Often times a struggling alcoholic or drug addict who is just entering into their recovery journey is going to struggle with feelings of unworthiness or despair.
We beat ourselves up because of the wreckage and chaos that we caused in our life during our addiction. But also, we may feel down for other reasons, or just have a general feeling that we are not able to contribute much any more. It is easy to feel hopeless and worthless in early recovery.
In order to overcome these negative emotions we need to take action. The question is, what actions do we take, and how do those actions actually help to lift us out of this state of despair?
My number one suggestion for anyone who is truly struggling with alcoholism is that they should go to inpatient rehab. There are probably other paths that they could try to take instead–for example, they could go see a substance abuse counselor on a one on one basis. They could simply start going to AA meetings every day.
But going to inpatient treatment is a step beyond those other solutions. Why? Mostly because it includes those other solutions while also offering a lot more. So when you go check into a rehab center they not only hook you up with a counselor or a therapist, but you also start attending meetings, groups, and so on. They also will generally point you in the right direction when you leave treatment in order to follow through with some sort of aftercare. So they will send you to IOP groups, counseling, more therapy, more AA meetings, and so on. In this sense, going to inpatient treatment is a comprehensive solution that actually includes all of the other solutions that you might consider. It is the total package if you will. And in my opinion it does not pay off to mess around and try to choose an “easier, softer way” when it comes to getting sober, because this is a huge challenge that is going to demand every resource at your disposal. Meaning that you cannot generally cut corners when trying to sober up and expect for things to just work out magically. Getting sober is tough, and the rewards are well worth it. But you have to work very, very hard at it. Cutting corners won’t give you the results that you want.
So my best and first suggestion to the struggling alcoholic is to pick up the phone and call a rehab center. Get yourself into treatment so that you can establish a baseline of recovery. If you want to feel better about yourself and stop beating yourself up inside then the first and most important thing that you needs to be done is to establish a foundation of sobriety. Constant relapse and drinking episodes are a sure fire way to keep feeling miserable and unworthy on a repeated basis. The only way out of this hole is by practicing abstinence, then building a recovery program around that abstinence. But do realize that the abstinence has to come first, which is why I recommend inpatient treatment as the way in which you start the process and build the foundation for your new life.
So let us assume that you are going to rehab and then you get out of treatment after 28 days and you are “back in the real world.” Do all feelings of despair and unworthiness instantly evaporate?
Not necessarily. There is still a lot of work to be done in your life even after going through 28 days of rehab. In fact, I would argue that 28 days in treatment is just barely scratching the surface in terms of all the work that you have to do on yourself.
After going through treatment you are going to dive into aftercare options such as daily AA meetings, one on one therapy, or IOP groups. So for the remainder of your life in recovery you have the task in front of you of becoming a better and better version of yourself through personal growth. This is important for at least two reasons: One, you need to keep making forward progress in order to remain sober. And two, you need to do this work on yourself in order to remedy all of the things that will hold you back from having real peace and freedom in your life, things such as shame, guilt, resentment, self pity, and so on.
So yes, it is a lot of work. But you get two huge benefits: One, you remain sober. Two, your life gets better and better over time and you find peace, happiness, and even joy. These benefits are well worth working towards. However, it is work! Lots and lots of work. But that is okay because you know this going into it. You are signing up for it. Just remember you don’t get to kick your feet up and relax as if you have one day “cured” your addiction–it doesn’t work that way! Instead, you are going to have to keep pushing yourself to improve yourself and your life, each and every day.
So what does this “work” consist of in recovery? A few key concepts to point out here: One, you will likely have a therapist or a sponsor or possibly both. I would highly recommend that you get both when you get out of rehab and start on your recovery journey. Your sponsor can take you through the 12 step program, and this has the potential to relieve a lot of the negative emotions that you might be dealing with. For example, by working the fourth and fifth step in AA you may be able to move past some resentments that you have and get some freedom from doing so.
However, just having a sponsor in AA may not be enough for every recovering alcoholic to deal with all of their internal issues. In other words, sometimes it takes more than just having a sponsor. Furthermore, even if a person could technically remain sober without a therapist, I would argue that this person would still get enormous benefit from talking with a therapist once a week and getting a fresh perspective and set of suggestions for their life. Your sponsor may not have the answer for everything, or the best solution, and so it cannot hurt to have another set of ears to listen to your life circumstances and try to give you guidance and insight. I had both a sponsor as well as a therapist in my early recovery, and they both made a huge contribution to my progress in sobriety.
Finally, I would argue that as you remain clean and sober, and you continue to do the work of recovery and the work that is in front of you, you are going to encounter opportunities to be of service to others.
My sponsor put me to work chairing an NA meeting inside of a rehab when I was in my second year of recovery. This was service work, and it forced me to carry a message to people who needed some hope. If you have feelings of unworthiness then doing this kind of service work is pretty much an absolute cure for it. You cannot both help people and feel bad about yourself at the same time, at least in my experience. So work your recovery, remain sober, and just know that there will be opportunities along the way to be of service and give back to others, which will help you immensely. Good luck!