As a struggling alcoholic or drug addict, we all need support when going through the first few days (or weeks) of the recovery process.
Getting clean and sober isn’t easy. And for some people it isn’t even possible unless they get help.
Treatment centers generally include a medical area known as “detox” where medical staff help you to get through withdrawal.
Not taking advantage of this option is downright crazy in most cases.
The detox and withdrawal process can be downright dangerous or even fatal
Withdrawal can be dangerous. Fatal even.
Most people would not guess this, but you can die from NOT taking a drink of alcohol.
Seriously. Who would have thought that quitting drinking could kill a person? But it’s true. You can die from quitting alcohol cold turkey. Depending on your level of consumption and your tolerance level, it can actually kill you outright. You can die from not drinking.
The same is true of a few other drugs. And combinations of drugs and alcohol can be particularly dangerous as well.
I worked in the detox area of a treatment center for several years. I learned what to expect from various cases that I saw. In particular, if someone was taking something like Valium or a similar type of medicine and combining it with alcohol, then that person was at a super high risk of seizure.
This was true even though they were being watched by nurses 24/7 and given powerful medications to help them get through the withdrawal. Many times it was not enough and they had a seizure anyway.
There are a number of variables involved. One big one is: “How long as the person been drinking heavily?” If it is a few months then the risk of seizure is much less. It if it several decades of abuse then the risk of seizure is much greater. And if they abused Valium or similar drugs along with alcohol then the risk of seizure, based on my observations, was sky high.
So a doctor that is treating alcoholics in a medical detox has to learn these things. They have to watch many cases over many years in order to get a feel for these sort of risk factors. And if you are not careful enough when coming off of drugs or alcohol the consequences can be very severe.
The bottom line for me is this:
If you have the option of getting professional help in a medical setting, such as inpatient treatment, you are crazy not to do so in spite of all the various health risks. Detoxing by yourself can be dangerous.
Not to mention, this is just one of the benefits of being medically supervised. There are other benefits as well.
Most alcoholics who try to quit drinking on their own need the help and support of a medical detox
One of the keys to early recovery is taking action. Following through. Taking advice and putting it into action.
This can all start for a person in detox. This is where it all begins. You get help, you get stable, and you start taking advice from others.
Most detox centers that I am familiar with encourage people to start attending groups and lectures right away. Of course if the person is truly sick they never force them into classes and just let them sleep. But the option is always there and the healing process can start immediately.
The bonds that you build in detox with other people can be amazing
I can remember being in detox myself over 13 years ago. I don’t remember everything about it but I remember parts of it. One of the things that I remember is meeting one of the guys who was in there with me and talking with him about recovery.
I did not keep in touch with this person but it was a powerful bond while I was in treatment. It is amazing how you can feel in early sobriety when you are trying to start your life over. The people who are with you at the beginning of this journey will feel special to you. It is like you are all taking on the world together. There is a special camaraderie that you only feel with others who are getting sober along with you. It is a special feeling.
Of course we always vow that we will follow up with such people and make sure that we each stay sober. This is a little bit like leaving your high school class behind after graduation. We expect that we will stay in touch but it never seems to happen. And this is no big deal in recovery because you will likely go on to find other mentors and teachers in your own journey.
I can remember that after I left short term treatment I transferred to long term rehab. I lived there for 20 months and lived with a total of about 35 different recovering alcoholics. Of those people, I maybe have contact with only one or two them in a given year. Many have drifted away, some relapsed, some have even died.
While you are in treatment though these bonds that you make are amazing. You want to help each other to recover and so you confide in and encourage each other. It is a special time and it helps to give you strength to recover.
Facing the fear of sobriety is almost impossible by yourself
The biggest reason that it is hard to stop drinking is the fear of sobriety.
No one wants to admit this of course. We all like to pretend that we have no fear, or that nothing really scares us.
But sobriety scares every alcoholic. Fear is what keeps us drinking.
The only way that an alcoholic will ever try to stop drinking is if the misery they are experiencing becomes greater than the fear of sobriety.
Think about that for a moment. Why would an alcoholic continue to drink if their life is full of chaos and misery? Why continue on with the madness of alcoholism? Why keep doing it?
The reason is fear.
Fear motivates addiction. It is fear that causes us to keep self medicating every day. We drink to escape. We drink to ease the pain. We drink to run away from ourselves. We drink to medicate our anxiety. We are medicating a million different forms of fear, every single day.
And to give up the alcohol is to face our fears head on. To give up all drugs and alcohol entirely is like diving off a cliff. There is nothing left to defend ourselves with when we remove the drugs and the booze. It is just us against reality then. We have to face reality and face ourselves, whoever we are. And most people are afraid to find out what this is. They don’t want to find themselves and discover that they hate themselves. Or maybe they have decided that they already hate who they are, and what they have become.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. You can hate yourself today, and be an alcoholic today, and decide to rebuild your life from scratch. You can walk away from the madness if you choose to do so and start rebuilding your life. Of course it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. And you have to be willing to face your fear. You have to be willing to face reality, to ask questions, to take advice, to try new things. It takes guts to recover.
It takes guts to walk into detox and admit that you need help. It takes guts to admit that you are no longer in control of your own body, that you need to “lock yourself up” in order to stop drinking or using drugs. It takes guts to do this.
Can you do this by yourself? I don’t really think that you can. I don’t believe it is possible to overcome a real addiction by yourself, without any help, without anyone showing you how to escape from the madness. This is the entire point of rehab. This is what detox is all about. It is about someone showing you that you can be clean and sober while they hold your hand and help you get through it.
Going through detox is not easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. And this is the whole point of going in to treatment. Lord knows you have probably tried to do it on your own before, right? You have tried to cut down, tried to quit entirely, tried to drink alcohol while also controlling it. You have tried all of those things and none of it has worked in the long run. So it is time to take a stand, time to face reality, time to take that plunge and face your fears.
