What is the best advice that you can give to a struggling alcoholic? And what if they don’t listen to it anyway? What can you do then, if anything?
It is never easy to deal with someone who is self destructing due to an addiction. It can be exhausting to deal with denial. Everyone can see that there is clearly a problem and also a solution (treatment). But the alcoholic is too stuck in denial to see any of it.
But sometimes the alcoholic will get past their first level of denial and realize that there is, in fact, a problem. They will realize that their alcoholism is the cause of all of their problems and that it is definitely killing them and making them miserable.
However, just because an alcoholic reaches this point does not mean that they have conquered their denial. In truth, they have only conquered one half of their denial. In order to move past it fully they have to also accept a new solution into their life. This is the second half of denial, the denial of the solution. If you are not willing to accept a new path in your life then you are not ready for change.
So what advice can we give to someone who knows that they have a problem but they are too scared to embrace a new solution?
My number one piece of advice for any struggling alcoholic
The real truth about overcoming alcoholism and addiction is that we are motivated by pain and misery. This is unfortunate, but that does not make it untrue.
The alcoholic must be miserable in order to change their life. Otherwise there is never going to be enough motivation for them to take action.
Think about it like this: In order to overcome alcoholism or drug addiction you have to take massive action, you have to take consistent action, and you have to become humble enough to take advice from other people. How are you going to do that by changing one little thing each day? How are you going to accomplish that by only making minor changes here and there?
It will never work. You can’t ease into recovery. Instead you must dive in head first. You must take massive action. This is why they tell you that you have to “surrender to win.” When you surrender you let everything go. What do you think that means, to let everything go? How does a person let go of everything?
They do so by abandoning all of their ideas about what they should be doing in life in order to be happy.
Think about this. The alcoholic wants to be happy. They do different things in order to try to achieve happiness. They make decisions to try to be happy and avoid pain. Yet they are trapped in a cycle of pain and misery that they cannot seem to escape from. They drink, they are miserable, so they drink more. It is a cycle of pain and misery.
In order to escape from this the alcoholic needs new information. They must ask for help. But not only do they have to ask for help from other people, they have to listen to the advice they are given and act on it. They must eliminate their own ego from the equation. Their own ideas have proven to be bad. The alcoholic has to ignore themselves and learn to trust others.
None of this will happen if the alcoholic is still clinging to the belief that alcohol may one day make them happy. Recovery cannot occur if the alcoholic is clinging to the belief that alcohol would make them happy again if things would just go right for once.
Therefore my number one suggestion for the struggling alcoholic is to focus on their misery. This is very counter-intuitive. You would think that people would give advice such as “try to stay positive” and things like that.
But in the case of addiction, the opposite is true. The alcoholic is not going to try to be more positive and then suddenly decide to get sober and change their whole life. This is not how surrender works, trust me.
No, surrender happens when the alcoholic reaches a bottom, when they are in pain and misery and chaos, and they just want the suffering to end.
There is a balance in the life of every alcoholic between the misery of addiction and the fear of sobriety. The reason that the alcoholic is not yet sober is because their fear of sobriety and the unknown is preventing them from asking for help. Therefore they must do one of two things:
1) Overcome their fear of sobriety.
2) Become overwhelmed with pain and misery, to the point that they no longer care about their fear.
Believe it or not, the second option is what I experienced for myself. I got so miserable in my addiction that I no longer cared about the fear of sobriety. I was simply fed up with life and with addiction. I was totally sick and tired of being sick and tired. And at that point I was willing to ask for help.
In order to get to this point I had to get past my denial. And in order to do that I had to focus on the pain and the misery. Because normally my denial was convincing myself that I could be happy any time that I wanted just by getting properly loaded up on booze and drugs. The problem of course was that this never really worked any more, at least not consistently. It used to be fun every single day but at this point in my addiction getting drunk was almost always miserable. All of the fun was gone. But I had to acknowledge that if I was going to have any chance of breaking through my denial.
