If you need help quitting drinking then you actually have two problems. The first problem is in admitting to your innermost self that you need help with your life, and the second problem is in actually taking action and doing something about it.
Those are really two separate problems. This is why we talk so much of “surrender” in recovery. If you fail to surrender then what you are really doing is trying to solve the second problem (doing something about your alcoholism) before you have actually solved the first problem (that of surrender).
Without solving the first problem of surrender, you are never going to make any permanent progress on your drinking problem.
The question is, how can you surrender if you know that this is what you need to do, but you are just not willing to do it yet?
How can you force yourself to surrender?
What your first step should be if you are struggling with alcoholism
It is my belief that you cannot just magically choose to surrender. You cannot force yourself to do something that you are not yet ready to do. I know this to be true because I tried to do it at least twice in my life. Each time that I tried I was at an inpatient rehab center. Other people in my life wanted me to take action in order to get clean and sober, so I was going to rehab for their sake. I was not going to rehab for my own sake, and I was not going because I was desperate to get sober or anything like that. I was going for other people.
As you can guess, it did not work out so well. I was not in a state of true surrender and so my efforts at becoming sober fell way short. I could not bring myself to surrender because I just wasn’t ready to do it yet. My life was crumbling and I was miserable, yet I still wasn’t ready to surrender.
So what changed? I had to go through quite a bit of pain and misery before I was to “figure it out.” The reason I say it like that is because I don’t know if I ever really figured anything out, instead what happened is that I had finally had enough. I had enough pain and misery in my addiction so I was finally willing to face the fear of sobriety instead.
There were some times that I can remember when I was still drinking heavily every day and I was trying to figure it all out. Instead of cutting back on the alcohol and “taking it easy,” I figured out at one point that this was only keeping me stuck. Because when I “laid off the sauce” a little bit, it only allowed me to keep drinking without major consequences. My life was a total mess and I knew it by this time. I had already been to rehab twice and I had failed. So I was trying to figure out how to surrender.
The first two times I went to rehab I heard people say “If you want to stay sober then you need to surrender to your addiction.” I thought that maybe I had done this, or that I would like to do this, but I was not really sure if I had quite surrendered or not. How could you tell? I was not sure.
Now, here is the news flash for anyone who is wondering:
If you can’t tell, you haven’t surrendered yet.
That is a bit of a harsh truth but you need to learn it. You need to learn it very well. If you are in rehab (or thinking about going) and you are casually wondering if you have reached the point of total surrender yet or not, then you have NOT. I’m sorry, you just haven’t. It’s true.
On the other hand, you will know when you are in a state of true surrender. You will know it because you will be thoroughly defeated. It is like having all of the wind knocked out of your sails and you no longer care about yourself, your life, or anything in it. You stop caring entirely. This is total surrender. You will know it when you get there.
When you are not quite there yet, your life could be in shambles and you may be very miserable, but if you are still wondering if you might be in a state of surrender, then you just are not there yet.
So the question becomes: How do you get there?
I got there because I was sort of abandoning all hope. I was figuring out that “laying off the sauce for a bit” was actually keeping me in a deeper cycle of addiction. Because I could rest up for a few days and take it easy and then I would be ready to go full steam ahead with more reckless drinking again. Taking it easy was actually perpetuating my disease. It made things worse. It was a form of enabling myself.
So I became even more miserable and I became even more desperate and I finally threw caution to the wind. This is the dangerous part of alcoholism. I no longer cared. Instead of holding back and trying to control my drinking, I decided to go all out. Why not live it up, I was miserable anyway, right? So I did. I started letting loose. I started drinking with complete abandon.
Now if you study the AA program then you might recognize that phrase “with complete abandon.” That is found in the AA literature and it speaks to how we must approach recovery. It speaks of surrender.
I believe that this is how I finally reached a point of true surrender in my life. I had to surrender to the alcohol first, before I could surrender to my alcoholism. That probably sounds a little weird but I really think that is what led me to recovery. I basically gave up on the idea that I could control my drinking, and I stopped trying to do so. It was then that things got really bad (the light is always darkest before the dawn, right?) and shortly thereafter I reached a point of total surrender. At the time it felt like a point of total hopelessness. But I was willing to go to rehab, and get help.
