I always hated the idea of going to rehab. In fact, I used to tell myself when I was still drinking that I would rather die than go back to treatment.
This is what denial does. It makes you cling to your miserable existence, rather than to face the fear of change.
And this is the dynamic for someone who is hesitating to go to treatment. They are help back by fear.
Fear holds us back from getting the help that we need.
Oh, sure, you can try to dress that little fact up and spin it some other way. You can try to say that you have responsibilities in the real world, so you could never possibly go to rehab for 28 days. Or you can say that you don’t really have a problem, and if it were serious enough then you would just quit on your own.
You can tell yourself whatever you want (and because of denial, you surely will!). But the truth is that we are held back by fear. And that can be hard to admit and even harder to get over.
So here is my story, and how I got past my own fear.
How my story started
I never drank or used drugs during my childhood.
That seems to be somewhat unique. Most everyone that I met in recovery later on had done the opposite of that–they had started young. Nearly everyone had taken their first drink or drug much, much earlier than I had.
But that doesn’t matter. Once we know that we are alcoholic, those details about the past become inconsequential. What matters is the solution, and what you are going to do about it moving forward.
But anyway, around college age I finally got curious enough that I wanted to try something. I wasn’t sure what but I tended to look down on people who were drunk. I was never impressed with the way that drunk people behaved. So I wanted to get high on marijuana.
And so I did exactly that with a friend of mine, and I fell in love with the stuff. Why? Because it erased my fear. It killed my anxiety. It gave me wings.
I realized that I had been looking for something my whole life. I had always felt like an outcast for some reason, and this was my new way to fit in. This stuff gave me permission to be happy.
A while later I finally discovered alcohol, and I combined that with the marijuana. As you might expect, I really liked that as well. In fact, I would later realize that alcohol really did a better job of “fixing me” than the marijuana did. But I definitely liked using both together in order to medicate myself.
And so this became known in my mind as “partying.” Let’s get drunk and high. So I started finding people who liked to do the same thing, and I surrounded myself with them.
My life became one big “party.” I wanted to be self medicated all of the time.
I remember saying (and thinking) “I will never stop doing this stuff. I have found my calling in life.”
Of course, eventually the consequences started to creep in. Tolerance rose and I had to start using more and more in order to feel properly medicated. At one point I was buying half gallons of vodka nearly every day. If I just bought a fifth of liquor it was not enough, and I would be hard pressed to sleep at night. I needed to pass out every day or I would not be able to sleep. This was happening to me in my early twenties, and it seemed like my disease accelerated very quickly (since I did not really start until the age of 19 or so).
My friends and family urged me to get help all along. They arranged for me to go see a counselor once a week, which was just talk therapy and did not make any difference really because I was not willing to stop using at that time. It may have been helpful but it definitely did not “cure” my problem.
They also urged me to seek professional help at rehab. I was very afraid to do this and very reluctant. I thought of inpatient rehab as if it were jail. I had a horrible attitude towards it.
Eventually I hit a breaking point but it was not enough to really hit bottom, nor was it enough to get through all of my denial. I had a realization regarding the alcohol and the marijuana. I thought to myself “Alcohol is my real problem, that is what it screwing me up. I should quit that stuff but continue to use my original drug of choice,” which was the marijuana.
So I went to inpatient rehab for the first time. My plan was to quit drinking but continue to smoke marijuana. During that trip to rehab I was exposed to AA meetings. I did not like them because I was afraid, and I was especially afraid of speaking in front of others. But I was able to get through them in spite of this anxiety. But I did not like it.
So I left this rehab and quit drinking for a few months maybe. I continued to smoke marijuana, thinking that I was “sober.”
At some point I realized that I could not smoke enough in order to properly medicate myself. I needed the oblivion that comes from being blasted drunk. So inevitably I drank again, and was back at it.
A few years later my family and friends organized a massive intervention to try to convince me to go back to rehab.
I was not ready to stop. I had not hit bottom. I was not ready to change. And so I told them that I did not want to change, and that this was a waste of an effort. But they urged me to go anyway, and in the end I conceded. I went to a major rehab via plane for 28 days.
