When I was addicted to drugs and alcohol, I did not call my behavior “addictive.” Instead, I referred to it as “partying.” Getting drunk and high every day was referred to in this more positive light by calling it something that sounded rather innocent. “Partying.” Or if you met someone you might ask them “do you party?”–which basically means “do you put lots of chemicals into your body in order to get a buzz on a regular basis?”
Of course once you are truly addicted and you start down the path of addiction it is no longer a party. It stops being fun at some point. At that point it is a form of denial to keep referring to it as “partying.” When you party you are taking a substance in order to become happy. When you are addicted you merely take a substance in order to avoid misery. There is a difference.
But in order to walk away from drug and alcohol addiction you will first have to break through this sort of denial. You will have to realize that it is no longer a “party” and that it stopped being fun a long time ago. In order to realize this you have to become conscious of your misery in addiction. No one wants to do this. This is how denial works. We naturally try to minimize the bad stuff in our life and focus on the good. So we tend to ignore the negative consequences of our alcoholism or drug addiction. We stick up for our drug of choice because in the past it worked really well for us. And through it all we cannot imagine a life without “partying” in it, and we are afraid that we would just be miserable if we were completely sober. These fears are understandable and they kept me drunk for a long time. I did not want to face the music and the chance that I would never be happy again. Thus I stayed stuck in my denial.
But eventually I became so miserable in my addiction that I could no longer ignore it. I was completely defeated by drugs and alcohol. They had left me in a state where I could not find my happiness any more, and I finally realized that I would never really be happy in the future if I continued to self medicate. I glimpsed the future and saw very clearly that it was a losing battle. I could see how the tolerance was set up against me. I could drink every day and it would not be much fun, or I could take a week off and then get hammered and really have a good time for maybe a few hours. But after that I would be miserable again unless I took another week off. This was no way to live–being miserable for a whole week to then enjoy a few hours of “partying.”
You see, in the beginning when I first discovered drugs and alcohol, the party was non-stop. I could wake up and start using drugs and booze until the time I passed out at night and went to sleep. And that entire time I was basically feeling good and it felt like a giant “party.”
Well we all know what happens in addiction–over time your tolerance will shift to the point where you are no longer having fun. Now you are self medicating just to feel normal and avoid misery. Later on you will reach a point where you can’t even really get drunk or wasted and you will go from being miserable and in a withdrawal state to being in a blackout. The drunk part or the party feeling is completely gone. The progression of your addiction has completely eliminated it. There is no fun left. You exist just to medicate and that still keeps you in a state of misery. And yet when we reach this state we still cling to the idea that drinking or drugging is fun. We cling to the party theme even though it died long ago.
Leaving behind alcoholism and drug addiction through rehab
So the secret to beating drug addiction or alcoholism is to break through your denial and ask for help. You have to want to change. If you do not want to change then there is no immediate hope for recovery and you will have to go on self medicating until one of three things happen:
1) You break through your denial and realize that you want to get help. You overcome your fear of change.
2) You become so miserable that you realize you don’t want this life any more. So you accept a new solution in your life.
3) You end up in jail, an institution, or dead.
Obviously you will want to avoid the third option as it is extremely bad for everyone involved. The first two options are ways to break through your denial. One is done by overcoming fear of change, the other is done by being overwhelmed with misery. Both require you to take a leap of faith and to ask for help.
Some people will admit that they have a problem with addiction and with “partying” but then they try to solve the problem themselves. If this is the case and you can successfully overcome your own addiction then “our hats are off to you.” Go live a peaceful life of joy and contentment.
For the rest of us, this does not work. We call these people addicts and alcoholics. They cannot stop on their own. They need help in order to stop drinking or taking drugs. This is what defines addiction: The fact that you cannot do it alone.
Therefore the solution is to ask for help. You must seek professional treatment. My recommendation is to get on the phone and call up a treatment center.
There are many different ways that an alcoholic or a drug addiction might overcome their addiction. For example, you might just start attending 12 step meetings. Or you might see a counselor or a therapist. But my opinion is that going to an inpatient rehab center is better than all of these alternatives.
