Are you ready to get clean and sober finally?
I sure hope so. Making the leap into sobriety is one of the most rewarding things you could ever do. For me, personally, it is definitely the best decision I ever made, the single greatest blessing of my life thus far.
And as you take this plunge into sobriety, here are some things that you want to consider. Do not, of course, let any of these considerations stop you from pursuing recovery.
I repeat, none of these are excuses to keep drinking. They are merely a reality check, a glimpse into the future.
We want to be optimistic but still be realistic about sobriety. And that means we need to take a sobering look at the facts about recovery.
How will you deal with reality without the crutch of alcohol or other drugs?
This kept me drinking for a long time.
How was I going to deal with reality without resorting to my drug of choice?
How was I going to make it through the day without drinking?
How would I deal with stress, anxiety, and day to day fears that I might encounter?
How would I deal with the drama in my life without resorting to alcohol?
How would I be able to cope with life if I could not sit in a bar and drink my troubles away and commiserate with others?
Those are some of the concerns that kept me stuck for a long time.
This is a reality check. So yes, those challenges are real.
But no, you don’t have to let them stop you from getting sober.
There are solutions for every single one of those questions. Today in my life I have an answer for every single one of those concerns. Today I know how to live sober and how to deal with reality without going crazy.
How did I get to this point?
I had to learn some things. I had to test out some new ideas. I had to take some advice.
In short, I had to do the work.
I will admit that I did not really want to do the work in early recovery. I don’t think anyone does, necessarily. No one wants to push themselves to be uncomfortable. No one wants to have to get brutally honest with themselves. No one wants to face their innermost problems, their anger, their fears, their resentments, and figure out how to cope and deal with it all like an adult.
It is so much easier to run away and hide from reality. This is, of course, what our drug of choice allows us to do. It allows us to escape from personal responsibility.
Our drug of choice allows us to turn off our emotions. If we have unwanted feelings inside, we can just medicate them away like magic. We don’t have to feel sad, angry, or scared any more if we don’t want to. That was the promise that my drug of choice made to me in the beginning–that I could alter my mood instantly, and change it to whatever I wanted! So of course I always chose to be happy instead of any of those negative emotions.
The only problem was that this eventually stopped working. My tolerance betrayed me at some point and I could no longer escape from myself. It got to the point where I would drink more and more alcohol and I would never really get drunk and “happy,” but at some point I would either pass out or black out, one of the two. But it wasn’t fun any more. The fun part was all gone. I was trying to escape from all of those negative emotions, but I could no longer do it and get a fun buzz on and be happy with myself. Instead I just drank myself into a stupor and regretted all of it the next day. The fun was all but gone.
So then the threat of sobriety loomed large. I had to stop drinking if I was going to save my life, but how would I function? How would I cope with reality? How would I medicate my fears and my anxiety if I did not do it with alcohol or other drugs?
In short: How will I cope with life if I can’t drink any more?
That is what recovery is all about. You make the decision to sober up and you dive head first into sobriety. It is a wild ride and you have to commit to it right from the start. If you have any reservations about it then it is very likely that you will drink again.
So I had to get to that point where I was completely miserable in my addiction. And I honestly did not care about the future any more, I did not care about this supposed “reality check” of how I might cope in the future. I honestly did not care. I was done caring. I was so miserable from alcoholism that I no longer cared about my fears.
That is a really important point and I think it gives special insight into what the state of surrender is really like, so let me repeat it:
* I got so miserable from drinking that I no longer cared about my fear of sobriety. The fear was still there, I just stopped caring about it.
Not very glamorous, is it? But that is what surrender was really like for me. I hit bottom so hard and I was so completely miserable that I valued my own life and my own future at zero. I was still afraid but I did not really care about that fear. Nor did I care about myself. I was done caring. This is what it is like to hit bottom, to become ready to change.
If you are at this point then you are in for a positive upswing. You are at the point of real surrender, when recovery finally becomes possible.
Do you think you can get sober without any outside help?
If you are a struggling alcoholic then, by definition, you have already experimented a great deal with trying to control your own drinking.
Is this not the truth? Have you not tried over and over again to control your drinking while still enjoying it?
Have you not tried to quit drinking and enjoy your life without the alcohol monkey on your back?
