Perhaps you have struggled with alcoholism in your past and you want to turn your life around. If you are anything like me then you have probably tried on your own several times to quit drinking, to no avail.
This is a very common pattern with alcoholism and addiction. In fact, this is really what defines addiction itself–the lack of ability to stop on your own. Just think about it for a second–if you could stop on your own then you wouldn’t wear that label of “addicted” or “alcoholic.” But since you need help in order to stop, we assign that label to you. That is not right or wrong, that is just how it is. Addiction is defined by the need to get help in order to stop.
So maybe you are looking for that magical path, you are looking for that secret solution. It is hidden in plain sight and it is right under your nose, but at the same time it is not obvious to most people because it requires guts. Hard work. There has to be an easier way, right? I was hoping for an easier path myself. I did not want to accept the fact that I had to simply make a decision and surrender to my disease. I wanted an easier, softer way. No such path existed though. So at some point I had to surrender.
Before you can get started living a new life in recovery you need to surrender completely.
I admit that this concept does not make a whole lot of sense if you have never done it.
I was struggling with alcoholism and I went to rehab three times in total. Obviously on the first two visits I had not fully surrendered yet, and so I did not stop drinking at those times. It didn’t work for me. I had not truly surrendered yet.
But they told me that I had to surrender. I was in rehab and I was listening to the advice and I was learning from AA meetings and they all told me that I had to surrender if I was going to stay sober.
So I tried to do that. How do you tell a person to surrender? How do you convince an alcoholic that they need to have this massive internal epiphany in which they surrender to their disease and they stop fighting to control their addiction? How do you tell a person to do that?
You really can’t.
I was baffled when I was in treatment. Because honestly I still thought that drugs and alcohol were the solution. They were the only thing that made me happy. I had not had nearly enough misery in my addiction yet, so I was not ready to put down the bottle forever. Not even close. So I could not surrender yet. I just wasn’t ready.
Is there a way to force someone to surrender if they are not ready yet? I don’t think there is.
Even though you cannot force a person to surrender to their addiction, I believe that a struggling alcoholic can still move closer to the point of change.
They can do this by working through their denial.
In other words, perhaps you are a struggling alcoholic right now. You are still self medicating every day and you don’t really want to stop. You know that you have a problem and you know that you should try to quit drinking, but you just don’t want to do it yet. You are not in a state of surrender yet. What can you do about this?
I believe that if you are willing to be honest with yourself then you can get closer to surrender. You can accelerate the natural process by which you arrive at the point of surrender.
In order to do so you first have to understand what the dynamic is.
What is happening in addiction is that you are medicating your fears and your misery. You have negative feelings and emotions and you are medicating those away with your drug of choice. Over time, this works less and less as your tolerance builds and the disease progresses.
Every alcoholic knows that the option of recovery exists in which the solution is total abstinence. But they are terribly afraid of sobriety and of facing life sober. So fear keeps them stuck in addiction.
On the other hand, their addiction is making them miserable. So they cling to the idea that their drug of choice can fix this misery, even though it basically just makes things worse. This is denial.
So the dynamic is between their fear of sobriety, their fear of facing the unknown by getting sober, and the misery that they are currently experiencing in their addiction. And their denial is masking the truth from them.
So their job is to realize the truth–that they are miserable right now, and that this misery is largely caused by their addiction. Because their denial has them convinced that outside forces are making them miserable and that their drug of choice helps to make them a bit happier. This is false. They must stop blaming their unhappiness on other things and realize that they are bringing on their own unhappiness with their addiction. Once they see this and admit it to themselves then they will have broken through their denial and they will be free to go get help.
The fear of sobriety keeps them stuck in denial. Once they realize that their misery is greater than the fear, they will become willing to change. But in order to do that they have to acknowledge their misery, admit that their addiction is making them miserable. They must embrace their misery. I suggest that if someone is in denial that they journal every day about how happy they are. This forces the issue because when they write about it every day it makes them realize that they are living a lie. They realize they are unhappy and it is staring them in the face in black and white because they finally wrote it down, they finally told themselves the truth.
Ask for help and then listen to the advice you are given
So if you want to get sober then you first have to surrender and work through your denial. What’s next?
Next is asking for help.
