I can not be sure of every question that people might have who are struggling with addiction and alcoholism, but I know what questions that I had along my own journey.
Here are some of the questions that I had and what I have learned about the answers to them after 13 plus years of continuous sobriety.
“Will I ever be happy again if I get clean and sober?”
This plagued me for a long time when I was still drinking and drugging.
I was terrified of getting clean and sober because I was projecting my initial discomfort of withdrawal on to the rest of my life in recovery.
What does that mean?
It means that when I stopped drinking or using drugs temporarily, I went through a great deal of discomfort. This is typical and every alcoholic and drug addict will have these negative detox feelings. It is very uncomfortable and that is part of why we stay addicted.
But what I was doing during my alcoholism journey is that I was projecting that feeling of misery. I believed that if I were to stay clean and sober forever that I would feel that discomfort of withdrawal forever.
And as an extension of this idea, I also believed that the only way that I could be happy in life was to be drunk or high. I did not think that I could ever be happy again if I could not use drugs or alcohol. All of my happiness was based on getting intoxicated. I couldn’t really be happy without also being medicated.
But I could not see that this was part of the addiction. I could not see past my denial. I could not understand that I was miserable during withdrawal, rather than happy while intoxicated.
There is a difference. Think about it for a moment.
If drugs make you happy all the time, then you could theoretically use them all the time and just stay happy, right?
But this isn’t what happens in alcoholism and drug addiction. Instead, your “happy” feeling of intoxication eventually becomes boring. When you do it every day it becomes your new normal state of being. And so it isn’t special. You have to get intoxicated just to feel normal again. Just to bring yourself up out of misery.
And if you fail to imbibe then you are just miserable and uncomfortable. This is not the same thing as “taking drugs in order to be happy.” Instead, this is taking a substance in order to avoid feeling miserable.
I had to get honest with myself before I reached my point of surrender. I had to get honest about the fact that it wasn’t really fun any more, even though I was still telling myself that this was why I “partied.” In fact, the party was long over. I was just drinking and taking drugs to feel normal, to avoid misery and discomfort. The fun was long gone.
So perhaps the answer to the question “will I ever have fun again if I get sober?” should really be another question. And that question that the alcoholic has to ask themselves is “If I keep drinking, will that ever lead me to happiness?” And at some point, every alcoholic has to admit that the answer is “no,” the fun is long gone, the ride is over, time to get off the crazy train and try something different.
Time to give sobriety a chance, because you finally admitted to yourself that drinking and drugging is not going to end in happiness. Ever again. Those days are long gone. It worked in the past, but you can’t go backwards. Your tolerance is working against you. The good times are over. Time to move on.
Just go to any AA meeting and ask the people there if life gets better in sobriety. Ask them if they have fun in sobriety. They will tell you that it is very possible, that the miracle has happened for each of them.
And then you are struggling only with your own denial. You might say “well, these alcoholics found happiness in sobriety, but I am not like these people. I am different.”
That is pure denial. And the only way you can get past that denial is to get sick and tired of being miserable, so much so that you become willing to face your fear of sobriety and give it a chance to work in your life. That is the leap of faith that you must make.
You don’t know for sure if you will ever be happy again in sobriety, but you know for sure that it is nothing but misery and chaos if you continue to drink and drug…..
“Are there alternative paths to recovery other than the traditional 12 step program?”
Yes, there are alternatives to traditional recovery programs.
Mostly the world is made up of 12 step programs like AA and NA. After that there are a variety of religious based programs that attempt to help those in addiction. And finally there are some other small groups of people who have created non-spiritual programs, and also behavioral and therapy approaches.
And there are even some really obscure programs (just because they are so small and remote) of people who stay sober through things like exercise, painting, equine therapy, adventure therapy, and things like that.
But in reality what I would suggest to someone who asks this question is to find their own path in recovery after asking for help.
The key, I think, is to ask for help first. Follow directions for a while. Let go entirely. Just go with it. And then as you remain sober you can figure out your own path in recovery.
I think that most alcoholics are wired a bit differently. I know I was. I did not want to “just go with it.” I did not want to check into rehab and go to AA meetings and go through the traditional recovery path. I wanted to find my own way right out of the gate, I wanted a miracle solution for my addiction that did not force me to get honest with myself or with others.
