So you want to quit drinking alcohol, do you?
If you have a “drinking problem” then this should not be too difficult for you. Simply stop drinking. Quit. Walk away from booze and addictive drugs. Never look back.
If that doesn’t work out for you, then it is very likely that you have a little bit more than a drinking problem.
If your real problems seem to only begin when you stop drinking alcohol, then your problem is likely one of addiction. Full blown alcoholism, if you prefer that term.
The labels themselves can get us into trouble at times. What is important is that you regain control of your life, and that you find peace and happiness without having to self medicate every single day with addictive substances. If you have to rely on putting chemicals into your body just to feel normal, then that is a pretty good definition of addiction. There is a better way to live. You just have to decide that you want to explore that alternative path in life.
How to move from the “wishing phase” into the “action phase” of recovery
Lots of alcoholics sit around and drink alcohol every day, wishing that things were different.
They wish that they were not alcoholic, for one thing. They wish that they did not have to depend on drinking in order to feel normal. They wish that they had a “normal” life. And so on.
Now this may be obvious to some people, but it is very easy to get stuck in this mindset of not taking any action and simply hoping that things will change. But I have news for you:
Nothing will change unless the alcoholic deliberately changes it!
They even have a saying in traditional recovery that reflects this idea: “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” Obvious, right?
But it’s not obvious. And it is not obvious to the alcoholic who is stuck in denial, and who is hoping and wishing that one day they might wake up, be totally free of the compulsion to drink alcohol, and then they can just continue on with their life and become happy. And they are hoping that this will just happen magically, without any real effort on their part.
I know that this is true because I had that same secret hope at one time for myself. I wished that my alcoholism never existed. And yet, I was paralyzed with fear and would not do anything to address my problem.
This is a very specific stage of denial, and I was in it. It is the point where you know you have a problem, but you are still too afraid to do anything about it.
Yes, alcoholics and drug addicts live in fear. I was too afraid to go back to rehab, to go back to AA meetings, to go live in long term treatment. I was too afraid to face the solution to my problem. So I played all sorts of mind games to try to cover up this fact that I was afraid. For example, mind games such as:
“….maybe I am not really an alcoholic, but I just really like to drink.”
“….maybe I am completely unique, and other alcoholics in the world don’t really enjoy drinking as much as I do, and therefore I really do need to drink in order to be happy. I am unique and different.”
“….maybe there is a solution for alcoholism other than AA and rehab, but I just haven’t found out what it is yet.”
So everything my mind was doing was trying to protect me from my own fear. I was afraid to get sober. I was afraid to live a “normal” life. And I was afraid to go to rehab (even though I had already been there twice before). And I was afraid of living in long term rehab, something that I knew they would recommend for me because they had done so in the past when I went to treatment.
I was afraid of everything. I was living in fear. Because that is what addiction becomes over time–you are simply medicating away your fear every day. Because you get wasted on drugs or booze every day, the chemicals medicate your fears and anxieties for you. If you do this every single day for a long time then guess what? Your ability to handle fear and anxiety slowly erodes. You fail to develop the “muscle” in life that allows you to handle and deal with fear. Not just “monster under the bed fear” but also regular fears and anxieties, like the fear of losing your job for example.
I had to learn how to deal with fear in recovery. This is tough to do because it is so much easier to just keep drinking and allow the alcohol to medicate your fear instead.
Of course, at some point you will realize that the alcohol (or your drug of choice) is no longer working as well as it used to. This is due to a change in your tolerance. Your body gets used to the high amounts of alcohol and therefore you cannot medicate the fear as well as you used to.
This will hopefully push you closer to the point of surrender. Does that seem strange? You are alcoholic, you are living in fear, and you use alcohol every day in order to medicate your fears. You are also afraid of facing life sober and going to rehab and getting help. But over time, the alcohol works less and less at medicating your fears, until it pretty much stops working entirely. You get to a point where you cannot really have “fun” with your drinking any more, you can only be sober and miserable, or you can drink so much that you black out. Then when you come to again, you are miserable.
At this point you are very close to what AA describes as being “the turning point.” In order to make the best of this situation you must recognize it for what it is. Realize that your fear of sobriety is no longer a threat. Realize that you are living in fear every day, because alcohol no longer does the job that you want it to do. So you are living in fear when you have the option of facing that fear now, of going to rehab and getting the help that you need.