Every struggling alcoholic has tried and failed, tried and failed. That is what makes us a “struggling” alcoholic. We tried to control our drinking and we found that we could not. That is what an alcoholic IS.
Given that, do you really think it is possible that you can get entirely clean and sober on your own, without any outside help whatsoever?
For a long time I had myself fooled. I believed that I could stop drinking on my own if I really wanted to. The problem was, I just didn’t want to!
This is denial. Plain and simple, this is denial. If you have suffered negative consequences from your drinking then you will surely want to find a way to live sober again. This is especially true after your disease progresses to the point where it really isn’t fun any more. Eventually the alcoholic reaches a point where the fun is entirely squeezed out of the equation and the have to drink every day just to feel normal, just to maintain.
I always argue that this is a question of timing. If you want to get sober on your own, save it for long term recovery. Don’t try to start out in recovery with your own ideas about how to stay sober, because you will fail for sure. No, in early recovery you need outside help, plain and simple. Again, this is really the very definition of alcoholism. If you did not need outside help to get sober then you never had that serious of a problem to begin with. We would hesitate to even label you as “alcoholic” if you can just quit on your own with no trouble. The fact that you seek help, the fact that you struggle, the fact that you can’t do it alone is proof enough that…..you need serious help!
And is that really so bad? I don’t think it is. Asking for help should not be the end of the world. And it isn’t. Everyone needs help at some point. Why not you, why not right now? If you want to change your life then you need to surrender and become willing to seek outside help for your problem, simple as that.
Is it possible that you need inpatient rehab in order to stop drinking?
Here is a big reality check that I needed myself at one point.
Do you need inpatient rehab? Chances are good that if the question is being asked, then the answer is probably “yes.”
Those in denial will fight against this idea vehemently. I used to do so myself. I didn’t need inpatient rehab, I argued, because I hadn’t really tried to stop drinking on my own yet. If I wanted to stop, I surely could, so why would I need rehab to help me do that? This is what I told myself anyway.
Later on, after I got sober, I started working in a drug and alcohol treatment center. And while I was there I came into contact with thousands, literally thousands of struggling alcoholics and drug addicts who were looking to change their lives.
Only some of these people were not there for themselves. Some of them came at the request of their friends and family. Or their spouse forced them to come. Or whatever the case may be. They did not all want to get sober 100 percent for themselves. Sometimes the motivations were mixed at best.
And so I got a chance to watch many of these struggling alcoholics argue against themselves. What they were doing is trying to talk themselves out of rehab. They would decide to leave treatment because they realized that they did not want to be there. What was really going on inside is that the person figured out that they were not done drinking yet, and that they wanted to go get drunk. Like, right now.
But the alcoholic mind is an amazing thing. At this moment, when the alcoholic is in rehab and they want to leave and go get drunk, they will not admit to themselves that this is the truth.
Here is what is really going on.
The alcoholic mind thinks that it is pretty good at lying. So it will snap into this sort of defensive mode, and it will not allow itself to believe that it really wants to go drink. Some sort of survival mode is activated, and the brain will start arguing with anyone who will listen to it that it is fine, that alcoholism is not a threat, that it doesn’t really want to get drunk, and that being in treatment is a total waste of time. The brain just wants to go home and be sober and this is the simplest thing in the world. Of course I don’t want to drink! I am going to stay sober. And I don’t need all of this help to do it. I just need to go home. Like, right now.
I watched this happen over and over again while I worked in a treatment facility. Not everyone would “snap” like this and want to leave early, but it certainly happened to a lot of alcoholics. They simply weren’t ready. And so they would leave rehab early, and they would be lying to themselves the entire time they were trying to leave. The therapists would try to convince them to stay, but it was no use. Their mind had snapped. They were as good as drunk. Even though they could not admit that they were going to go drink alcohol.
Now here is the point of this story:
Every single one of those people who snapped, who left treatment early, who promised us that they were not going to drink….every single one of those people relapsed immediately. Every single one of them. I know this because every single time they would come back to rehab later, at some point in the future. And they would always say the same thing: “I should not have left early last time, that was stupid….”
I tell you this story to illustrate an important point about alcoholism and drug addiction.
