If you are struggling with a drinking problem then my number one recommendation for you is to go to inpatient treatment.
Unfortunately there is a stigma attached to inpatient rehab. I do not blame you if you have serious reservations about attending treatment, because I had them too. In fact they never really went away, even after attending three treatment centers (and continuing to relapse). Actually, that is not true–the stigma feeling finally went away for me when I was living in a long term rehab for a period of almost two years. It was then that I finally felt “normal” living in a treatment center and I did not feel like I was weird, locked up, or crazy in any way for being in rehab.
If you want to convince yourself to go to treatment then you need to get past this stigma that we associate with inpatient treatment. First of all you should realize that this is not the end of the world, you are not being locked up because you have lost all control. What you are doing is simply treating a condition that has spiraled out of control–you are sick and you need help. Stop beating yourself up about it. Going to rehab is not the same as going to jail, though many of us place the same sort of stigma on it in our minds. This is not helping your cause though. Inpatient treatment is vastly different than being “locked up” and you should not think of them as the same thing.
Ultimately you need to give yourself a break if you want to get help. That means that you have to find a way to overlook the stigma and just go to treatment anyway, in spite of your reservations. The last time that I went to rehab I still had some lingering doubts and reservations, but I overlooked them because I was so sick and tired of being miserable. This is the balance between your fear and your misery. Everyone is afraid to get sober but at some point you become so miserable in your drinking that you no longer care about the fear. You need to reach this point, seize the moment, and go to treatment anyway in spite of your fears.
The need for a physical detox in a controlled setting
Treatment helps you out in a big way because it has two things right off the bat when you first get sober:
1) A controlled environment where there are no temptations to drink.
2) A medically supervised detox process that is safe.
These two things, when taken together, make getting sober dead simple. Now I admit, staying sober in the long run is a different story, and that is why the rest of your inpatient treatment stay will revolve around setting you up for success in that moment when you finally walk out of rehab.
But if you separate recovery into two parts, short term and long term, then the short term part while you are in rehab is dead simple. There is no alcoholic that cannot get sober in the short run through the use of treatment. Put them in rehab, dry them out in detox, and keep them in a safe and protected environment. This is a little like the idea of being locked away in jail for a month, only it is not a jail because the alcoholic can walk out the door any time they choose. But it is easy to stay.
I have worked in a treatment center for over 5 years. I have also gone to 3 rehabs and I lived in one for over 20 months. I can tell you with confidence that it is easy to stay in treatment. Not that everyone does it perfectly every time, because they don’t. People relapse, people walk out of rehab to go drink, people screw up. But for the most part it is really easy to stay sober while you are in treatment. Even the most desperate and hard core alcoholics can stabilize quickly once you get them into detox. It is a process but it is not an impossible process. Put them in treatment, give them some medication, and over the next 28 days they will become clean and sober. It is not impossible. It happens. And in my opinion it is fairly simple and easy to do.
Sure, it takes guts to check into treatment. And not everyone can arrange for treatment services so easily. But if you can get checked into rehab then making it to day 28 is dead simple in my opinion. It is not like you will be climbing the walls and going crazy or anything. Being sober while in rehab is easy.
And that is kind of the point. If you struggle to stay sober then being in treatment is a real help. There are other ways to arrest your disease but inpatient treatment makes the most sense for most situations. It is a more bulletproof approach in my opinion. Check into rehab, stay there for 28 days, and you at least have a month of sobriety under your belt. After that it is up to you, and you had better try to learn something about how to build a new life in sobriety, but at least you have the foundation set. This is the power of inpatient rehab. It creates a foundation stronger than any other treatment method.
How do you even begin to learn a new way of life in recovery?
The challenge of course is in what happens the day you walk out of treatment.
As I said it is quite easy to stay sober while you are in rehab. That is not a problem. Just go get checked into rehab and the sobriety thing will take care of itself, at least so long as you are in treatment. After you leave the treatment center the story changes quickly, and you now have to spring into action.