So if you are struggling with alcoholism then your first step is to confront your denial. Admit that you cannot control your drinking. Face that fact. Face it head on. Surrender totally and completely.
Start thinking about surrender. Pay attention to the concept. This is possible even when you are in a drunken stupor. I know this to be true because I can remember the thoughts, even when I was drunk. I remember trying to reason through it all. Focus on surrender, focus on your struggle with control. Realize that you can’t control your drinking. Admit it openly. Admit to yourself.
How to abandon fear and face your alcoholism head on
In order to recover from alcoholism you must face your fears.
This is annoying, I know. No one wants to face their fears. It is so much easier to hide in the darkness. It is so much easier just to keep drinking every day.
What are you afraid of? Ultimately you have a fear of sobriety. You fear being sober. You fear dealing with life every day, with dealing with your emotions. This is what alcoholics fear. They fear reality, and having to deal with it.
There are a million and one other fears that probably go along with this. But in the end we fear sobriety. We fear reality. We fear having to face ourselves, without medicating.
And so to get sober you really have to be willing to face yourself.
In the beginning this should not be too terribly painful. You can go to rehab, go to detox, go through the motions. You can distract yourself as much as you like. If you are really determined you can even fake your way through the 12 steps without really taking a close look at the stuff that lives inside of you.
But there is a massive reward for someone who is willing to do the hard work. For someone who is willing to actually walk the path of honesty, to ask the hard questions of themselves, to really search their soul. If you are willing to do that sort of work then you will be rewarded a great deal in recovery. People who fail to do this internal work live on the edge of relapse. Or, they simply relapse. But either way they are not what I would call “rewarded.”
One of the tragic things is that you can stay sober, you can go to meetings every day, you can sort of “talk the talk” in recovery but still be sick inside. This is very possible. Heck, it is possible to be sober for decades and still have this sort of inner turmoil. In order to move past this you have to do the hard work that I am talking about here. And that means facing your fears. Confronting the stuff inside that may not be so comfortable to confront.
In order abandon your fear and overcome alcoholism, you must throw caution to the wind and do the hard work in recovery. You have to be willing to get really honest, to take suggestions from others. You must be willing to take direction. It takes guts to do this.
The key to sobriety that most people who go to rehab will miss out on
If you go to rehab then you will hear all sorts of suggestions. People will tell you what to do, where you should go when you leave treatment, what sort of activities you should be engaged in, and so on.
The key that most people miss out on is that they fail to follow through.
It is so easy to pay lip service to these ideas when you are in rehab. Everything sounds so easy when you are in treatment. Then you leave rehab and real life smacks you in the face. You are either ready for it or you are not. You either have a plan in place or you do not.
I worked in a rehab for over 5 years. I would say that there are basically two types of people who are in short term rehab:
1) People who have a plan.
2) People who don’t have a plan.
When you leave rehab for the first time ever, you need to have a plan in place or you are going to relapse. It is as simple as that.
What most people get wrong about the rehab concept is that they believe it is an event.
They think that going to treatment is an event.
It is just the beginning of a very long process. Treatment is the start of something, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to remain sober, you have to follow through. You have to leave rehab and then keep taking action. This is what most people get wrong.
They think (or they secretly hope) that the “good stuff” will rub off on them in treatment and that they will be able to maintain sobriety without really doing a lot of work.
It is easy to listen to all of the suggestions in rehab (go to 90 meetings in 90 days, get a sponsor, read the literature, work the steps, etc.) and believe that maybe this is just the stuff that you have to do if you are the worst case scenario. You know, maybe they say all of that stuff so that everyone has a chance, but there are many people who are not as smart as you, who do not listen as well as you, and who probably need more help than you, right? So all of those suggestions and all of that action that they want you to take….it is a bit of overkill, right? Hopefully, secretly you are wishing that you can slide by with a whole lot less effort. I mean seriously, who can go to meetings every single day of their life? Right?
