If you are addicted to alcohol then the best thing that you can do is to seek professional help immediately.
Unfortunately there are a whole host of problems that can come in between the process of asking for help and actually living a brand new life in recovery.
In fact, there are several significant hurdles to overcome before you can even get to the point where you are willing to ask for help. Specifically, denial can keep you trapped in your destructive pattern for years or even decades (some people never break through their denial completely).
Therefore the first problem is one of diagnosis. You cannot address your alcoholism if you do not believe it is an issue.
But how do you break through denial? What is denial anyway, really?
How to diagnose the problem of alcoholism
Most alcoholics believe that denial is a very surface level thing. They think that just because they admit to their alcoholism that they have pierced through denial.
Not so. That is only the surface level of denial.
So what? Your realize that you drink too much. You even admit to it out loud.
Is this the same thing as breaking through your denial about alcoholism?
No it is not.
In fact, the real breakthrough comes when you realize that you are miserable because of your drinking, and that you will never really be happy again in the future if you don’t make a major change. That is what you have actually been in denial of.
Every alcoholic knows that they drink too much. This is hardly news to anyone. Give any alcoholic a year or two and they will figure out this much at least. Sure, they drink way too much.
But then the alcoholic has to look deep inside at some point and realize that they are not having fun anymore. That alcohol is no longer doing the job that it once did for them. This is the moment of truth. This is how to diagnose your alcoholism. Not by admitting that you drink too much. But by realizing that is not fun anymore, and that it probably never will be again. Because your tolerance has changed and you have gone through the grinder too many times and now you are just sick and tired of it all. You must look squarely at your life and realize that you are now unhappy for nearly all of the time. Maybe you get an hour or two each week of “happiness” based on your drinking or drug use, but that’s it. The fun is long gone. It ain’t coming back.
No, in order to truly diagnose the problem of alcoholism you have to realize that you are no longer happy. You have to admit to yourself that your best ideas about how to live your life (drinking all the time) have not worked out well for you. You must move past this and realize that it is time to make a serious change. Not just a surface level change, but a deep and fundamental change that will alter everything about your life. You must let go of everything. More so than what you have ever done before with anything in your life before. Yeah, like that intense. Walking away from alcohol will probably be the hardest thing you have ever done.
What should you do in order to overcome your disease?
You must surrender. I know you have probably heard that a million times: “Surrender to win.” You are probably asking yourself “what does that even mean….surrender to win?” It sounds pretty stupid if you are still self medicating and you don’t really understand it.
I don’t blame you. I did not understand it either, until it happened. It was not something that I consciously chose to do. I simply surrendered at one point. Everything fell away from me and I gave up. I gave up on everything, on chasing happiness, on chasing that next high, on trying to run away from all of my fears. I was afraid of so many things and I had been living in fear for so long and so I just kept drinking all the time to cover those fears up. And at some point I got sick and tired of being afraid. In fact I was almost at the point of self destruction, but not quite. I was afraid and yet at the same time I was exasperated with being afraid, I was just sick of it. And so I reached that moment of surrender where I became willing to try something else.
In fact what I was willing to do was to face my biggest fear. My fear of sobriety. My fear of facing life without the bottle. My fear of facing life without the crutch of drugs or alcohol. My fear of being bored, of having to be myself and walk around in my own skin. My fear of having to talk with other people and have conversations without the social lubricant of alcohol.
I was so terrified of life for so long and I was self medicating it with drugs and alcohol. And this became normal for me, I did it for a full decade, every single day, with as many drugs and booze as I could come up with.
In order to overcome my alcoholism I had to become willing to face my fear of sobriety. I had to become willing to feel the fear of being sober and heading straight into it. I let go of everything. This was against my better judgment. My best idea was always to just keep drinking and self medicating, because that was what made me happy. I knew that if I quit drinking and stopped using drugs that I would go through withdrawal and be miserable. I also knew that I had been able to manufacture happiness for years and years by simply putting drugs and booze into my body. Take a drink, smoke a little of this, and bam! Instant happiness. It worked. And it worked for a long time. It worked for several years. How could I ever give that up? It worked like magic.
