What is the reason that addicts and alcoholics struggle to remain clean and sober? Why does it have to be this epic life struggle that consumes entire families?
The truth is that an alcoholic struggles only when they are still hanging on to some piece of denial.
If that alcoholic would completely surrender 100 percent and break through every last bit of their denial, then there would be no struggle any more.
I can remember my own experience when I was still stuck in alcoholism and drug addiction, and my family and friends were trying to convince me to get help in some way.
I was willing to get help only to the extent that it did not compromise my ability to drink and to self medicate. So I was more than happy to go see a therapist every week and sit and chat with that therapist. What was the harm in doing that if I could continue to drink and take drugs?
The therapist of course was trying to convince me to go to rehab, to go to AA meetings, to give real sobriety a chance. At the time I was terrified of sobriety and I wanted no part in these things.
Twice I reached some sort of breaking point and I decided to give in and go to rehab. Twice when I went to rehab I was skeptical about the path of recovery that was being offered to me. I was a shy person anyway and I was very anxious sitting in AA or NA meetings, which was what happened at rehab. They were telling me that if I wanted a real shot at remaining clean and sober that I would have to get out and then go to 90 AA meetings in the first 90 days.
I felt like I was too shy and too anxious to sit through an AA meeting without being self medicated. The irony is that if I could get drunk first then sitting through an AA meeting would not be so bad–isn’t this essentially what I was doing when I went to the bar at night? I would sit at the bar and drink and eventually I would reach a point of inebriation in which I felt comfortable talking to the people there. But without the alcohol I did not have the assertiveness to be able to speak freely in front of all those people–whether it was at the bar or in an AA meeting.
So how did I get past this?
Essentially what happened is that I flirted with the idea of treatment a few times and I ended up going to 3 rehabs. The first two times I went I was still in denial and I was not ready to surrender fully yet.
Now keep in mind that I did, in fact, surrender all 3 times I went to rehab. But the first two visits were only a partial surrender. I had not surrendered fully. The third time that I went to rehab I surrendered fully and completely, and that is why I was finally able to “get” sobriety. But let’s look at the first two attempts.
The first time I went to rehab I was both drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana every day. I figured that my real problem was the booze, and if I could just quit the alcohol, then my life would be a lot better. The alcohol was what got me into trouble. The alcohol was what would one day cause me to crash my car and possibly hurt myself or others, and I could clearly see that warning sign.
The marijuana, on the other hand, did not seem like an imminent threat in the same way as the alcohol. I was drinking half gallons of vodka, and it was going to kill me. I could feel it. I could see the truth in that. I had blacked out several times, which was a very scary proposition. I had fallen through a glass coffee table. I had stitches in my head and no idea how or why I got them. Alcohol was destroying me.
Marijuana, on the other hand, seemed rather benign compared to this.
So my first visit to rehab, I decided that I should quit the booze but keep the pot. It seemed like a reasonable idea.
So here is what happened: I left rehab and I stayed off the booze. I smoked marijuana every day and I was essentially using it to self medicate.
So every time I had a bad day, every time my family confronted me or made me feel uncomfortable, I used marijuana as my coping mechanism.
And of course, my tolerance to the drug quickly escalated. If you smoke every single day then eventually you get used to feeling high. Being high on pot becomes the new normal for you, and you really aren’t all that high any more. It is no longer novel, or unique.
And so I reached a point at which I was emotionally freaking out, and I could not smoke enough marijuana to properly medicate that condition. Even though I smoked and smoked, I was still feeling anxiety and I was still emotionally upset. The drug wasn’t working well enough.
And yet I knew that if I just bought a tiny little 5 dollar pint of liquor to go along with it all that I would be set. That would totally fix me.
So I did. I “relapsed” on alcohol and I drank again. And for the first day, that 5 dollar pint of liquor actually did fix me perfectly.
The problem is that 2 weeks later I was buying half gallons again and practically killing myself and was miserable to boot.
That was my first trip to rehab. I definitely learned something from trying to do the “marijuana maintenance program.”
Second time around I went because my family pressured me to go. They did an intervention and I finally agreed to going. And at the time I said out loud: “I’ll go to rehab but it won’t work. I cannot be happy without alcohol and drugs.” And my family said to me: “Go anyway.”
The truth is, in my experience, that surrender has to come before rehab.
You don’t go to rehab first and then surrender while in treatment and live happily ever after. It didn’t work that way for me and I don’t really observe that happening for others.
What does work is if the alcoholic surrenders first. They surrender and they say “I don’t know how to live any more, please show me” and then their friends or family helps them to get on the phone and call a rehab center.
That is the way that real recovery happens. The alcoholic hits bottom and they surrender completely, and then they ask for help.
This is the path to success in recovery. It has to start with surrender, not with treatment. Surrender first, then rehab. Always in that order.
Now once the person has surrendered fully, just about anything will work. Send them to AA, send them to detox, send them to rehab–it’s all good. Because now they have the right mindset, now they are ready to listen, now they are ready to learn. You cannot go wrong at this point.
But until they reach that point of surrender, they are going to keep struggling. And your job as the friend or family member is really just to get out of the way and let them struggle, while letting them know that you will send them to rehab when they are ready for it.
But they have to come to you. They have to show up and say “I am lost. Call a rehab for me. I need help.”
That’s when you know they are serious this time.