I can remember my thought process exactly at the moment of my surrender. I remember realizing that my life was never going to get any better if I continued to chase drugs and alcohol, that I was never really going to be happy. Not in any sort of consistent way. I realized that I could be sober for a while and then drink and be “happy” for a brief time, but then I would be miserable again. I realized all of this stuff at once. I could clearly see it for some reason, even though I had been lying to myself about it for several years. Suddenly I could see through the lies and I realized that there was nothing but misery and pain if I continued to drink.
I am not sure exactly how to bring about this moment of clarity other than to suggest that the alcoholic focus on their misery. Really start to pay attention to your pain and suffering in life. Realize that none of it is necessary. All you have to do is surrender and ask for help. How do you do that? Ask someone you trust for help in getting sober and then follow directions. It is not complicated or difficult to figure out, you just have to follow instructions. Ask for help, take advice, follow through. If you do this then your life will get better and better. But in order to have the willingness to do this you have to realize that your addiction is a dead end and will never make you happy.
Are you still hoping that alcohol or drugs might one day work out perfectly for you and bring you true and lasting happiness? Are you still clinging to that false hope? Are you blaming outside events and other people for your unhappiness, when in fact it is the alcohol or drugs that are causing your misery?
You must realize that your misery is caused by your addiction and not by external forces. Your suffering is entirely of your own making.
Now you may argue back and say “but if I get sober then I will be even more miserable.”
Wrong. You have not tested that yet.
I have tested it. I believed that I would be miserable forever if I was sober, and I was dead wrong.
All personal growth can come from experimentation based on suggestions
One of the things that you should know about early recovery is the power of taking suggestions from other people.
All of your personal growth that you experience in recovery can come to you through these outside suggestions and advice. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel in recovery. Most every idea and piece of advice that you can imagine is already out there and waiting to be tested. You just have to step up to the plate and swing.
So how do you do that? How do you achieve personal growth based on the suggestions of others?
It’s very simple. First you surrender, as described above. Focus on your pain and misery until you reach a point where you realize that you need to make a serious change. Commit to the idea of change.
Then, ask for help from people you trust. The people who really love you will tell you to get professional help. They will tell you to go to AA meetings or to rehab, or both. Take their suggestions and do as you are told. That is the hard part. Doing what you are told to do. No one wants to do that.
But if you do it then things will get a whole lot easier. Your life will get better and better.
You see, you have a limited pool of mental energy from which to draw from. Some of that mental energy is used to figure out what things you should do, and some of that energy is used up in actually doing those things. Figuring out what to do, and actually doing stuff.
Now when you follow my advice here and listen to other people’s suggestions, I am really telling you to go all the way with it. Completely abandon your ego and make a deal with yourself. The deal is that you don’t make any of your own decisions for a year. You listen to other people, you take advice, and you follow suggestions. But you don’t use your own ideas that are bouncing around up in your mind. Those ideas are (sometimes) toxic and they can get you into big trouble. Just ignore them for the first year of your sobriety. That’s the deal.
This has an amazing and profound effect on your mental energy. Now you don’t have to use any of your mental energy to figure out what to do. You have completely outsourced that task to other people that you trust in recovery. They will be more than happy to give you advice on anything you need. Just go to an AA meeting and ask for advice on a specific topic. Find a sponsor and ask them for advice on what you should do in life. These people are more than willing to help guide you. If they are not then go find different people. Find a different meeting, find a different sponsor, or find a therapist or counselor. Any of these people are usually more than willing to give you helpful advice and guidance.
So then your life will transform based on this new energy that you have acquired. You get extra energy because you made a deal to kill off your ego for the first year, and you no longer have to worry about decisions. All of that is taken care of for you now. All you have to do is to take the advice you are given and act on it. This still takes energy but at least you have extra energy to spend now that you are no longer making decisions. This is how you boost your effectiveness in early recovery. By freeing up your mental energy and willpower. It is a way to focus your efforts and be able to make more positive changes.