It did not work. I relapsed immediately. I was not ready to be clean and sober.
And so I went back to my addiction and my drinking. I was stuck.
Over the next year I would be hiding from my fear of sobriety. I was afraid to get sober. I was afraid to face life without the crutch of alcohol. And I was afraid to go back to rehab and face the meetings. Fear ruled my life. Drinking helped to calm this fear, but only some of the time. But it was the only way I knew how to deal with it at the time.
Getting past the fear of treatment/sobriety took several years
In reality it took me several years to get past my fear.
This is why I do not believe that you can just make a snap decision to get sober. It cannot just happen on a whim. The fear of sobriety is too deep for that to work.
In the end I had to conquer my fear through apathy. I had to become so miserable that I no longer cared about my own life, about drinking, about recovery. I was sick of it all.
Getting to the point of true surrender. Or, how to be completely miserable
True surrender is not a glorious moment. It only becomes glorious when you look back on it. That will happen later on when you are sober.
But when you are going through that moment of surrender it is never glorious. This is because it is based on misery and chaos.
It is not so much about making a decision. Rather, you are totally sick and tired of your life and your addiction.
You just have to be totally sick of it all. Thoroughly sick of the cycle that you are trapped in. You just want it all to stop.
This is the breaking point. It is not a glorious thing because when you finally reach it you will be sick and disgusted with it all. You may even be near suicide. Because you just want it all to stop.
And you are tired of being afraid. You are sick of the roller coaster. You are fed up with having to chase your next drunk every time.
When I reached this point I did not really believe that treatment would work.
When I reached my bottom I did not have any faith that rehab could make me happy again.
I really believed that I would be miserable forever. I just thought that I would sober up and be unhappy for the rest of my days. Wishing that I could drink.
But I was so miserable in my addiction that I had finally become willing to say “I don’t care. I will give it a try anyway. Because I am so sick and tired of being miserable.”
This is what it is like to hit bottom. This is what it is like to be overwhelmed with misery and chaos.
When you are in denial, all of that stuff is still there, but you find a way to ignore it, or at least to minimize it.
When you reach surrender you no longer minimize it. You finally see the misery for what it really is. You come to a realization that it is never going to get any better if you keep drinking.
I remember reaching that point in my mind. I glimpsed the future, and realized that if I continued to drink that things would always be like this….they would always be miserable. There would always be more chaos. It would forever be a roller coaster between getting drunk, then being miserable again, then getting drunk, then being miserable again. And I could clearly see that when I first started drinking, I could be drunk nearly all the time and enjoy it. But over the years that “enjoyment window” had shrank and shrank. I finally realized that I was only happy for about an hour or so each day, if that. The rest of the time I was trying to get drunk enough, or I was thinking about drinking, or I was wishing that I was out of work so that I could drink, and so on. My actually window of happiness each day was getting smaller and smaller. It used to be that I could “party” for several hours each day and be happy. But as my tolerance changed the “party” became shorter and shorter, because I could not get drunk and happy off of 2 or 3 drinks any longer. It took much more than that for me to hit the “sweet spot” and be fully loaded. And even then, it was getting to the point where I would pass out soon after I reached this “happy buzz.” The window of happiness kept getting smaller and smaller.
And so when I was surrendering I could clearly see all of this. I remember thinking it. I realized that the only way I could go back to the old me was to stop putting drugs and alcohol into my body for a week or so, then get loaded again. That would work. But then to keep that up I had to be miserable for a week at a time, followed by one day of “fun” drinking. If I drank every single day then I was just miserable every day. The only way to make it fun again would be to deprive myself for 90 percent of the time. Not fun.
And so this was my point of surrender. I did not reach it by figuring this stuff out…..rather, I became miserable enough that I hit bottom, then I realized these things.
Complete and total misery was the trigger for me to get sober. It was not an intellectual breakthrough. I did not “decide” to get sober. I became so miserable that I no longer cared. About anything.