The truth is this:
You need to go even further than what they describe in rehab. You need to go to 2 meetings per day. Maybe even 3. Or perhaps you will need to live in long term rehab for almost two continuous years, like I did. In fact, the truth is that most people vastly underestimate the amount of action that it will take to keep them sober.
Most people vastly underestimate the amount of effort that it will take to keep them sober.
You should act accordingly.
I went to rehab three times. I failed twice. The reason that I failed twice was because of the thinking I describe above: Maybe I am better than most people at this, maybe I can slide by with less effort, maybe I don’t really need all these meetings and all this treatment and so on. All of it is garbage and it almost killed me. The truth was that I needed a lot more help than I was willing to admit.
Most alcoholics are in this same boat. They don’t realize just how much help they need. They don’t realize just how much effort it is going to take to stay sober.
Stopping is not the problem; staying stopped is the problem
If only we could go to rehab and be cured forever.
Alcoholism recovery doesn’t work like that.
People stop drinking all the time.
You wind up in jail, you stop drinking.
You go on a bad bender for a few days, you stop drinking at the end of it. You crash. You sleep for a day or two and recover. You have stopped drinking, at least temporarily.
The problem is never in stopping. If it were then we could just lock people up for a week when they are hammered, and cure them forever.
But of course it doesn’t cure them forever. Stopping is not the problem.
Staying stopped is the problem.
Alcoholics don’t have a problem with drinking. And they don’t have a problem with stopping. They have a problem with staying stopped.
The key to staying stopped is the entire point of recovery. If you can figure out how to stay stopped then you are living a healthy life in recovery.
For me, this has boiled down to the holistic approach.
That means taking care of myself every day, in nearly every way.
That means I have to do certain things each day in order to be healthier. If I stop doing these things then I notice myself getting closer and closer to relapse.
If I stop doing these things then I notice that I have more thoughts and cravings about alcohol. My mind wanders. I remember what it is like to taste alcohol, to become drunk, to feel the liquor hit my stomach and expand like a warm balloon. I am a recovering alcoholic and I generally should not be thinking about things like that. If I sit there and fantasize about what alcohol tastes like and feels like for too long then I will eventually drink. It is a certainty.
So I need to move in the other direction. Instead of tempting myself with fantasies of drinking, I need to create new things in my life that are worth living for. I need to create new positive experiences that move me further and further away from relapse.
How does relapse prevention work? It’s simple. You protect your life from the threat of relapse. If you don’t have a life worth protecting, then guess what? You might relapse….
Therefore, it is your responsibility to build that new life.
It is your job to go build a new life that is worth protecting from relapse.
Self esteem plays into this. If you value yourself and your life, then you are not as likely to throw it all away on a relapse. You have to feel good about yourself.
Every day you have to take actions that make you feel better about yourself. Actions that build up your health. Actions that help other people, and help yourself to grow as a person.
This is how to build self esteem. This is how to prevent relapse.
Building a new life that leads you to long term sobriety
If you need help quitting drinking then go to rehab.
Go to detox. Go through treatment.
Then, start rebuilding your life from the ground up.
Start by taking suggestions. Get out of your own way.
Kill your ego.
Kill your ego and stop listening to your own brain for a while and listen to other people. Let them tell you what to do. Trust them.
Ask yourself: What have I got to lose by trusting them?
Seriously, you were a drunken mess when you trusted yourself.
After living in recovery for a while you will begin to trust yourself again, very slowly.
You will begin to get good ideas about how to live in recovery, and how to become healthier.
Eventually you must find the new habits in your life that will lead you to long term sobriety. You must establish the habits in your day to day life that will allow you to grow and to flourish.
This is your daily practice. This is how you build the life that you always wanted, and prevent relapse at the same time.
This is how you become who you were really supposed to be all along.
By taking action. Facing your fears and doing the hard work.
“What is stopping me from doing the hard work?”