Another one of the benefits of going to inpatient treatment is the access to therapy and counseling.
This will vary quite a bit depending on where you attend. But obviously most every rehab is going to have at least something in this department to try to help the struggling alcoholic.
Most rehabs operate in a pretty basic way: They pair each person in recovery up with a specific therapist. Then that therapist comes up with a treatment plan for the person to follow and they try to address their individual problems in recovery. So they work with you directly in order to try to get you the help that you need.
I actually tried having a therapist in my life before I had reached the point of surrender and gone to treatment. This did not work for me. The time that I spent with a therapist before I had surrendered was pretty much wasted, because I was not willing to make any real changes in my life. After I reached a point of true surrender and attended treatment, the therapy that I received made a huge difference. In other words, I had to be willing to actually learn and apply the lessons. When I was stuck in denial, going to see a therapist was a waste of time.
I think this is an important point. Seeing a counselor or a therapist is probably not going to help someone reach the point of surrender. There is nothing that you can say to someone in order to make them want to stop drinking. They have to go find that point of surrender for themselves. And the way that they find it is through pain and misery, not by hearing logic or reason as explained by a therapist.
That said, having therapy or counseling in early recovery (or even in long term sobriety) can be really helpful. It is yet another tool in the toolbox of recovery. Therapy is not the entire solution when it comes to overcoming alcoholism, but it is definitely an important tool that can help a lot of people. It is crazy not to take advantage of it if it is available to you.
Let me just say it: Sometimes AA is not enough
There are many people in addiction recovery who believe that AA is the ultimate solution and that it is the only solution that any alcoholic should ever need in this life. I believe that this is wrong and misleading and potentially damaging.
I believe that some people need more help than what AA can provide by itself. Sometimes people need extra help and direction. Sometimes people have issues that fall far outside of their addiction. Sometimes people have more than one battle they are fighting in life, and all of it can be complicated and lead them to try to self medicate.
There are plenty of examples of people who are going to therapy or counseling along with AA and they are living a good life in recovery. Would all of these examples be doing just as well if they did not have any counseling or therapy in their life? I am extremely doubtful of that. One of the reasons for this is because I myself had quite a bit of therapy and counseling through the first two years of my recovery and it had a huge impact on my sobriety.
Learning about how to live a better life in sobriety versus just grasping the basics of not drinking
Not drinking is a pretty simple concept, but as alcoholics we can complicate it quickly. And I don’t blame anyone for complicating it, because alcoholism affects your entire life. It is complicated. And I believe that recovery is necessarily complicated as well. There is no getting around this.
When I first got clean and sober I believed that the solution was spiritual. Everyone was telling me that the solution was spiritual and that everything in sobriety depended on connecting with your higher power. So I started this spiritual journey and I really tried to zero in on this solution.
After a few months of this my therapist and counselor in recovery started pushing me to do what I would call “non-spiritual” things. For example, he was pushing me to go back to school. He was pushing me to get a job. And my sponsor in AA was doing the same thing. And I had to sort of pause for a moment and reflect on what I was hearing. Because the message that I got from the AA meetings was that it was all about spiritual connection, and yet the advice that I was getting from my therapist and my sponsor was that I needed to start taking practical action in my life. So I felt a little bit conflicted (Maybe there is no conflict here? It just felt like it to me).
So I took the suggestions and I started off in a different direction. I started putting things into action and pursuing some different goals in my life. I went back to school. I got a job. I started taking more and more suggestions from my sponsor and from my therapist.
If there is one pro tip that I could give to everyone in early recovery it is simply this:
“Do what they tell you to do.”
Not very fun, right? Not a very exciting tip. Sounds like a chore, doesn’t it? Just not a very appetizing idea, to do what you are told to do.
And yet this is the essence of successful sobriety. This is how to carve out a successful life in recovery. If you can push your ego to the side and listen to the advice of others and actually act on that advice then you will do well in recovery. It is that simple. We want to complicate it, we want to think for ourselves and come up with our own ideas, but none of it is necessary. We just need to get out of our own way and do what we are told to do.