So you reach the turning point. You cannot continue on either way, it seems. You are paralyzed by fear. You can either keep drinking every day and be miserable and afraid, or you can face your fear head on by going to rehab and sobering up.
You face fear on either path. But if you choose the sobriety route, then you get to live without the fear again some day.
Therefore you must have faith in what I am telling you.
You must believe that it will get better. That it CAN get better.
You must believe that if you face your fear, go to rehab, and get sober, that things will get better eventually and you can live without fear again.
Do you believe that you can live without fear again, and be happy in sobriety?
To be honest, when I was still drinking, I did NOT believe this. People told me this was true, but I did not really believe it was possible for me. I thought that it might be possible for some other alcoholics, maybe some lightweight alcoholics who did not drink nearly as much as I did. But for me? I did not really think I could be happy in sobriety, going to AA, living in long term rehab, or any of that stuff.
So why did I go to rehab then? I went because I no longer cared. I was past the point of caring. And I realized that I was living in fear anyway. I was terrified to continue on, to continue drinking. Because I was gonna die. The amounts of alcohol I was now consuming were truly frightening. And I sort of wanted to die, too. So I was living in fear no matter which path I chose.
That was my turning point. I realized that I was consumed by fear, so that I may as well just face the fear of sobriety, and give that path a chance. Because it was clear to me that drinking was not going to improve in the future. It would stay the same or get worse. And I finally realized that, and caught a glimpse of my potential future.
So I surrendered. I surrendered and went to rehab for a third time. That was when everything changed for me.
If you want to quit drinking now, then you need to reach this same point of surrender. You must get really honest with yourself. Get honest about your fears. Seriously. Everyone has fear in their life. If you are alcoholic then you are being ruled by your fears. If you want to surrender and get help then you need to get really honest with yourself about those fears.
Seeking professional help as your best starting point
If you are serious about quitting and you have reached the point of surrender (or quite honestly, even if you have NOT yet reached a point of surrender), then you should go to rehab.
I am talking about a treatment center that has a medical detox in it. They will also likely have a residential unit that has groups, meetings, therapists, and so on.
This is traditional rehab. You check in, you go to detox. Nurses supervise your detox from alcohol and other drugs. They give you medication when necessary. When you leave out of detox you are not “hooked” on medications or anything. You are there to get clean and sober.
There are other paths that you might take other than rehab. For example, a friend or family member might simply drag you along to an AA meeting, and expect that you stop drinking based on that experience. I do not think this is the best course of action for most alcoholics, however. Not that you should avoid AA meetings or anything, but simply that most alcoholics could benefit greatly from going to detox and rehab first and foremost. Even if AA is going to be your solution, you probably need to go to treatment as well. The biggest reason for this is due to the safety factor involving detox (alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous or even fatal if not monitored).
Therefore my suggestion to anyone who is serious about quitting is to go to rehab. You may note that I also said you should go to rehab even if you are not at the point of total surrender. That statement deserves some explanation.
First of all, if you are NOT at the point of total surrender as I described earlier, then you are very unlikely to get help at that time and then stay sober forever. You will most likely drink again some day. So you may wonder why I suggest that you go to rehab anyway.
There are at least two reasons, though there may be more that I am not aware of:
1) This is the path that worked for me. I went to rehab three times, the first two of which I was not really “fully surrendered.” I had to do what I had to do. I had to face my fear in stages. I don’t believe I would have stayed sober after the third trip to rehab if I had not gone through what I went through with the first two treatment experiences. Does that make sense? In other words, I think it takes more than one trip to treatment for many alcoholics, myself included. Later, after working in a rehab center for 5 plus years, I can confirm that most people do not sober up forever after their first visit to treatment (though some do of course). I would say the majority of alcoholics have to try more than once. Does this invalidate treatment? Not at all! It takes what it takes. Now that I have been clean and sober for 12 plus years now, I would gladly go back in time and attend treatment ten times over just to get to the point I am at now, if I had to. Trust me, the rewards of recovery are worth it.
2) If you have not surrendered fully and you go to rehab, there is a chance that you will have an epiphany while you are sober in detox and you will then surrender fully while there. This is, however, a fairly slim chance in my opinion. Still worth the effort though based on point number 1 listed above.
So while going to rehab may not be a magic cure, it is still better than doing nothing, and it may be part of your path to go to rehab and then relapse. It was part of my path.