For one thing, inpatient rehab includes most of those other solutions. In fact, I believe that it touches on all of them in some way. There are usually 12 step meetings at rehab (or a suitable alternative). There are usually counselors and therapists at a treatment center. And inpatient rehab is simply the most concentrated form of help that you are going to find for overcoming an addiction. I mean, you go check in there and stay for a month and the entire point is to help you get off drugs and alcohol. No other solution can be more specific to your problem than this. The entire point of the treatment is to get you sober.
What happens when you walk out a treatment center?
The moment of truth comes when you walk out of a treatment center. Your 28 days are up and now you have to face the real world.
What happens then?
One thing that will happen is that triggers and urges to use your drug of choice will naturally pop up in your life. So you should anticipate this and realize that you need to have a plan in order to deal with this. If you don’t have a plan then the possibility of relapse goes up quite a bit.
The other thing that happens is that you have to make an effort to apply what you learned in rehab. If nothing changes in your life then this will just lead you back to your old patterns of behavior. Recovery is about change. And obviously you want to make positive changes. So you have to start doing something different.
One of the big suggestions that people hear in early recovery is that they should go to 90 AA meetings in 90 days. There are many reasons for this suggestion but one of the biggest reasons is that it is simply a new routine. It helps to get you out of your old patterns. And of course it is a positive and safe environment that does not encourage you to drink or use drugs. Therefore, as far as suggestions go in early recovery, this should not be dismissed out of hand. Although I no longer attend AA meetings myself, I went to them very heavily in my first year of sobriety, and I am glad that I did. It was, at the most basic level, an alternative to sitting at the bar.
Now the problem for many younger people in today’s world is that they hear a suggestion like this and it sounds like a death sentence. They cannot imagine living this way and being so miserable. They are missing out on the “fun” aspect of partying and using their drug of choice every day. Sitting at a meeting is hardly a substitute for their party life, or so they believe.
There are a couple of points that counter this argument:
1) Young people who are early in their addiction may still be having “fun” at times. They are not completely miserable yet. Compare this to a middle aged alcoholic who has been completely miserable in their drinking for over a decade now. The middle aged person can transition into AA meetings and find some value in them because he is no longer miserable. But the younger person still wants to have fun. They are not really miserable, or if they are, it is very recent. So they are not as desperate for change.
2) Our idea of what is “fun” changes and shifts as we get clean and sober. It is very difficult to anticipate what will be fun in our lives when we are still stuck in addiction. This is because the only way we can have fun is when we are self medicated, and all the other details are rather meaningless. We come to rely on our drug of choice for “fun.” So we need to give time to the new experience. We need to give sobriety a chance.
Building your new life with support and structure
What I recommend to people in early recovery is that they listen to others who are already sober and take their suggestions.
This is a lesson in humility. You must kill your ego in order to do this. Taking suggestions from other people is easy to do in theory, but then to actually put the new idea into practice takes real guts. You have to sort of put yourself out there a bit and abandon your fears. You must take a leap of faith. In effect, you are saying to yourself “I know that I used to have fun when I was partying all the time, but it stopped working. Now I have to try something new. So I am going to take these suggestions from these people in recovery even though I am not sure that it will lead me to happiness.”
There is no guarantee that you will be happy in recovery. This is why a leap of faith is required. But if you have worked through your denial then you should realize that there is no more happiness in partying, either. You could go back to drinking and drugging every day but it will not result in lasting happiness. You have to firmly grasp that concept and come to terms with it. That is how you can then make this leap of faith in which you take suggestions from other people.
You build a new life in recovery through your actions. Every day you take positive action and this starts to slowly change the person that you are turning into. If you take the right actions in recovery then the person that you become will be happy, joyous, free, and content with life. But this takes real work in order to achieve.
What kind of work? You have to put forth an effort to listen, take advice, apply it, and then make changes in your life. So you are testing out ideas. They have a saying in recovery: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” You need to do this by testing out suggestions.
Someone suggested that I meditate once. In fact, several people suggested this. So when I kept hearing this suggestion I knew that I had better take it seriously. All of these people could not be wrong, right? So I tried it. I studied up on it a bit. I practiced meditation for a few months.