Recovery is about many things, but perhaps most importantly it is about learning. You must learn a new way to live. This is why they talk about humility in recovery, because in order to learn new things you have to be humble to some degree. If you are not humble then you shut yourself off from important lessons.
While you are in treatment for 28 days they will attempt to teach you a lot of things. The problem is that it can be overwhelming for most people to try to absorb all of that information in such a short amount of time. This is also complicated by the fact that much of this information that you are trying to learn about recovery is actually applied information. So it is not just a list of facts that you need to memorize, but instead you need to take these new ideas about living sober and actually apply them in your daily life. This is the type of knowledge that will actually help you to remain sober in the long run. So to some extent you cannot even learn many of these lessons until you are out of rehab entirely.
I noticed this and put a lot of thought into it because I lived in a long term treatment center for almost two years. So I had a long time to transition into life outside of treatment. I noticed that some of this transition happened while I was living in long term rehab, but there were still some lessons that I had to learn once I moved out of that rehab and was on my own entirely. In other words, you can smooth that transition out a bit but you still have to engage in a lifelong learning process once you have removed all treatment.
I think this is the biggest reason why they urge people to attend AA meetings when they leave rehab. This is a way to keep people engaged in the learning process. If you are not going to go to AA meetings then you need to figure out a way to keep learning about recovery.
There are two things that you need to keep learning about after you leave treatment:
1) You are working on improving yourself internally and removing guilt, fear, anger, shame, self pity, and so on. This is definitely a learning process and you generally cannot do these things entirely by yourself without any input or help. You need other people to help you process these negative emotions.
2) You are working on changing your life externally, changing the “people, places, and things” so that you do not end up triggering a relapse due to your environment. This, too, is a learning process. And it is also a learning process that can benefit from outside help and feedback from others.
You may be noticing a common thread here. Not only do we need to keep learning in recovery, but we need to keep learning from other people. Therefore the social element of recovery is important as well, especially in early recovery. If you want to keep reinventing yourself then you need to have fresh input and fresh ideas from other people.
Introducing you to much needed support structures
In order to successfully avoid relapse in early recovery you are most likely going to need help and support.
We need this support for several reasons. First of all you need support from other alcoholics in order to identify with them. If you did not have this identification from other people then you would eventually talk yourself out of recovery. Having other alcoholics around you who are going through the same process and struggle is important. This is one of the biggest benefits that you get from attending an AA meeting, the simple identification that you make when you realize that you are not alone and others have the same struggle that you have.
Second of all you can learn directly from other people. If you find someone who has several years of sobriety under their belt then that person will have lots of good advice for you if you are just starting out. They have “been there, done that.” So their advice is invaluable and is essentially a shortcut to wisdom. If you want to know how to rebuild your life in recovery then you should start taking suggestions from people who have already done it successfully. That would be people in AA who have multiple years sober, for example. Sure there are other places to find recovering alcoholics but AA meetings make it pretty easy.
Going to treatment is powerful because you are introduced to these support systems such as AA meetings.
What happens when you leave rehab? This is where you make or break your recovery
As I mentioned before the real test begins when you leave a treatment center. Up until that point everything has been pretty simple and easy. It is not difficult to stay sober while in rehab. It is difficult to maintain sobriety once you leave treatment.
The first 30 days is absolutely critical. Something like roughly 50 percent of people leaving rehab will relapse within the first 30 days. Many more will relapse within the first 90 days, and by the first year nearly everyone has gone back to drinking. Obviously we want to avoid this outcome and remain sober.
So how do we do that? What actions can you take in order to help insure your sobriety during this tricky time?
Here is what I would recommend (and you will also hear much of this in treatment as well):
1) Do the 90 AA meetings in 90 days when you leave treatment. Start by going to your first meeting on the day that you leave rehab. Make sure to tell the people at the AA meeting that this is your first real AA meeting outside of rehab. This is scary for most people to do but it is really important. If you don’t do this then where will you get help and support outside of treatment? You need to have a plan. If you do not have a plan for help and support then you will relapse. Going to AA on the first day and telling them your situation is a solid plan.
