocket science. In fact, you can force anyone to sober up at least temporarily by throwing them into jail (or forcing them into rehab) for 30 days.
The key is, how does such a person remain sober in the long run?
Well, as discussed above already, they have to want it for themselves. The person has to surrender, break through denial, and realize that they want to change in order to better their life. This motivation has to be internal rather than external. The alcoholic has to want to change.
As I mentioned, it is not worth sweating the details of early sobriety. The path is pretty similar. Ask for help and then follow through. Go to rehab. Get detoxed. Stop drinking and go to treatment and start doing what they tell you to do. This is really not that complicated or even difficult. You just have to do it.
What becomes tricky then is long term sobriety. How does that alcoholic remain sober for ten years or more? Do they just keep doing the same things that worked when they had ten days sober? Do they just keep going to meetings every day?
Yes and no.
“No” because there is a little something out there called complacency, and it can be a killer. If you get stuck in your recovery and you are not making much progress then it can be all to easy to fall victim to complacency.
Complacency happens when you get lazy in your approach to recovery and you stop growing. It happens when you stop pushing yourself to improve your life. When you lose that internal drive to better your life and your life situation.
In order to protect your sobriety in the long run you need to have a strategy for living that encourages personal growth.
One way to do this is to consider your holistic health. Look at all of the different ways that you could improve your life, your health, and your life situation. Always be on the lookout for positive actions that you might take.
What is your current goal in life? Do you have one right now? If you don’t have one, don’t beat yourself up about it, but instead think about taking action and what you might do to improve your life right now.
If you can’t think of anything then use your peers to help you. Ask them for advice.
People love to give out advice. It makes them feel good about themselves if you ask them for help and direction. So take advantage of this. Find someone in recovery who you look up to and respect, and then ask them what they think you should be doing right now. Ask them what direction you should be headed in. What things you should be working on. Ask them what they did in their early recovery. Ask them what sort of things helped them to stay sober.
And don’t just ask one person. Ask lots of people. Talk with various people about what helps them to remain sober in recovery.
Ask people what their daily habits are. Ask them what they do on a day to day basis in order to stay sober.
Then start using these ideas in your own life. Start testing them out. Obviously you are not going to do everything, that would be impossible anyway if you are asking multiple people. But you can get some help and some direction by seeking feedback and advice. And in living this way you will eventually stumble on a suggestion that has a huge impact on you and brings you a lot of benefit. You cannot afford to miss out on this sort of personal growth. Therefore it is imperative that you talk to people in recovery and get ideas from them for your own life.
Finding balance in your recovery
At some point you will realize that balanced lifestyle is important for long term success in sobriety. I never would have believed that at first but as I remained sober for longer I started to see the truth in this.
It is very difficult to describe how having balance in your life can protect your sobriety. For example, I believe that I have experienced this firsthand when I went through something that was extremely upsetting to me emotionally. At that time my spirituality and my relationships in my life were not enough to help me directly. But I had also been exercising and at that time I went for a really long workout and this seemed to pull me through. Quite honestly I do not know what I would have done if I did not have that physical outlet available to me at the time.
This is why I believe it is important to go beyond spirituality when you are building your new life in recovery. Of course you want to also pursue spirituality as well, but you should also focus on improving your health physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally as well. If you build your life in all of those areas then your recovery will be much stronger as a result.
Have you been able to overcome alcoholic drinking tendencies? How did you do it and what was the journey like for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!