Many times during our alcoholism recovery journey, we may be lying to ourselves without realizing it.
This is more common than you would think. It is easy to fall into such mental traps.
Certainly during our active addiction we did this on a daily basis. For example, telling ourselves that “everybody drinks” in order to justify our extreme consumption of alcohol.
So let’s take a look at some of the common lies that people might tell themselves without really realizing that they are manipulating themselves into trouble.
Lie number one: “If I just go to a meeting every day I will be fine.”
I heard this one a lot during my early recovery. In fact, people would say this one out loud in AA meetings, urging people to just keep going to a meeting every day, as if that would cure the person over time without any additional work or effort. The hope, of course, is that by attending daily meetings you will become inspired to take action.
But this is the same sort of thinking that says “if I could just get my alcoholic friend (or family member) to attend rehab, then they could fix him.” Of course this is wrong. Rehab cannot “cure” anyone, in the sense that going to rehab is not going to change your desire to be sober. I know from direct experience that this is the secret hope of many, many people–that sending a struggling alcoholic to rehab will fix them.
But it doesn’t work that way. The alcoholic has to want to be fixed, to be cured. And even then, they may end up relapsing due to unforeseen factors. Not everyone who expresses an interest in sobriety is at their bottom. Not everyone who wanders into rehab has surrendered 100 percent. I did it twice without really being ready to embrace change. Then I worked in rehab and I watched many other people who were not yet ready, but who thought they were.
But the daily meeting myth is very persistent. Apparently in the old days there were not as many AA meetings in existence, so the people in AA actually had to rely on other things like working the steps, working with other newcomers in recovery, going on 12 step calls, and reading the literature. They did not just go sit in an AA meeting every single day and expect for that to “work its magic” in their lives. You do not get sober through osmosis. If you just sit there in meetings every day then all you are really doing is building a dependency on daily meetings. If this keeps you sober then this is better than nothing, but if your sobriety is weak as a result then clearly there is a better path. That better path involves taking more action and less reliance on daily meetings in order to keep yourself sober.
Lie number two: “I don’t need outside help or support to stay clean and sober.”
Many alcoholics are stubborn. I have to admit that. I am stubborn.
But at some point even the most stubborn of alcoholics has to realize that they cannot figure out their problems on their own.
This is the moment when they reach their bottom. When they finally admit to themselves that they have screwed up their life, that they are unhappy, and that it is all their own fault. They run out of fingers to point the blame at others with. They have blamed everything and everyone else for so long but they are slowly realizing that it was all their own doing. Not only that, but they will eventually have to confront the truth that it was their drinking that has dragged them down into the gutter. That their life is all screwed up today because they have been abusing alcohol for so long. It takes a long time for a person to work through that much denial. And it’s never easy to face such a harsh truth–that we are the real source of the problem, not everyone else.
So the alcoholic is constantly trying to convince themselves while they are getting blasted drunk everyday that everything is fine. “I’m fine.” That is their battle cry. If they admit that they are not fine then they might have to do something and take action. And of course they don’t want to do that, they want to stay in the nice little box that they have made for themselves in which they self medicate every single day. They don’t like change. No one really likes change. It’s work, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s scary.
Fear dominates the alcoholic. I know this to be true because I am a recovering alcoholic myself. I know what it is like to live in fear. The best solution for it at the time was to simply drink more. If I drank enough then I could squash the fear out of existence for a while and be happy. Or at least be “not afraid.” But of course the fear always came back, because heavy drinking has consequences. You can’t help but notice that you are slowly killing yourself with drugs and alcohol. The tragedy is that you don’t know any other way to live, and you find this to be pathetic. And your only solution for this is to drink more, and medicate the fear and anxiety away.
So when you tell yourself that you don’t need outside help in order to quit drinking, what you are really saying is that “I am not ready to quit drinking.” Because if you are honest with yourself then you have tried 27 different ways to cut back and control your drinking already. Or maybe you have also tried to stop completely on your own, and failed. But either way you are going to have to reach that point of truth at some time, that point where you realize that you cannot stop under your own power.
The alcoholic has this stupid idea in the back of their mind that they are barely conscious of, and that idea is this:
“Surely if I really wanted to stop drinking, I could do it on my own.”