AA is uncomfortable for a lot of folks, I think. The meetings can create anxiety. The idea of working through the steps with a sponsor can be intimidating. So there are lots of potential blocks there, lots of things that can scare people away.
And I don’t blame anyone for wanting a different path.
But here is what I am saying. Listen carefully, because this is important in terms of sobriety.
You don’t start out in recovery by working your own program. It can’t work that way. If it did, then you would not have a problem at all. You would not be alcoholic. You would not be an addict.
But you are an addict, or an alcoholic, or whatever you want to call it. So you have a problem and the nature of that problem is that you cannot solve it by yourself. This is part of addiction! Think about the definition for a moment: If you can solve your own problem of addiction, then would you still call it an addiction? Of course not! You solved it, moved on, and now you control it easily with no issues. So you don’t call it addiction.
But this is written for the folks who still have the problem. They tried to cut down on their drinking, or they tried to kick the drugs, and they failed. And they failed over and over again at it. And so they reach this point where they have to admit that they have a serious problem. They are addicted and they cannot solve their own problem through sheer willpower. That isn’t working for them.
This is what defines addiction. If you were getting drunk every day and you noticed consequences so you stopped, that wasn’t addiction. That was a drinking problem and you put your foot down. This is written for the person who cannot successfully put their foot down. The problem continues. It evolves. It progresses. The addiction gets worse. And they cannot solve it themselves. That is real addiction.
And what I am telling you is this:
You can have your own recovery program and you can do your own thing and you can avoid AA and traditional recovery programs.
But you probably can’t do all of that on day one.
You have to start somewhere. You have to get help first. You have to surrender and take direction and take advice.
The problem with an alcoholic designing their own recovery program is self sabotage. We will sabotage our own efforts and it will cause us to relapse.
So in the beginning, you need to be told what to do. That is my opinion and it is also my experience.
And I tested this for myself. It didn’t work until I let go completely, asked for help, and took some advice. I was terrified of AA and rehab but I went anyway because I was so miserable. And my life got better and eventually I could think on my own two feet again with a sober mind. And it was then that I was able to create the life I really wanted. I could form my own program. I just couldn’t come up with a recovery plan at day one, all by myself. I had to have help. And I think this is true for any real alcoholic or drug addict. They need help at first.
“Will my drug or alcohol cravings ever go away entirely? Will I ever really be free of addiction?”
When I had a few weeks or a few months in early recovery I thought about this a lot.
I was worried about it.
Because I knew in the back of my mind that if I was miserable forever that I would eventually relapse.
And I was still frustrated at times. I was wondering how I was going to get through the rest of my life without taking a drink if the cravings never went away.
How was I going to be happy again? I was terrified that I was going to relapse.
So I held on. I held on as best I could, and I talked to my peers in recovery and I went to groups and I talked with a counselor. I just held on even though I did not have a lot of faith or hope that it would get better.
And then an amazing thing happened. I held on and I was trying my best to “do the work” in recovery.
And I got to the end of a day at one point and I was getting ready to lay down and go to sleep.
And I realized something at that time. I think I had about 6 months sober.
I realized that I had gone through the entire day without thinking about drugs or alcohol. Not once.
And I was blown away by this. I was amazed.
Because when I first got into recovery I was obsessed all day long about getting drunk and high. My mind was constantly telling me to go get wasted. And I honestly did not think that this would ever go away.
In fact, I told people in recovery that my obsession was incurable. That I would always crave drugs and alcohol.
I was a liar! My obsession had gone away, and it happened in less than a year of recovery.
That was an amazing revelation for me and it made me very happy. I considered it to be a miracle that the obsession to drink had been lifted from me.
And it was through no great idea on my part. I was just doing what I was told to do. I was taking suggestions and doing the work. I was living in rehab, going to meetings, being in therapy, and writing about my recovery. I was doing the work and just holding on. And eventually the miracle happened.
If it happened for me then it can happen for you too. Just gotta hold on long enough for the miracle to finally happen.
“How can I ever have a normal social life again if I don’t drink or use drugs?”
