What is the best way to get help for your addiction when the chips are down and you are feeling totally hopeless?
I can definitely speak to this question because there was a time in my life when I did not care about anything or anyone. I was so miserable from my alcoholism and my drug addiction that I no longer cared about life itself. I was just so incredibly miserable, and this made me feel completely hopeless. I had no hope about anything.
Obviously, something changed. I was able to somehow pull myself out of that feeling. But how did I do it? And obviously, other alcoholics and addicts who have recovered were able to do the same thing. They all found a path forward that allowed them to rebuild their lives and to create new hope. The question is, how can this be done?
What you can do when you feel totally hopeless in your life
There is really only one thing that you want to focus on when you are at this “turning point” of complete hopelessness and despair.
You must surrender.
Now many people who are stuck in addiction do not know what this means. They do not know how to apply the concept. They struggle to understand what it really means.
Surrender is the act of letting everything go. And I do mean “everything.” You must let it all go.
At this point, the alcoholic says: “Let what go? What exactly am I letting go of?”
To surrender, you must let go of:
* The need to control things in your life.
* The need to self medicate with drugs and alcohol.
* The idea that you can only be happy with your drug of choice in your life.
* The idea that no one else could possibly help you but yourself (hint: They can help you if you let them!).
Every alcoholic is stuck in an epic struggle to maintain control. They are fighting for control. And they believe that if they could just somehow maintain control, or get a little bit more control, then everything would work out.
For example, they are drinking alcohol heavily. This causes them to lose control and then they suffer consequences. So they believe that the solution is that they just need to learn how to control it. If they could continue drinking while also controlling it, then there would be no problem, right? The alcoholic believes that they just need more control.
This is a trap. In fact, this is what causes alcoholism to exist in the first place. It is the illusion that the addicted drinker may some day figure out how to drink like a “normal” person drinks. Of course this is a fantasy. The alcoholic will never be able to control it. This is what their addiction is based on. They might control it for a day or a week or a month, but eventually they go nuts with their drinking and they lose all control again. Then the consequences hit them and their life is a wreck. They lack control, and so they believe that the answer to all of their problems is: More control.
The tighter they try to squeeze their hands around this problem in order to gain more control, the worse their alcoholism will eventually become. You can’t fix alcoholism by drinking! Trying to control it does not work.
Therefore the solution is to LET GO. This is really hard for the alcoholic because it is not what they want to hear. It is not the solution that they are fantasizing about. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to drink every day and have fun with alcohol but still somehow be a gentleman and maintain control. Their disease insures that this is impossible.
So the answer is to surrender.
When you become truly hopeless and the disease of addiction or alcoholism has really beat you down, the solution is to give up. Just surrender. Let it all slide. Let go of everything.
This will almost feel like suicide. What you are doing is killing your ego. Instead of killing yourself, you just kill your ego instead. You kill the part of you that is fighting for control. The part of your mind that believes that it can figure out how to drink alcohol, have fun, and yet control it all. That is the thing that you need to “kill.” And you do this by surrendering to the disease.
You must surrender to win.
The above describes the need to surrender, but it doesn’t necessarily describe exactly how it happens. Read on.
Why you should go to rehab anyway even if you think that it cannot help you
There is a shortcut to surrender. I will let you in on the “secret” right now. If you want to surrender and you want to do it right now, then there is a way that can insure your success in recovery. Right now this very minute. You can avoid years or decades of struggle and go right to the good part.
Are you ready for it? Here is the big shortcut to surrender:
* Ask for help, go to treatment, and do exactly what you are told to do by others.
Probably not what you wanted to hear, right?
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear either. But it was what I needed to do. It was exactly what was able to finally transform my life in recovery. In order to surrender, I had to ask for help and actually follow through.
In fact, the way I did this in my own mind was to say to myself:
“OK, look here. I have tried to fix my own life and my own addiction and I have failed. It is time that I let someone else try to fix it. Therefore I am not going to make any decisions on my own. Instead I will only let other people help me to make decisions. I will no longer trust myself and my own ideas. I will only take advice from other people instead. I am doing this even though I do not believe that other people could possibly have my best interest at heart. I am doing this even though other people could not possibly know as well as I do what I really want and need in life. I will trust in other people even though it is against my better judgement to do so. And I will give it a full year and see where it leads me. I am letting go completely of my need to control my life and my own situation. I will let others control it for now.”