Replacing your old behaviors with new healthy habits
After you get out of rehab you have a huge task ahead of yourself.
You must rebuild your life from the ground up.
Some people think that the alcoholic must simply eliminate the act of drinking alcohol. If that were all it took then overcoming addiction would be a very easy problem to solve! Unfortunately, we alcoholics and addicts are much more complicated than that. We all want for it to be very simple, but the reality is that our lives are complex, and are recoveries are therefore complicated as well.
For example, people can relapse in recovery based on a number of different reasons, some of them completely unrelated to each other! It is not just getting angry and taking a drink in a fit of rage. There are many ways to relapse.
Take the person who suffers a random injury (or illness) and they end up at the hospital, taking heavy painkillers. They may wake up from an unconscious state and have opiate drugs being fed into their body! They did not even ask for this to happen, and yet suddenly they have addicted drugs in their system. Now for some alcoholics this may not be a problem at all, but for many alcoholics it will send them off to the races. When the painkillers stop (which they inevitably will) they might find themselves craving another drug (including alcohol). I personally know of at least one recovering alcoholic who had over a decade of sobriety when this happened to him. He woke up in the hospital, had to take painkillers, and ended up drinking again over it. He later got sober and used the story as a way to warn other people about “cross addiction.” (To me it is all just addiction, a drug is a drug, and that includes alcohol!).
Or take another recovering alcoholic who finds herself falling in love in early recovery. It feels so good to suddenly be in a relationship with someone who cares about you! In fact, this may be one of the most seductive problems in early recovery. Nearly every relationship like this that forms in early recovery will come to an end. When it does, the people involved are seriously underestimating how it will affect them. They can only remember what it is like to deal with emotional pain while they are drinking alcohol! They don’t realize what it will be like when they are sober.
And it is devastating. In fact, when I was living in long term treatment, this was the number one way that my peers would relapse. They would get into a relationship in early recovery, feel like they were on top of the world, and then after the inevitable breakup they would find themselves drinking again. It became so easy to see this disaster coming from a ways off. This is, of course, why many people recommend that you do not get into a new relationship in early sobriety. The effects of breaking up are so devastating that you are almost guaranteed to drink over it. I have watched it happen over and over again.
So there is more than one way to relapse. (Relationships, illness or injury, resentment, etc.). You may think that you are immune to these problems, but I can assure you that you are not immune to them all. Alcohol is very patient and very sneaky.
Given these multiple threats of relapse, you may be wondering:
“How does a recovering alcoholic go about protecting themselves from all of these forms of relapse?”
They way to do it is by replacing your old habits in life with healthier habits.
That way, you don’t get into an unhealthy relationship.
You don’t fall ill or end up with an injury because you are taking better care of yourself physically.
You don’t relapse due to resentment because you are doing work every day in order to restore the emotional balance in your life.
And so on.
Notice that there are many bases to cover here. Hence, the holistic approach to recovery. You must strive to improve your life and your health in many different areas.
If you neglect one area then that leaves the door wide open for relapse to creep in.
For example, I knew many peers in recovery when I was living in long term rehab who were very spiritual. I looked up to them in terms of spirituality. I believed that they had a bullet proof recovery because they were so much more spiritual than I was.
But they relapsed. All of them did. And it was for various reasons that had nothing to do with a lack of spirituality directly. For one guy it was an illness that landed him the hospital. For another guy it was a relationship that ended badly. And so on. They had a spiritual practice in their life, but they were neglecting other areas of growth that could have prevented the relapse.
In order to be strong enough in your recovery to prevent relapse, you need to use a holistic approach to personal growth. If you focus only on spiritual growth then your focus is too narrow and you leave yourself vulnerable.
Continuous self improvement is the requirement and gift of recovery
In the end you should use a strategy of continuous self improvement in recovery. This is both a requirement and a benefit, in my opinion.
It is required because if you are not doing it you leave yourself vulnerable to relapse. Anyone who believes they are done growing in recovery is setting themselves up for failure. We never stop learning.
It is a gift and a benefit because you get to keep learning new things and growing. Done properly, life just keeps getting better and better in recovery.
This is a whole lot better than the fear that you live with continuously in addiction.
Ready to make a change?
Ask for help, take action. Your future life depends on a decision right now, in the present moment. In fact, the present moment is the only time you can ever decide to make a permanent life change.