And you know what? It wasn’t for me. Later on I realized many of the same benefits that these people spoke of by becoming a distance runner instead.
But I had to be wiling to experiment. I had to be willing to take suggestions. I had to be willing to take action, to do the work, to put forth an effort. This is how you build a new life in recovery, through taking action. You cannot just sit around and think about these ideas and expect for it to teach you something. You will learn nothing through simple thought experiments compared to actually putting an idea into action. Do the work and then test the results. If you don’t like what you are getting then move on and take a different suggestion.
Go to an AA meeting and ask them for advice on what you should focus on right now in your life. Get a sponsor in AA and get to know the person and then ask them for advice as to what you should be doing. When I did this I got several interesting suggestions: Quit smoking, go back to college, start exercising. I did all of these things and found them to be helpful to my life in recovery. I had to be willing to listen though and to act on the advice. I had to be willing to make this leap of faith, not knowing if it would really lead me to happiness or not.
When you get into recovery you are basically saying “OK, I am miserable due to my addiction. I am going to ask for advice and follow directions and live a different way, and hopefully that will lead me to happiness. I don’t really think I will be happy, because only my drug of choice makes me happy (normally), but I am so miserable that I am willing to give it a chance.”
This is the correct thought process and attitude to do well in sobriety. You don’t really think that you can be happy without partying, but at the same time, you know for sure that if you keep partying that you will be miserable. So you decide to make that leap of faith and ask for help and build a new life.
In order to build the new life you have to keep taking suggestions. Keep testing out new ideas. In the end you will keep the ideas that help you and you will discard the ideas that are not serving you well.
How to challenge yourself to engage in personal growth
If you want to improve your life and also protect yourself from the threat of relapse then there is one theme that you absolutely cannot ignore.
That theme is “personal growth.”
We are always moving in recovery from addiction. There is a continuum and we are either moving closer to recovery or we are moving away from it. At the same time, there is this event in our lives labeled “relapse” and we are either moving closer to that or we are moving away from it.
The one thing that you must realize is that you absolutely cannot stand still along this continuum. If you think that you can tread water in recovery then you are going to drown. You must either sink or swim. Relapse or personal growth. There is no such thing as treading water in this case. You cannot be stagnant. If you stagnate then you are sinking towards relapse.
Therefore your theme in recovery should become one of personal growth. This protects you from relapse. The idea is pretty simple, take positive action and improve either your internal life or your external life. Improve what is going on inside of you or improve what is going on outside of you. Work on fixing things like resentment, guilt, shame, self pity–or work on improving things like relationships, career, physical health, etc.
And you have to do both. You cannot just do one or the other. Both internal and external health is important. This is why we call it a holistic approach, because it encompasses your whole life. You cannot afford to ignore either category of growth.
For example, when I was in early recovery I noticed that I had a problem. My problem was that my mind was running this pattern where it was trying to justify drinking. But of course, I no longer wanted to drink alcohol and I was living in recovery now! But my mind did not know any better and it just did what it always did, which was to use self pity to justify more drinking and drugs.
So after a few months in sobriety I realized this was happening. I became aware of it. And I realized that if I was going to stay sober in the long run that I was going to have to fix this little problem. I had to tell my brain to stop running this little subroutine. It was not helping me in recovery. It was pulling me towards relapse.
So this is an example of an internal problem that I had to fix. I went to my sponsor and asked him how to overcome self pity. I went to AA meetings and told them that I had a problem with self pity and that I needed help. I got lots of suggestions and advice and then I started putting those suggestions into action. This is how I achieved personal growth in early recovery. I raised my awareness, discovered a problem, then I took suggestions and advice in order to fix that problem. (Just for the record, the solution to self pity revolves around practicing gratitude!).
In order to transition from the party life to recovery, you have to make a leap of faith. You must ask for help, take advice, and put it into action. You may believe that you will never be happy again if you do this, but you would be wrong about that. You must trust in the process and make a leap of faith. It does get better!
Have you made a leap of faith yet? Are you still struggling to make this transition? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!