Generally speaking, we don’t like to ask for help. We would prefer to figure things out on our own, to not look weak or vulnerable, so that we appear to be competent and strong. We don’t like to rely on other people for help. Generally speaking.
But in recovery we have no choice. Because we don’t have the information that we need in order to get sober on our own. Remember, that is really what defines alcoholism and drug addiction (at least from a practical standpoint, this is not a clinical definition, just a functional definition). So if you can get sober on your own with no help, we don’t really label you as “alcoholic.” But those of us who struggle eventually have to seek outside help, and thus we wear the label. Don’t shun the label or worry about the stigma because the rewards of sobriety will far outweigh any negativity that comes from that particular label. I am grateful that I am an alcoholic because my journey in recovery has been so incredibly rewarding.
So you ask for help. Question one is, who do you ask? It almost makes no difference. It helps to ask someone that you trust, someone who has your best interest at heart. Generally speaking, don’t ask people who have a bigger problem than you do at this point. Other than that it doesn’t matter much who you ask for help–friends, family, coworkers, people who are in recovery already, treatment centers, counselors, therapists, doctors, etc.
If you ask someone to help you quit drinking and they don’t direct you towards professional services, then simply ask someone else.
The goal here is to find someone who will say “yes, that is an excellent idea for you to stop drinking, let’s get on the phone and find a treatment center that can help you.” Then they sit down with you and get on the phone and get you an appointment to check into detox and a residential program.
This is essentially what I am talking about when I suggest that you “ask for help.” Sure, there are other avenues of help available to the struggling alcoholic. For example, you could go to an AA meeting. Or you might be taken to see a counselor or a therapist. Or someone might introduce you into a program that tries to teach you to moderate your drinking. But these options might not be the best thing for you, and some of them might be downright terrible (such as the moderation idea, which has actually killed people in extreme cases).
This is why I advise that you seek out professional treatment services. Go to rehab. Don’t mess around with other options, some of which might be decent, but others of which will be downright useless or even harmful.
At least if you go to inpatient rehab you will know that you did everything that you could to overcome your problem.
Rehab is not a cure, but it is still the best possible solution that we have for alcoholism and drug addiction.
It is almost always the best choice for anyone who is struggling to get clean and sober. It is the best natural starting point for the journey of sobriety.
Go to professional treatment
As I suggested above: Go to rehab.
Actually go check into treatment. You will probably go through a few days of detox, where you will be medically supervised as the drugs and the booze slowly leaves your body. They will stabilize you and put you into residential treatment where you start to learn about addiction and recovery. Most rehabs will expose you to either a 12 step solution (AA program and AA meetings) or religious based recovery. There are a few rehabs that have alternatives to this but that is the basic idea.
This doesn’t necessarily cure people, but it is still the best thing that we have got. When I was still stuck in my alcoholism I was afraid of treatment because I believed that they had some sort of way to “cure” addiction. And at the time I was still wanting to drink and use drugs so I was horrified at the idea that they might “cure” me of this. How would they convince me to want to stop drinking or using drugs? That was creepy. Maybe they had a way to brainwash you. I was afraid of it.
It turns out that my fears were unfounded. Rehab doesn’t have any tricks like this up its sleeve. They don’t try to brainwash anyone. If you don’t want to stop drinking then rehab cannot help you at all. They don’t even try to do so.
There are a few groups of people out there:
1) Alcoholics who want to keep drinking.
2) Alcoholics who have suffered a bit and sort of wish that their life was different but they really don’t want to stop drinking yet.
3) Alcoholics who have suffered a lot and are completely miserable and they desperately want to stop drinking.
Rehabs can help people in the third group. If you are in the first two groups then rehab cannot really help you. No one can really help you. Your only solution if you are in those first two groups is to create more misery and chaos due to your addiction and to get more and more honest with yourself about it. You are in denial and you have to work through that denial. You have not yet surrendered.
Group three is desperate for change and they have surrendered to their disease. They know that their addiction has made them miserable. They accept that. And they accept the fact that the solution is something outside of themselves. They have tried to change on their own and they have failed. So they are ready to ask for help. They are ready to accept a new solution in their lives.