There is no easy way to face your fears and go to detox, other than to simply call up a rehab, make an appointment, and then walk through the door.
As the slogan goes: “Just do it.”
There is no easy way to overcome this fear, other than to face the fear.
There is another great quote, I can’t remember who said it, I think I saw it on a poster once. It said “Your fear is a mile wide and mile high, but paper thin. You must step through it.”
Think about that. Your fear of sobriety, your fear of detox, is just a big monster that is actually paper thin. It is an illusion. Once you are in detox there will be someone there to hold your hand. There will be someone there to go through the journey with you. And you will realize that it is not so scary after all.
But you have to take the plunge and do it. No one can convince you of anything until you are willing to take action. You have to dive into recovery head first and embrace it fully. This is how you get sober. This is how you get results.
Going to medical detox is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength
It is not a sign of weakness to go to detox.
It is a sign of strength.
If you are afraid inside then it is an even greater sign of strength.
Going to treatment should not be associated with shame. Most people are ashamed to think that they have go to a facility in order to stop using a substance. They think it is demeaning. But in reality it is a sign of strength.
There will probably always be a stigma associated with addiction. But it is being reduced a little bit more every day. It is already much better today than it was, say, 20 years ago.
Ask yourself: If you don’t go to a treatment center and go through a medical detox, how exactly are you going to get sober?
What is your solution for recovery if you avoid treatment?
There are other options out there, to be sure, but they are generally not as good as going to rehab.
An inpatient facility gives you so many advantages.
I lived in such a facility for 20 months. Then I worked in a medical detox and a residential unit for over 5 years. I learned a lot in that time, and I got the chance to watch thousands of people try to recover.
One of the things that I learned during this time was the power of abandoning treatment. If someone walks out of treatment (before they are scheduled to leave) their odds of remaining sober are about ten million to one. They are doomed to relapse. It is a certainty.
This is a powerful realization. I watched it happen over and over again. Someone would come into treatment, and be scheduled for a few days of detox and then maybe two weeks of residential treatment. Normally such people would stay for the entire course of treatment and then go on about their way. But sometimes a person would get it in their head that they had to leave. They would snap, and want to leave treatment right now. Today. They had to leave.
And what I learned is that this always resulted in relapse. Not often, not most times, but 100 percent of the time. Every single person that left treatment early ended up relapsing. I never saw one case where there was any evidence that the person remained sober. Not once.
And so this translates into a powerful piece of advice.
If you want to live a sober life, then go to rehab and follow through. Don’t deviate. Don’t get antsy and check out early. Actually listen to the advice that you are given and follow through with it.
Treatment is not necessarily easy, but it isn’t that hard either. It isn’t rocket science. You show up, make a commitment to yourself, and start following directions. Really the whole thing is a bit like being in the third grade. I don’t say that to be demeaning to anyone, not even a little. Seriously, just show up to treatment and follow directions. Ask for advice. Put the ideas into action.
Of course, none of us want to do this. And I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to follow directions. I tend to be a stubborn person myself. I had to bang my head into the wall for several years before I became willing to listen. But then when I was finally ready to change, there was help available. There was a treatment center that took me in and gave me directions.
But I had to be willing to listen. I had to be willing to push my ego to the side, to take their advice, and to put the ideas into action.
And I had to be at that point of surrender where I was willing to face my fears.
Heck, for most of my life, I was never even willing to admit that such a fear existed. If someone challenged me and said “why don’t you quit drinking?” I would come up with all sorts of excuses and nonsense to justify my drinking, other than to say: “Because I am afraid to be sober.”
I am stubborn. I did not want to admit that I was afraid. But deep down this is what kept me drunk. I was afraid of facing life sober. And nothing changed in my life until I became so miserable one day that I was finally willing to cast this fear to the side and face reality.
I had to be desperate. I had to be really miserable in order to do this. In order to look past the fear, to not even care about the fear any more. And it was then that I became willing to get help, to go to rehab, to go through the detox process, to do anything really. I was willing to do whatever it took. I was willing to take almost any advice.
You may have questions about detox. You may have questions about the withdrawal process. If that is the case then I would urge you to call up a treatment center and ask questions. Of course the whole goal and the entire point is to get you into treatment. I won’t deny that. This is what helped me and I think it is the best step for most people who are struggling.
But if you get on the phone and call up a rehab they will answer any questions that you might have (if they don’t simply call up another treatment center!).
I know this is the case because I used to work the phones at a treatment center. And so I got a chance to speak to people who were calling up and asking what they had to do in order to get help. And of course at one time I was on the other end of the phone, being the person calling up and asking for help. So I got to play both sides of the phone line in this case. And that was really enlightening, to be able to answer people’s questions and try to assure them that there was nothing to be afraid of. And what I discovered in trying to do this is that you can never really say anything that will alleviate all the fear, the person is going to, at some point, take a leap of faith….they are going to have to take that plunge into scary darkness, they are going to have to make a commitment to themselves: “I am going to rehab, I am going through detox, and I am going to see what comes out on the other side, even if it kills me.” That leap of faith is the turning point. It is the moment of true surrender. It is the point at which the alcoholic decides for themselves that, “even though I am terrified of sobriety, I am sick and tired of living in misery, so something has to change.”
And this is the point where it all turns around. Call up a treatment center. Go to detox. Step through the fear. Cast aside your fear of sobriety. It is the only way to overcome the misery you have been living in.
The idea of going to detox can be terrifying. The idea of living sober, forever, can be terrifying.
But once you take the plunge and get into a detox center, it’s not so scary any more. And there is really no way to convince anyone of that. They just have to make the leap of faith, and see it for themselves.