The problem, of course, is that it stopped working. It eventually stopped working and I had to take more and more drugs and booze to get the same effect. And then later I experimented with taking a few days off and then using drugs and alcohol again and that was amazing. It was like being drunk and high for the first time, all over again! So I played with that a little. But the problem was that depriving myself for a few days only to get wasted again was not much fun. It was fun when I would get wasted but the high was amazingly short lived. And I realized that even if I took a few days off and then suddenly used again, the high really only lasted for a few hours at best. I was trading lots of misery for a few days straight for only a few hours of “peak happiness.” Then it was back to misery again.
If you are struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction then you should study this concept very closely. How happy are you? How often are you happy? How many hours per day? How many days each month?
This is an important concept because almost no one ever considers it. Heck, people in recovery rarely consider it either. No one does. But why wouldn’t you measure you happiness? This is especially important if you ever want to break through your denial.
I finally broke through my denial when I realized that I was no longer happy in my addiction. I knew I was a drunk, of course, and I had known that for years. I even knew that I was unhappy at that point. But I felt trapped. And I did not truly believe that I could ever be happy again without alcohol. I believed that I was totally unique, and that for some reason I was created in such a way that I would never be happy without alcohol. This is the lie that I told myself while I was drinking. I had to drink. I was just born that way. Something was different about me and I could never possibly be happy without drugs and alcohol.
So at some point I realized just how unhappy I was. And then I also realized that I could not count on alcohol making me happy in the future. I really lost all hope when I figured this out, and realized that the ratio was all screwed up for good now. Stay sober for 3 days, then drink for a day, and get maybe 3 hours of happiness from this. Then the next 3 days would be miserable. And I finally glimpsed the future of trying to do this for the rest of my life, and I realized that it was just never going to get any better. So I gave up on the idea and I surrendered.
When I surrendered there was no big flash of light. I smiled inwardly because I felt relief. That is what I felt when I surrendered. I felt relieved. I knew that I was done struggling. I was not willing to struggle any more to try to self medicate. I was terrified of sobriety but I was even more sick and tired of the misery I had been living in. And I finally got a clear glimpse of my future if I did not stop drinking. This was something I had to stumble on for myself.
I had been to treatment twice before this and also spoke with a few counselors. No one could convince me to just up and surrender. I had to get to this point of misery on my own. I had to learn it the hard way.
Asking for help and following through on advice
After reaching the point of surrender I asked for help.
Because I had reached a point of total and complete surrender I was willing to actually follow through on the advice that I was given.
I was way past manipulating others at this point. If someone asked me what I wanted for help I would have turned the question back on them. I was out of ideas. I just knew that I probably needed treatment again. But I also knew that this time it would be very different, because now I was willing to face my fears. I was facing my fear of sobriety this time. In the past when I went to rehab I was not doing it for myself, and I was not willing to give up everything all at once. This time was different because of my surrender.
I asked for help and I went to rehab. They put me in detox. Then I went to a residential treatment center and stayed there for a few weeks. Then the therapists sent me to a long term rehab and I lived there for 20 months. I was not trying to make my own path in recovery at this time. I was doing what people told me to do. I was so afraid that I would relapse if I tried to use my own ideas instead. So I followed the advice of others. I insisted on following the advice of others. I did not even trust myself at that point.
Surrender should be simple. Ask for help, then accept the help that you are offered. Don’t make a big deal about what help is offered to you. Don’t fret about it and make demands. Just follow through. People will generally do what they can to try to steer you in the right direction.
If you want to get upset about what program they send you to then you are probably only harming yourself. I have watched people who were not religious who did very well by going to a christian based rehab center, simply because they were at the end of their rope and they were willing to give it a chance. If you are instead “offended” at such a program then you are only limiting yourself. The same can be true of a 12 step program. Some people turn up their nose at AA and NA and will have nothing to do with it. Most treatment centers around the world are based on the 12 step model, so again, this is just shooting yourself in the foot. If you are desperate for change then you should not be picky about who is trying to help you.
Ask for help. Take direction. Follow through. This will most likely involve rehab. Go with the flow.
What have you got to lose?
What to do in rehab
Follow directions. Do what you are told to do. Listen and participate.