But, the alcoholic rationalizes, I don’t really want to stop just yet.
And therefore they are constructing this lie for themselves. They are telling themselves that they actually can stop drinking under their own power, but only if (and when) they really WANT to stop. This is a lie. They are telling themselves this lie so that they can continue to medicate their fear, telling themselves that some day they will really want to stop, and at that time they will simply stop.
They are half right in this. It is true that they are not going to stop drinking until they decide finally that they have had enough pain and chaos and misery in their lives. But they are wrong about how they are going to stop. They think that once they want to stop, that alcohol will just fall away from their life easily and things will go back to some sort of “normal” that they are imagining, with no real work or effort on their part. This is a fantasy. It is not going to be easy, and it is not going to be automatic.
Instead, they will have to work for their sobriety. They will have to get help from other people. More than anything, they will have to get information from other people about how to live a sober life. Because in their current state they have no idea how to live a sober life and be happy. They cannot unravel this mystery by themselves without any help. If they want to transform their lives then they are going to have to ask for help at some point, simple as that.
Lie number three: “This new relationship will not threaten my sobriety.”
I watched this lie manifest itself over and over again when I was living in long term rehab.
The essence of this lie is “yes, but I am different. I am not stupid like those other people are.”
What happens is this:
Many people who come into recovery are single. Or they have just gone through some sort of breakup or separation. And what happens is that everyone warns them that they should not get into a new (romantic) relationship during their early recovery, because doing so is supposedly dangerous to their sobriety.
So the person hears this and they pay attention to the advice. It makes some sense. They see the logic in it.
Then, they start working on their recovery, going to meetings, or whatever. And they meet someone and quickly, suddenly, almost violently–they fall for this person.
The other person is in recovery too, of course. Probably early recovery, just like themselves.
And at this point something happens in the brain. The recovering alcoholic imagines that they are different. Falling in love with someone in early recovery is like a very powerful drug, it sweeps them away and they are just completely taken by it.
And it feels so good. They can’t turn away from it. They know that everyone told them that this was dangerous, but it just feels so good and it makes them so happy that they will say anything to justify it.
Because ultimately this person was not super happy in early recovery. It takes time to build happiness and joy in your sobriety. It does not happen overnight. It may take months or even years before you are truly happy with yourself and with your life again. It does not happen in two weeks flat.
So then when you meet a new person and you fall in love with them, you get this magical boost in your happiness. It is instant. It drugs the mind. Suddenly you are filled with happiness, and you did not even have to work for it! It just came to you in the form of this perfect relationship, this relationship that could never go wrong.
And this is when the alcoholic imagines that they are different from other people. They say to themselves “well, these other people who got into relationships and relapsed in early recovery, they must not have felt like this! They could not have possibly been this happy and this in love with someone. This is REAL. What I have discovered here with this new relationship is a REAL love with another person!”
And the alcoholic really believes this, that they are unique, and that this new love that they found in early recovery is unique.
This is a huge trap.
I lived in long term rehab for 20 months in early recovery. The place held 12 guys and I probably say around 30 people go through the treatment center in that time. I also saw about 20 of them relapse during that time. We actually counted this up at one point and I think we discovered that 18 out of 20 people who relapsed did so because of a relationship that went bad. I am not making this up. Really, the numbers were that staggering.
And yet it is so hard to turn it down. Because it feels so incredibly good to fall in love during early recovery.
The real reason for this is due to the spiritual and emotional void that you feel in early sobriety. You have this big empty hole in your heart that you normally fill with alcohol and drugs. When you get sober you stop pouring drugs and alcohol into that void, and you have to find a new way to fill it up. In order to do this correctly you have to WORK at it. It takes WORK. This is true regardless of what you fill that void with, if it is spirituality, a connection with a higher power, or simply building a new life with healthy relationships in it and so on. But when you fall in love during early recovery, you instantly fill that entire void up. It is overflowing, filled to the brim, and you are bursting with joy in an instant. This is not sustainable. It is not natural. And it will not end well.