And this is a role that your therapist or counselor can help you with. This is what they are paid to do. They tell you what to do, and you do it. It is a simple relationship. You are seeking advice, guidance, and information from them. That is their job, to guide you. If you sit and talk with them but then you don’t take any of their advice and apply it in your life, what is the point of that? There is no point. You have to put it into action. This is what recovery is all about. Learn, apply. Get new information then act on it. Change your life.
How I learned to communicate from being in therapy and counseling during my treatment
When I first got sober I did not really understand how alcoholics recover. I did not know what was important and what was not.
I started to learn that it was all about relationships.
For one thing, nearly every person who relapsed and then came back to tell their story explained that they had relapsed because of a relationship. They were upset with another person. Or they were upset because someone else was upset with them. But a relapse almost always seemed to involve other people. Resentment was quite a common excuse. And I saw this over and over again in early recovery. It was all about relationships.
Then I met a therapist during my early recovery and she started to teach me how to communicate. When she did this I honestly thought that it was not that important. After all, I just wanted to learn how to stay sober. What did communication have to do with sobriety anyway? It did not make any sense to me.
Furthermore, this therapist started to push me (and the other guys that I was in treatment with) to start sharing our feelings. Now most people do not understand the difference between feelings and opinions. I never knew that this was important at all but I learned just how important it really was.
What I learned is this:
Most people who relapse do so because they are upset and they do not communicate their true feelings with the people who matter in their life. So they get sad or angry or scared or hurt and then they do not communicate these feelings with the other person. Their true feelings are never really heard by anyone else and this drives them to drink.
When I first learned this concept I turned up my nose at it. I did not believe. I said “well, that is a nice theory, but it does not apply to me.” Because I thought I was a cool dude, or I was too macho to worry about these feelings, or whatever.
But that was wrong. I was wrong. It is all about our feelings. That is what drives someone to relapse, every time. If you do not admit this then you are probably not being honest with yourself about it.
It doesn’t have to be the relationship with your significant other necessarily (although it often will be). It can be any relationship. And eventually you will experience some sort of anger or fear or hurt in your life, and you need to learn how to communicate that. You need to learn how to tell the other person how you feel without just attacking them or putting up this wall of anger to mask your real feelings. And if you can learn to do that and actually be heard, to communicate the real feelings (like fear or sadness) and really be heard, then it will heal you. It will take away the fire inside of you that drives you to relapse.
This is a coping skill. It is learning how to communicate our true feelings when we get angry or hurt. And if you don’t learn how to do this, how are you going to cope with life? Because eventually you will have to deal with feelings. Eventually someone will hurt you, or make you sad, or scare you. And if you don’t have a way to process and deal with that feeling then it is going to eat you up from the inside out. And this will drive you to relapse. This is how relapse really works.
We don’t relapse because we are bored. We don’t relapse because we want to have fun. These are excuses that we use to cover up the real truth. And the real truth for every alcoholic is that they are medicating their feelings. They are medicating their fear and frustration and their hurt and their anger. They are self medicating their emotions because it is so much easier to medicate them with alcohol then it is to get honest and communicate those feelings with other people.
A therapist explained all of this to me once and I did not believe her. But then she spent the next few months forcing me to uncover this process for my own self and learning how to do it. And I started to see that she was right. This really was why people relapsed. This was the core of recovery. You had to find a way to be comfortable in your own skin. And if you had bad feelings inside of you then it would force you to self medicate eventually. The only way to get those bad feelings out was to be honest with yourself and then be honest with others.
A therapist had to teach me how to do this. A therapist had to convince me that this was relevant and important to my sobriety. And that took time. But I am grateful that I learned these things and was able to go through the counseling process.
Is addiction your biggest problem in life? I thought that was true for everyone. I was wrong
I used to believe that the biggest problem in any alcoholics life was alcoholism. This seemed obvious to me. Certainly it was true in my own situation; alcohol was by far my biggest problem. So surely this was the case for others as well?