This is very much like being in middle school. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but this is what rehab is basically like. You sit and you listen. Occasionally you will interact and talk. But at a glance it sort of resembles being in school again.
So first and foremost you have to be honest. If you are not completely 100 percent honest with the counselors and the therapists then you are dooming yourself to relapse. You may as well go out and drink now if you are going to lie to people while you are in rehab. You cannot lie and stay sober in the long run. It never works. You certainly cannot lie to the people who are trying to help you.
Your ideas must be pushed to the side. “Kill your ego.” This is tough to do for most people but it is essential for your success. Many alcoholics must try and fail several times before they get to the point where they can effectively kill their own ego. If you want to learn in recovery then you have to empty out your mind first and push away all of the garbage. Your own ideas about how to live a good life were not working for you. It is time to replace those ideas. In order to do so you must “get out of your own way.”
This is the path that you must take in early recovery. It is a path of intense learning. Try to learn something about recovery from every single person that you meet. Everyone has a story and there is likely to be value in nearly every story that you hear. If you can learn from the mistakes of others then you can avoid making them yourself.
What I did was to go to rehab three times because I did not learn from other’s mistakes the first time around. They told me their stories and I knew that what they were saying made sense, but I did not listen to them for some reason. For example, they told me that “a drug is a drug is a drug” and that I would have to quit ALL addictive substances, but I did not want to believe this. I wanted to get out of rehab and try the “marijuana maintenance program” instead. I figured that alcohol was my real problem. So after my first rehab I went on a wild ride that ended (and really started with) relapse. I smoked marijuana until I could no longer medicate away my (emotional) pain enough with it, and then I drank again.
Had I been able to learn from the mistakes of others, I would have avoided this lesson. People told me about this trap and they warned me in advance, but it was no good. I had to learn that one the hard way.
So listen to the stories that you hear in rehab and see if you can actually learn from them. Take the knowledge that they give you and apply it to your own life. This is the only way to really embrace long term sobriety. You generally cannot do it all on your own because there are far too many traps and too many lessons to learn in early recovery. I could not do it without support and I doubt that any real alcoholic can either. You need help in early recovery. This is what rehab is all about. Go to rehab, ask for help, and then follow through on the advice you are given.
How to motivate yourself to go to treatment
Perhaps the key is to “just do it.”
If you think about rehab too much then you will probably just talk yourself out of it. Don’t hesitate, just commit to the idea and then go.
Get on the phone. Call up a rehab center or get a family member to call for you.
Ask for help. Be sincere. If they cannot help you directly, ask them if they know of any other agencies or places that possibly could help you. If you are persistent with this approach then you will find some form of help.
I have to be honest here. When people tried to motivate me with the hope of a better life, I really did not believe them. This promise of hope did not motivate me. Because I really believed that I was doomed to be miserable if I could not have alcohol and drugs in my life. I though that if I was sober that I would be unhappy forever. So I could not be motivated by the lure of a more positive and happy life (even though that is obviously what you will get in recovery!).
Instead, I was motivated by the idea of avoiding pain and misery. Unfortunately, the amount of pain and misery had to be extremely high in my life before I could finally face my fear of sobriety.
Those are the two forces that are battling each other: fear and misery. You are miserable in your addiction. But you are afraid of sobriety, of change. This is the central issue that every alcoholic struggles with. Very few will admit to this, however, because no one likes to admit that they are afraid of anything. But make no mistake, it is fear that keeps the alcoholic drinking. They are afraid of sobriety, of the unknown changes.
So the way to motivate yourself is to focus on the misery. Embrace your misery. Realize that it is there, it is a product of your disease, and that you can never escape it if you continue to self medicate.
There is a way out. There is hope. But before you can face the fear of that change, you have to be really miserable. You have to be sick and tired.
And most alcoholics are already plenty sick and tired, they just don’t realize it yet.
So realize it.
Start measuring it.
Figure out how happy you are each day. Start measuring how happy you are. Maybe even write it down and journal it. Very simple suggestion that is tough to follow through with. Because it will expose just how miserable you truly are.
But this is a good thing. Focus on the misery and you will eventually surrender.