I can promise you that it will not end well. Because I lived through early recovery and I paid attention to my peers and I watched several dozen relationships play out in early sobriety. And unless the person had done a ton of work on themselves before that relationship started, it never ended well. Not once. Never. And so when the relationship ended it was almost a given that the person would relapse. It was inevitable. And to be honest, I don’t blame them for that relapse. I would drink too after having my heart broken.
Lie number four: “I can worry about getting clean and sober later. I want to have fun right now.”
If you work with young people in early recovery then this particular lie is a huge problem.
Why quit drinking now when you can just do so later?
If a young person gets sober and goes to an AA meeting, they are in for a surprise. I think the last census data shows that the average age in an AA meeting was maybe 53 or so. This is not very encouraging to someone who is in their mid twenties and wants to find a recovery community to help them stay sober. Not that this age difference should completely turn them off or anything, but it is strange to not have any peers around that are your age.
And I think the big reason for that is because this lie is so incredibly common. The young have a perfect excuse: “I can sober up later. I have time. I am young. I want to have fun right now.”
But this is obviously a lie, and it is a lie that can actually kill you.
Just look at how many people have been killed by the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction. Look at how many young people have died from the disease as well. Every single one of those deaths represents someone who was telling themselves this lie, that they could quit tomorrow. Well, they can’t quit tomorrow, because they are dead now. It’s over. The quit too late.
Lie number five: “I am strong enough now to……”
I have a piece of advice for you regarding your sobriety:
Don’t ever test yourself.
Why not? Why not make sure that you are strong enough to remain sober under any conditions?
Because it is stupid, that’s why.
It is stupid to test yourself when you know that you are going to be tested anyway, in real life.
And even if you weren’t tested in real life, then that is actually a good thing. You avoid all temptation and just go on living sober and happy.
Why test yourself? It makes no sense at all.
If you want to do something positive, then assume for a moment that you would fail such a test. Assume for a moment that you would give in to temptation.
If that is the case then you have work to do. You have a job to do. You must become stronger in your recovery. You must go do the work so that you are strong enough to overcome temptation.
But you don’t do this by exposing yourself to your drug of choice. You don’t do this by hanging out at the bar and drinking diet Coke.
Instead, you do this by doing the work. You find someone in recovery who is strong and stable and you model that person (in AA they call this sponsorship).
You map out a path to greater health in your life and you start working towards it.
Or maybe you are telling yourself an even more dangerous lie, the lie that says “I am strong enough now that I could probably take a single drink.”
We all know where that ends up. We all know that this particular lie will always end in total disaster. If you believe that lie then alcoholism is probably going to kill you. You will likely be dead from drinking before you ever figure out that this was a total lie.
If you take one drink of alcohol, here is what will happen. You will get away with it.
Any alcoholic who is stable can take a single drink and stop right there, go home for the day, go to sleep, and suffer no immediate consequences. Any alcoholic in recovery can pull this off.
The problem is, they are still in big, big trouble at this point.
Sure, they can drink one beer and then go home for the day and not turn it into a disaster.
The problem is that the wheels are now in motion. They are as good as drunk, they are as good as wasted, they just don’t know it yet.
They might even get up the next day and not even think about drinking. They might go back to work and completely forget about their little “slip.”
But the seed has been planted. And there is virtually no way for them to reverse this course of events that they have set into motion.
The tricky thing is that it seems like they can get away with it. The experiment went so well. They did not get trashed. They are fine, actually. And they are not even obsessing over alcohol due to their slip. So what is the big problem?
You can see how this is so dangerous. You can see where this is headed. What will happen is that the person will go about their normal life and think nothing much of their little slip. They are not about to go check into a 28 day rehab just because they took a single drink and suffered no consequences.
In reality, that is what they should do, because they have already started a chain of events that will lead to complete relapse.
It may not happen the next day. And it may not happen the next week. But they have planted the seeds of a massive relapse, and it was all based on that one lie, that they can have “just one.”
Well, they got away with just one drink. But in the end their disease will sneak up on them, and it will be all but unstoppable if they have already had one “slip.”
Are you telling yourself any of these lies in your recovery journey? Can you be honest enough with yourself to see through the lie and get to the truth? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!