Not so. Alcoholism is a huge problem and it may be life threatening, but it is not always a person’s biggest issue. There are other problems and other issues that might need to be dealt with as well. And they might be equally important. Things like mental illness, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, or abusive situations may be a few examples. Just because you are alcoholic does not mean that your biggest problem is alcoholism.
This is yet another reason why counseling can be so important. You can’t just take every struggling alcoholic or drug addict and slap them into the same solution mold. It won’t work that way for everyone because everyone’s situation is different. And while the 12 step program may be enough of a solution for the majority of people, it is definitely not enough for everyone. Some people just need more help and direction.
I worked in an alcohol treatment center for about five years. When I first started working there I believed that addiction was the biggest problem that a person could have, and fixing the addiction should always be the number one priority. But after working there for 5 plus years I realized that there are a number of issues that can accompany addiction, and that these issues can be just as important to deal with if someone is going to have a chance at a better life. You cannot always isolate the addiction and treat it and expect for this to fix everything. Sometimes it takes more than that.
Therapy and counseling are a way to break down a person’s problems and then devise a plan to fix them. It is a way to prioritize. And sometimes you need a therapist just to be able to see and acknowledge all of your problems.
Another tool in the toolbox of recovery
Therapy and counseling are just one more tool in the toolbox of recovery. It is crazy not to take advantage of this extra level of guidance if you have it available to you.
That said, I don’t believe that therapy or counseling is a solution by itself. I was not able to overcome my addiction through counseling alone. And I tried at one time. But I had not yet surrendered at that point in my life and I was not willing to do the things that I needed to do (such as go to inpatient rehab). Once I surrendered fully I was able to make much better use of the counseling that I received because I now I was actually taking the advice and applying it. This makes a huge difference!
Even if I had remained sober in my recovery without counseling or therapy, I do not believe that my life today would be as good if I had missed out on it. Therapists and counselors suggested many things to me which had a huge impact on my sobriety. For example, quitting smoking. Or daily exercise. Or going back to college and finishing my degree. These were all suggestions that I took based on the counseling that I was getting at the time. Were they directly related to my sobriety? No, not directly. But they definitely had an impact on my overall life in recovery. And in total, these sort of actions may have become part of the path that has kept me sober as well.
So one of my tips for recovering alcoholics is to seek therapy or counseling in early recovery. You can measure the strength of your commitment by how willing you are to follow the advice of a therapist or counselor.
Now you might say “But what if a random therapist does not have my best interests at heart? What if they steer me wrong?” And to that I would say: That is the exact same attitude that I had when I was stuck in denial. It was only after I moved past that denial and surrendered that I was able to trust in other people. I guess I had to get to the point where I was miserable and truly realize that all of my unhappiness was of my own making. Therefore I was willing to trust someone else and their advice in the hopes that it could lead me to a better life.
Going to inpatient treatment will naturally lead to counseling and therapy in some form or another. And I truly believe that you will want to have both of these things together (inpatient treatment + therapy). If you just have one by itself then you will be leaving too much potential growth on the table. For me, I had to have both things together in order to really start turning my life around. I had to have the structure of rehab along with the therapy so that I could actually start implementing the advice and making changes. When I was doing therapy by itself (without inpatient rehab) I was not able to implement any of the changes in my life. I was not willing to do so yet. Because I had not fully surrendered to my disease at that time.
So when I was at the point of true surrender everything changed for me. I went to rehab and I started to listen to what I was being told to do. This is the essence of counseling or therapy. Sure, you can talk to the therapist and get some things off your chest but ultimately you will benefit the most from the direction and guidance that you receive. The therapist will see a healthy path for you to take and they will attempt to help put you on that path. But then it is up to you to actually follow their advice and take positive action.
What about you, has therapy made a positive impact on your recovery? How has it worked out for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!