Creating a new life in recovery from scratch is not an easy task
It is not easy to create a new life in recovery from scratch. This is why you need to ask for help and take this “shortcut to wisdom” as described above. If you can remove yourself from the decision making process then you no longer have to worry. If you can free up that mental energy then you can put it to good use and funnel it into making positive changes instead. Changes that other people suggest to you based on their own experiences.
Now it is still the case that not every suggestion is going to work out perfectly for you. This is OK. The idea is that you do not have to dedicate your mental resources to figuring this out. All you need to do is to ask for advice and suggestions from a variety of people you trust, and then take action based on what you are hearing the most. If something is really a good suggestion for you to engage in then you will likely hear it from more than one source.
For example, when I was in early recovery I got the same two suggestions from multiple sources. Those suggestions were to quit smoking cigarettes and to start exercising daily. I kept hearing these suggestions from multiple sources, not just from one person.
This was similar to the advice that I was getting when I was still stuck in the misery of my addiction. Everyone was telling me to ask for help and go to treatment.
When everyone is giving you the same advice, you really should listen to it. Because that advice is usually not wrong.
So when I was in early recovery I became willing to listen to the advice and suggestions I was receiving. This was the right decision. My life got a whole lot better when I listened to this advice. It accelerated my personal growth. Things did not just get a little bit better, they got a whole lot better very quickly. It was an amazing transformation and all I was doing was taking suggestions from other people and putting them into action. This felt weird because I was no longer worrying and sweating the decisions. I felt like I did not deserve the happiness and success that I was getting because I was “taking the easy path” by simply following advice from others. I was not worrying and this freed up energy to actually take action.
More advice: Taking massive action rather than just moderate action
I think it is important to point out that you don’t just need to take action in early recovery, you need to take massive action.
What does that mean, to take “massive action?”
It means that you really drop everything and completely let go, then dive into the changes head first that are suggested to you.
For example, when I was successful at recovery they suggested that I live in long term rehab. So I checked into a facility and I lived there for 20 months. This was massive action. It was a massive commitment for me. And it worked. I was ready to take massive action at that point in order to escape the misery and pain of addiction.
In the past I believed that you could probably approach alcoholism recovery in the same way that you might approach the tenth grade. Show up, make an effort, try to get the homework done on time, and maybe things will work out.
This is not how recovery works. At all.
If you put in a minimal effort then you will relapse. In fact, if you put forth even a decent or average effort you will relapse.
Think about this: The average recovering alcoholic relapses.
That’s the average. The average is failure.
So if you want to avoid relapse then you obviously have to put forth an effort that is greater than average.
My suggestion for this? Try harder at recovery than anything you have ever done before in your life.
You can do that if you choose to. Anyone can do that. Anyone can put forth their maximum effort if they desire. It is just a matter of making the commitment to do it.
And to bring it back full circle, the alcoholic will not be able to make this huge commitment to themselves unless they have worked through their denial. Which brings us back to my number one suggestion: Focus on the misery. Realize that it will never get any better if you keep drinking. Focus on how miserable you are in addiction so that you come closer to real change.
How to live your life in recovery
Ask for help. Take suggestions. Follow advice. Take massive action. Follow through on the feedback you receive.
These are the basic ideas that can build a new life in recovery.
Nothing complicated is required. It is actually simple.
Easy to do? No, not at all. It is quite challenging.
But it is dead simple. Just kill your ego and get out of your own way. Learn to take advice and suggestions and then apply them in your life. If something doesn’t work for you, discard it and move on. But test everything first so that you can truly know what is useful to you and what is not.
This is the shortcut to wisdom. This is the simple path in recovery. Ask for help and then follow directions.
Are you willing to ask for help?
Are you ready to stop being miserable?
Do you have a question for Spiritual River? Contact us and let us know your question and we will try to answer it in a future post.