That was my mentality when I first got clean and sober. I really tried to step out of my own way in order to let other people help me. And to be honest this was really hard to do because I did not believe that it would work. Because I did not think that other people could possibly know what was best for me.
Of course I was amazed at the results. Before the first year was up I was amazed that my life was getting better and better. I had found a “secret.” Simply listen to other people and do what they tell you to do! It really was that simple. All of those objections to the idea are wrong, such as: “But what if the people who would give me advice steer me wrong? What if they are evil and take advantage of me?” Etc.
Those objections are just fear holding you back. They are excuses that keep you trapped. Because then you go back to relying on yourself like you used to do during your addiction. And you can guess what results that will get you. In recovery, you gotta do something different. That “something different” is listening to other people and actually following through on their advice.
And so this is why you should probably go to rehab anyway, even if you think that it cannot help you. Because:
1) I went to rehab 3 times in my life and obviously the first two times it failed. The third time I went I did not really know if it would work or not. Therefore, you don’t get to be sure. You just have to go and trust that it is the right thing to do.
2) Going to rehab and failing to remain sober is better than not going at all. The alcoholic or drug addict who is stuck in denial will disagree with this. They are wrong. I had to do what I had to do in order to get sober. If that meant going to 3 rehabs and failing after two of them, then so be it. Sometimes we have to try and fail a few times before we really “get it.” Going to rehab is almost never a mistake. I would go so far as to say that it is always the best choice for a struggling drug addict or alcoholic. You may go to rehab and then relapse, sure. But if you don’t go, then what is the alternative? More drinking and drugging for most people.
3) Denial and fear is holding you back. Going to rehab takes guts. If you never go then you may miss out on an awesome new life in sobriety. Give yourself the chance.
The process of surrender can take years or decades to fully unravel
Unfortunately, the process of surrender can take years to fully unravel. In some cases I believe it may take people several decades to finally come to grips with their disease.
Now that we know what the shortcut is (ask for help then follow through and do exactly what other people tell you to do), how can we go about “getting ready to get ready?”
In other words, what good is knowing the process of surrender if you are not really ready to surrender yourself?
Just because I knew what the solution was (go to rehab and take advice and follow through with it) did not mean that I had the willingness to do it.
Think about it: I had gone to rehab twice and failed. I knew what the deal was. I knew how it worked. I could see what the solution was, if only I was willing to embrace it. It took work. You had to change your life. You had to take advice from others and do what they told you to do. I could see that after my first two trips to rehab.
And yet, I was not willing to do it. I was still stuck in denial. Stuck in addiction.
How do you move past that?
Obviously you cannot just snap your fingers and surrender on a dime. If you are not ready then you are not ready.
So the question is:
“How can you move closer to surrender?”
I have thought very carefully about how I moved closer to surrender myself. It is not something where you can just force yourself to surrender instantly. Instead, the alcoholic who is trapped in denial has to slowly move closer to surrender. I believe I understand how this process works. Let me explain.
If you are stuck in alcoholism then every day you are drinking in order to make yourself feel good. Instead of dealing with reality you are living in a fog, on purpose. You feel fear or pain or boredom or anger and so you medicate it all away by drinking every day.
While this is happening every day you must tell yourself a story. You have a narrative in your mind that you tell yourself over and over again. Every alcoholic has this going on. They call it “rationalizing.” You have to tell yourself certain things in order to justify the way you are living. So this amounts to statements such as:
“If you had my life you would drink too.”
“I need to drink every day in order to sleep. That is just how I am wired.”
“For some reason I cannot be happy in this life unless I get drunk.”
There are a million and one of these narratives, these stories we tell ourselves. They are all excuses.
And if you really believe these stories that you are telling yourself, then you are not at the point of surrender. In order to surrender you have to move beyond these stories. You have to see through the rationalization. You have to see through the lies that you tell yourself.