2) Follow up with aftercare. The treatment center probably gave you instructions as to what you should do post-treatment. Follow through with all of it. Those who relapse almost always deviate from their aftercare recommendations. Follow directions.
3) Take massive action. Doing 90 meetings in 90 days is a good start. But you need to extend that idea even further and go all out with your recovery effort. Get a sponsor and start using them. Work through the steps. Start rearranging your life in positive ways. Start taking action. Take positive action every single day. Don’t let yourself be lazy, even for a single day. If you let off the gas even a little then your disease starts to catch up very quickly. In other words, if you leave treatment and you do nothing and take no action, you will relapse for sure. The only way to avoid relapse is to take massive action. It is a battle of inertia and momentum.
Think about your addiction itself. Think about your drinking patterns. Your drinking had a momentum of its own, right? It kept getting worse and worse over time. As they say in the AA literature: “You took a drink, then the drink took a drink, then the drink took you.” And your life spiraled out of control. Things just kept getting worse.
In recovery the same exact principle applies. You have to build momentum. It is all about inertia. You go to rehab and you stop drinking. You leave rehab and now you must take positive action every day. You keep taking positive action and your life slowly starts to get better and better. At some point you will look back and realize that you are happier now than you ever were when you were drinking. But it takes time to get to that point, and you have to build it up slowly with momentum. It won’t happen overnight. And you don’t want it to happen overnight, because that is not sustainable happiness anyway. That is a pink cloud. Instead of that instant and fake happiness you want something that will last. And so you have to build it up, slowly and painstakingly over time.
They have a saying in recovery: “It gets greater, later.” This saying speaks to the cumulative nature of recovery. It accumulates. The benefits of sobriety accumulate over time. You don’t enjoy all of the benefits when you have one week sober. Nor do you enjoy it all at one month sober. But after a year, two years, five years of sobriety you will be absolutely amazed at how far you have come. You will be amazed at how good your life gets because you are slowly building up these benefits of sobriety. Positive action, taken every single day, will compound enormously over time. It doesn’t happen quickly. It doesn’t happen in a month. It takes time. But if you stick with it then the rewards will come, and they will be massive.
This is also why they often tie recovery into a faith based program. You have to have faith that it will get better or you will never make it through the struggles of early recovery. Because getting sober is tough, and it may not be very comfortable or happy in the short run. But if you can stick it out and keep taking positive action then eventually those positive actions will accumulate into massive benefits. It really does get greater, later.
Try and try again
I had to try more than once in order to get sober.
Most people that I know today who are sober had to try more than once as well. In fact, I don’t know anyone who only tried once and got it right the first try. Not a single person.
So give yourself a break if you have struggled with a drinking problem. Make a commitment to yourself that you are going to fix your problem by taking action. They have a saying in recovery: “never quit quitting!” If you are still struggling with a drinking problem then this definitely applies to you. Never give up until you reach these awesome benefits of recovery that I am talking about. The struggle is well worth it in the end and the alternative is to stay miserable in your addiction.
I went to 3 rehabs in my life before I finally “got it.” It took what it took. But it was not that I needed to go three times in order to learn the lessons, it was that the first two times I went I was not yet ready to accept the solution. You have to be ready to accept a new solution in your life when you go to treatment.
Most people can admit that they have a problem. But you must go beyond that and admit that you need a new solution, that you need help, that you need to be told what to do and how to live. This is the level of surrender that recovery demands from you. If you can surrender to this level then you can start a new life in recovery. But you have to be willing to follow directions and accept a new way of living as your own. This is easier said than done because we all have an ego that we are trying to protect. In the end you must push your ego to the side and ask for help.
What about you, have you found inpatient treatment to be helpful in your recovery journey? Are you still struggling to get there? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!