I was worried about this before I took the leap into sobriety.
I suspect that this is harder for people who are younger, but I don’t know for sure. I got sober at age 25, and it was so tough that it almost killed me.
What I am talking about is your social network. Your friends.
How do you walk away from all of your friends when you get clean and sober?
Many people in recovery forget how hard this is. Or they trivialize it. I don’t want to do that.
It was so hard for me that I almost did not get sober. I was terrified of leaving all of my friends who drank and did drugs with me. I felt like I would die of loneliness.
And some people in recovery will argue that “those people weren’t your real friends! They were just drinking buddies.”
And then they will go on to say that the friends that you make in recovery are “real” friends who will actually go to bat for you.
I can see their point, but I don’t think they are making it any easier for anyone to get sober.
The people I used drugs and alcohol with were still my friends. Don’t cheapen that. Don’t try to minimize that just so I will get sober. They were real friends and they meant something to me and it was really, really tough to walk away from them.
In the end I did it though. I walked away from that old life. I never went back to talk to anyone, to see how they were doing, to try to be a hero and get them to sober up too. I never did any of that. I just walked away and found new associations in recovery. I found lots of new friends in recovery even though I was afraid to do so.
So in a sense those people are right, you have to walk away from your drinking buddies, and you WILL make new friends in recovery. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
After 13 plus years of sobriety my social life is a lot different today. Obviously I have friends and family today that are sober and healthy like I am.
“Is recovery really possible for me?”
Absolutely. Any alcoholic or drug addict can potentially get clean and sober and turn their life around.
No matter how far down the scale you have fallen, there is hope. And not only that, but the further you have fallen in life, the more valuable your story may be to others once you finally get back on track. Every negative can turn into a positive.
I never thought that recovery was possible for me because I honestly believed that I was different. I had heard that other alcoholics and drug addicts had sobered up somehow, but I did not think that these stories applied to my situation because I thought that I was unique. I thought I was wired differently. I said “Those alcoholics must not have been as hooked as I am, they must not like drinking as much as I do.” But of course that was all just denial. It it tough for every alcoholic and drug addict who tries to sober up. If it were easy then it wouldn’t even be a problem. But it’s not easy, it is always a challenge.
So the responsibility is up to you to rise to that challenge. The answers that you seek in recovery will come to you if you are willing to walk this path of courage. And it does take courage to get clean and sober, it takes guts to dive into the world of recovery. Because you can’t do it alone. You have to ask for help. If you could just figure it out on your own then it would be so much easier. But you have to have help. You need input from other people. You have to find others who you can relate to.
I have to admit that when I first got clean and sober I really did not believe that I was going to make it. I had no great confidence in my ability to stay clean and sober. I felt like I was thoroughly done with drinking on one hand, because I was just so sick and tired of being miserable and afraid. But then reality sank in and I realized that my brain was still obsessing over drugs and alcohol every day. My brain would wake up in the morning in rehab and say “Where and when are we going to get high today?” My brain did that automatically, because that is what it was used to doing all the time. And so when I first got sober that particular loop did not just shut itself off automatically. It took time for that obsession to die down. It took time for me to reprogram my thoughts.
But it was possible, and it happened, because I continued to hold on. There were days when I really had very little hope for my future happiness, and it would have been pretty easy to just say “screw it” and gone and gotten drunk instead. There were times when I thought about doing that because, quite honestly, things were not happening fast enough for me in recovery. We tend to want it all right now. And it takes time for the rewards and benefits of sobriety to kick in. It doesn’t all happen overnight.
If you want to turn your life around and find real happiness again then I would suggest two things for you:
1) Surrender deeply to the fact that you are alcoholic (or addict) and that you cannot solve your own problem. If you think that there is even a slight chance that you can overcome your addiction on your own then I would say that you are NOT ready. Only more pain and misery and chaos will bring you closer to true surrender.
2) Ask for help and follow through on the advice you are given. This is hard for all of us to do, which is why you have to surrender first in order to do it. Do what you are told and your life will get better. Ask for help, go to treatment, go to traditional meetings, and your life will slowly transform.
What about you, have you found the answers that you seek in alcoholism recovery? If not, let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!