And that point is simply this: You need help, you cannot do it alone, and you probably need inpatient rehab.
Sure, there are some alternatives out there. Sure, a handful of people go right to AA and get sober without ever setting foot in a rehab center. I have heard about all of those stories.
But don’t count on a miracle. Don’t expect to be able to be in the 1 percent of folks who somehow become clean and sober with very little effort.
Instead, brace yourself for a battle. Getting clean and sober is probably going to be the hardest thing that you ever done in your entire life. Ever. So prepare accordingly. Be willing to go the extra mile. And that means for most of us, going to inpatient rehab.
It’s about surrender. If you are still struggling for control then that is not a healthy sign of sobriety. You are not likely to remain sober if you are still fighting for control of everything.
So when someone suggests to you that you go to inpatient rehab, where is that resistance coming from? Can you push it down, get past that resistance? Because your life may depend on it.
What is your plan to remain sober in the long run?
Another reality check moment that might apply to you after you go through treatment and are now hitting those AA meetings every day:
“What is your plan for long term sobriety?”
If you go to AA for long enough then you will realize that people do, in fact, relapse after accumulating multiple years sober.
It does happen.
So how do you avoid this outcome? What is your plan for long term sobriety?
It’s worth thinking about. In fact, it is worth asking the question of yourself daily, even.
The key to long term sobriety, in my opinion, is continuous self improvement. Some people will probably disagree with that idea, and that’s fine. Do what works for you.
But for the people who have decades of sobriety and then they suddenly relapse, ask yourself: “What exactly were they doing wrong?”
How do you relapse after getting 20 years sober? What causes something like that?
I can tell you what the answer is:
They got lazy. They knew how to stay sober, and they had the basics of recovery mastered, but they stopped pushing themselves somehow. They got lazy. And this eventually cost them their sobriety.
The key, therefore, is not to get lazy.
The question you need to ask yourself is: “How do I plan for this?”
How can you make a plan for long term sobriety in which you do not get lazy or complacent?
I would think that there are a few ideas that might be of use to you in this regard:
1) Assume complacency. Always assume that you are complacent. There is no penalty for doing so. There is only upside in that you will push yourself to take more positive action. What could be wrong with that?
2) Continuous personal growth. Ask yourself today: “What is the biggest problem I have right now in my life, and how can I fix it?” This will help you to prioritize your personal growth. If you are always seeking out the biggest negative thing in your life, then taking action to fix that thing, then your life will constantly be improving. Living this way in the long run will produce increasingly impressive results. As they say in AA: “Your life just keeps getting better and better.” This is how we want to live in long term recovery.
3) Holistic health. In what ways could you be healthier today? In what ways could you learn to take better care of yourself? Could you practice gratitude today? Could you strive for emotional balance today? How about coming up with a list of creative ideas for self improvement? Can you take better care of yourself physically, through nutrition, sleep habits, fitness, exercise, and so on? Can you eliminate a toxic relationship from your life today? What about finding someone new who is a positive influence to be around?
If you want to overcome complacency then you have to be vigilant in all of those areas, in every possible category of your own health. So you have to stay vigilant, you have to be willing to look at these various areas of your life and be willing to take action.
How will you avoid relapse on a day to day basis?
For a long time I was afraid to go to AA meetings. I did not like them, I was afraid of them, I had anxiety about them.
But I also realized at some point that I had no defense against relapse. None whatsoever.
I went to treatment, and I stayed in treatment for as long as they would let me. But that is not a permanent solution. You can’t lock yourself up forever, right?
And so that was a pretty big reality check for me:
How was I going to avoid relapse on a day to day basis once I was out of rehab?
In early recovery, going to meetings every day was part of my solution. In fact, my sponsor at the time even had me chairing a meeting every Friday night in a detox center. This put me on the spot and forced me to share, forced me to speak in front of others at a meeting.
I hated it!
But it was what I needed to do at the time. And I was desperate enough that I overlooked my fear and my anxiety, and I did it anyway.
And today I can look back on this with gratitude, and realize that it really does get greater, later.
None of this is meant to be discouraging. A reality check is about being optimistic and realistic at the same time.
What about you, have you found any “reality checks” in your own journey so far? What lessons have they taught you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!