How can you do that?
You do it by being honest with yourself. This is really, really hard to do. It took me years to get to the point where I was finally honest enough with myself to say: “You know what? I am miserable drinking every day, even though I tell myself that alcohol makes me happy.” That years and years for me to get that honest with myself. And it was the key that finally unlocked my moment of surrender.
The typical alcoholic is walking around in a fog. They are drinking heavily (or using drugs) and they are telling themselves that they need to do this in order to be happy, to be functional, or to get through life. The are telling themselves a story in order to rationalize their drinking.
They story they tell themselves is a LIE.
So if you want to surrender (or simply move closer to the point of surrender), then you need to get honest with yourself, and realize that you are living a lie.
You can do this in increments.
I know this to be true because I actually eased into it myself. I slowly broke through my denial.
First I realized that I was miserable. I accepted my misery. I could no longer deny that I was unhappy.
Second of all I started to measure my happiness when I drank. Was it really making me happy? I would get off work and start drinking. How long did I drink before I became “happy?” And how long did this happiness really last? I realized that I was almost never happy any more, in spite of all my drinking.
The lie that I was telling myself was that I could become “happy” at any given moment, just by taking a big drink of alcohol. But this lie was based on the first time I drank, back when drinking was still fun, back before I was a full blown alcoholic. Yet I hung on to that lie, even though drinking had become far less fun over the years.
I had to measure how happy I really was. I had to get honest with myself.
So the key is to start paying attention to the narrative. What story are you telling yourself about alcohol? My story was “I need to drink to be happy.” And yet when I got honest with myself, I realized that I was completely miserable. I had to mentally process these ideas in order to get to the point where I was willing to surrender and take the risk of getting sober. Yes, getting sober was a risk, because what if I became even MORE miserable? Obviously that was not the case, but it was part of the narrative that kept me drunk for so many years.
What is your narrative that you are telling yourself? Can you see that it is a lie? What is reality telling you when you compare it to your narrative? This is how to break through denial.
How to build tiny amounts of hope into something much bigger
I had a tiny sliver of hope.
I believed that maybe I could be happy again some day.
To be honest I did not really believe this. Instead, I still believed my narrative that I could only be happy by drinking. I thought that I would be even more miserable if I was sober.
Yet, I was willing to consider the possibility. There was a tiny sliver of hope. Because everyone in recovery was telling me different. They were all saying: “If you give recovery a chance, you can be happy again.” So I had that tiny sliver of hope.
The way to capitalize on that hope is to let go of your ego. Stop trying to control your life. Let someone else control it.
Seriously, you can always take control of your life back later. This is exactly what I did. I gave myself a year or two in order to take advice from other people. Meanwhile I ignored all of my own ideas about what might make me happy.
What I found out was that other people really can have my best interests at heart. I found out that other people can give me advice that leads me to real happiness. More happiness than I could have discovered on my own. This was a revelation, because I used to believe that no one could make me happy except for myself. I thought I had to figure it all out on my own. It turns out that going to rehab and taking orders from other people was the best thing I could have done. And in the end it gave me more freedom than I ever thought possible.
Let me repeat that:
By going to rehab, surrendering, and taking orders from other people, I now have more freedom in my life than I ever thought possible. This is a key point because it is so powerful and yet it is also counter intuitive. Most people do not realize that they can gain more freedom by taking orders and direction from other people.
Creating the life that you really want to live
You surrender. You ask for help. Then you take the advice you are given.
Things start to get better, slowly.
After a year or two they are a whole lot better.
Taking positive action every day for a few years produces amazing results. Time is the great multiplier. If you stick with recovery then your life becomes amazing over time. It just keeps getting better and better.
It takes time for this to happen of course. You don’t just sober up and receive this miracle the next weekend. You have to build this new life of joy and happiness and success.
Eventually you start to take back some of that control you gave up. And then you get to build the life that you really want. Only this time you are sober, and you can remember everything that you do and you can enjoy it this time. Thus recovery is ultimately an act of creation. But it all starts with surrender.