Picking just the right treatment center….doesn’t really matter
I have been to 3 different treatment centers. One of them is recognized nationally. The other two were smaller, local operations.
What I learned from this is that it is all about surrender, and has very little to do with where you go to treatment.
I think people have this idea in their head that if they only pay enough money, or if they only find just the right treatment center, then everything will work out and the struggling alcoholic will never drink again.
I think that people have it in their head that if they had a billion dollars, then they could send any hopeless alcoholic to the best rehab in the world and that person would be magically cured.
I think that people believe that there is a cure for anything, if only you have enough money to throw at the problem.
All of these ideas are misguided and are just plain wrong when it comes to alcoholism.
There is no magic cure. There is no perfect solution. If the wealthiest man in the world becomes addicted to alcohol, there is no place where he can exchange his money for a cure.
Sure, there are various treatment centers that he can go to in order to get help. But there is no sure bet. There is no way to throw extra money at the problem in order to drastically increase your chances for sobriety.
That is a key point. Rehab and treatment can be helpful. And it may even “cure” you in the sense that you remain sober forever. But if you believe that you have to find just the right treatment center in order to get decent results, then you are misled. That is not how it works.
Treatment is treatment. There is not much art to it. It is 99 percent willingness and surrender on the part of the individual.
Let me say that again and highlight its importance:
Your success at any rehab center is 99 percent dependent on your level of surrender and willingness to change. It has almost nothing to do with the treatment model, with the quality of the facility, with the type of program they use, and so on. All of those details are just a distraction from what is truly important in early recovery: Your willingness to change based on total and complete surrender.
Essentially treatment can be segmented into 2 or 3 parts:
1) Detox. You get the drugs and alcohol out of your body physically. This is pretty standard.
2) Support. You use other people to help you. Groups, AA meetings, church fellowship, etc. Again, this sort of support is fairly standard. You can’t do it alone.
3) Personal growth. You need to push yourself to make positive changes in your life. If you get lazy in recovery you relapse. This has more to do with long term sobriety and much less to do with early recovery. Therefore it is not of primary importance in a short term rehab facility. Their job is to get you “plugged in” to support systems, where you will hopefully learn later about the importance of personal growth and positive action.
So the first two points are very standard. The third point cannot really be taught well in short term rehab, because the timing is all wrong. In early recovery you need to push for support. The personal growth stuff tends to come later, once you are stable. This is certainly debatable, however. Many would argue that people in early recovery learn about how to stay sober in the long run and overcome complacency. My take on it is that they are not really learning anything about long term growth and overcoming complacency until they are actually living through it and experiencing it. Therefore early recovery is all about support, long term sobriety is all about growth. You can try to teach the newcomer about overcoming complacency, but they are just nodding their head at that point and do not really have a functional understanding of how important it is to stay motivated and keep taking positive action. They don’t know what it is like.
How much help I needed
You may need more help than what a 28 day program can offer you.
I certainly did. I knew that I would relapse if I left treatment, even though I wanted to stay clean. I knew that I needed more support. So I asked for it.
At that point I was referred into long term treatment. This was the best decision I had ever made. The counselors and therapists had been telling me at previous rehabs that this is what I needed in order to overcome my alcoholism. So when I reached the point of surrender I finally realized that they were right. If I just left short term rehab after 28 days I was going to relapse. So I needed to stay in rehab longer, because I needed more help and support.
You may need less support than what I did. Or, you may need more. I lived in rehab for 20 months. Looking back, I do not think that this is a big deal at all for the benefits that I received. In other words, I would gladly do it again if I had to. Sobriety has been more than worth the investment.
Finally becoming willing to learn and take orders
In the end, I had to become willing to learn.
I had to become willing to listen to others. To take orders from them.
Does that sound terrible? It did to me, at least at first.
But looking back, I can see that this is what really helped me.
I had to get out of my own way. I had to let someone else dictate my life for a while. I needed that structure and support. I needed to be told what to do and how to live.
In doing so, I was able to rebuild my life in recovery, from scratch.
I did not like the idea of taking orders from other people. But the results have been amazing.
Today, I have my freedom back.