This is really the hallmark of surrender. Not that you admit to your problem, but that you become ready to accept a new solution in your life. If you are not willing to embrace AA or some other similar solution then you are probably not about to stop drinking just yet. You can’t just walk away from your drug of choice and not fill that hole with something. It doesn’t work. So you have to be willing to embrace a new solution.
Follow up with aftercare
I worked in a treatment center for over five years and I learned a great deal in that time through simple observation.
One of the things that I observed was the success rates of people who followed through, and of those who left treatment and did not really follow directions.
The reason I saw this with my own eyes was because people would come back and tell their stories. The other reason I saw it was because I would see many of the people out at real world AA meetings. So I had the chance to sort of follow along with the progress of hundreds or even thousands of people. This was a huge wealth of data in terms of seeing which attitudes worked and which did not.
I can tell you for certain that when you go to rehab the best attitude in the world to have is that of humility. You want to be humble. If you are not completely humble then your chances of remaining sober are greatly diminished.
One popular attitude that I witnessed in rehab a great deal was that of confidence and optimism. I hate to say this, I wish it were different, but I really don’t believe that this is the right attitude to have when you have five days sober and you are in rehab. Or when you have three weeks sober and you are checking out of rehab and going back into the real world. If you are optimistic and confident, even a little bit, then I think you are setting yourself up for failure. I never would have guessed that but in working at the rehab for 5+ years I saw these people fail over and over again. No, the correct attitude and the best mindset to have at that time is completely humility. You have to be humble. Humble enough that you are not confident about your recovery. You can’t be both humble and confident. The confident people relapse. That is just what I observed over time, I wish it were different, but humility wins out in the end.
This leads into the aftercare idea. So you go to rehab and you listen and you learn, and they tell you many different things that you need to do in order to remain sober after you leave.
The real test begins when you walk out of treatment.
What are you going to do in order to remain sober?
They give you plenty of suggestions at rehab. They design an entire aftercare plan that tells you exactly what to do each day. Go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the steps, write in the steps, go to outpatient treatment, go to counseling, and so on. There are all of these things that they suggest and they design a specific plan for you to follow.
It should not come as much surprise that they have a great deal of data on this concept. People who follow through and do all of the recommended things in their aftercare have a vastly improved chance of remaining sober, compared to those who leave treatment and don’t follow through.
And you would be amazed at how many people do exactly that. They leave rehab and they don’t follow through. They don’t go to counseling, they don’t go to AA meetings, they don’t get a sponsor and work through the steps, they don’t attend outpatient therapy groups, and so on. They just don’t follow through.
And so these people relapse. There is almost a perfect correlation when you look at the data on this–the people who follow through remain sober, the people who slack off end up relapsing. It is as simple as that.
So you can imagine what the advice here is. Follow through!
Everything that the treatment center tells you to do post treatment, you do it. Simple as that. Follow through.
Do the work.
Do the work
The work never really ends in recovery. You have to keep reinventing yourself in recovery.
After you go to treatment you might start doing the work, going to aftercare, going to AA meetings, and so on.
What about 3 years later? What about 5 years later? What about 10 years later?
I now have over 13 years of continuous sobriety and I am still doing the work.
The work changes and evolves over time. I have a new challenge today that I did not have in my life when I had 3 months sober, when I had 3 years sober, when I had 7 years sober.
The challenges are always shifting. The goal changes. The purpose evolves. And life goes on.
But you keep doing the work. You keep pushing to reinvent yourself. Because if you stop reinventing yourself then the old self comes back.
And we don’t want that.
We don’t want our old self to come back. Because that person self medicates. That person drinks alcohol as their only solution.
So you have to keep finding new solutions in your life. And this will change as you move on and encounter new problems.
There are always going to be new problems in life. New challenges that come into your world.
And you have a choice. You can reinvent yourself so that you can meet those challenges in a positive way, or you can resist the changes and stay stuck in fear and regress back into that old self, that self that wants to run and hide and self medicate.
So this battle never ends. The old self, the alcoholic, is always struggling to come back into the foreground. Your job is to reinvent yourself, to find the positive action, to find the new solutions in life, to keep the monster at bay.
This is how you stay sober in the long run. Through personal growth and reinvention of the self.
It sounds like a lot of work because it is. But the rewards are well worth it.
What about you, have you found your path in sobriety yet? How are things working out so far? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!