You may be asking yourself at some point: “Do I really need rehab?”
If you are asking this question of yourself then I would urge you to pause and reflect for a moment on the idea that this question virtually answers itself.
I am not trying to say that to be pushy or to manipulate you in any way. I promise that this is not my objective because I was once in your exact shoes if you are “on the fence” about needing help for a drinking or drug problem. And when I was at that point in my life I was very weary of people who were trying to push me into rehab. I was so concerned about my freedom and not being “brainwashed” by going to rehab that I could not understand or realize that these people just wanted to help me.
Therefore my goal is not to push anything on you either, other than the idea that you should take a good, long, honest look at your life. This is very difficult to do when you are abusing alcohol and other drugs because essentially what you are doing is medicating your fears and frustrations every time that you get drunk or high.
How to step back and take an honest look at your life
In order to make a positive change in your life you have to get really honest with yourself. This is not comfortable for anyone to do and so there is much resistance to the idea. But eventually if you become sick and tired of your addiction then eventually you may become willing to take a look at your problem anyway.
The key thing for the alcoholic or struggling addict to focus on is their level of misery and happiness. Now when you are using your drug of choice you can usually plot out your happiness on a little chart if you were to actually measure it. We can do this in two different ways:
We can look at your overall history of drug and alcohol use, and we can look at each drinking or using episode itself. In both cases we can learn a great deal if we get honest about what we are actually seeing in our lives.
Let’s consider the long term first.
Every alcoholic and drug addict has that first time in their life when they first got really lit up with their drug of choice. This was a magical moment for them because that particular drug (whether it was alcohol or something else) solved all of their problems for them. And from that point on they were always chasing that same feeling and that same result when they would get drunk or high.
Over time we all know what happens: tolerance increases and it takes more and more of the drug (or alcohol) in order to get the same effect. If you drink every single day then being drunk and smashed beyond belief is suddenly no longer quite so special any more. If you drink and use drugs every day for a long period of time then being messed up on chemicals simply becomes your new “normal.”
So then you come down from the drugs or the booze and you suddenly don’t feel so great. In fact you feel terrible. And the new “normal” for you is being drunk or messed up on drugs, or both. So in order to really party and get smashed you have to take even MORE than you ever had before. So you can see where this is all going. Getting messed up every day for a long time is going to seriously change how your body responds to your drug of choice. Eventually being messed up is perfectly normal for you and this is where the misery starts to creep into your life. What once was “a blast” is now just the new normal feeling that you get every day because you are addicted. You have to self medicate just to get by and feel decent. Going without drugs or booze really messes you up because you get sick, go through withdrawal, feel crappy, etc.
So the struggling alcoholic or drug addict must take a step back at some point and realize that they are no longer “partying” in the sense of having fun with their drug of choice, now they are merely “existing” and feeling normal every day when they drink or use drugs.
So this is the long term progression. In the beginning when you first discovered your drug of choice you were happy when you used. It was fun. Over time it became less and less fun until eventually you no longer had a choice and you had to drink or use drugs all the time just to get by and feel halfway decent.
The act of denial in this case is remembering those old times that you had fun with your drug of choice and thinking that you can still achieve them. Denial is believing that external events are conspiring against you to prevent you from enjoying those good times that you used to have with your drug of choice. Denial is not realizing that the good times are long gone, and you can never get them back again. Denial is not realizing that you are just existing now and that it is no longer any fun any more. This is the long term realization that you must make. That it stopped being fun a long time ago, and yet you still drink or self medicate with drugs.
Now in the short term you can still learn something by looking at your drinking and drug use. Let’s say that you are still actively drinking or using drugs every day.
The idea here is to get honest with yourself and really measure your happiness.
Maybe your drug of choice is alcohol. So take out a tiny little notebook and write down how happy you are each hour of the day. Is that ridiculous? You won’t think it is ridiculous if you actually follow through with the exercise and learn something about yourself. If you measure your happiness you will be shocked at how much your drug of choice has betrayed you.
Maybe you go to work all day and fight through sobriety for 8 hours and think about how nice it will be to get off work and start drinking again. OK, fine. So you are miserable at work. Write those hours down each day. Then you go home and you start drinking. You are happy again after the first drink, right? Or maybe not, perhaps you are not really happy until you get a few more in you and get nice and loaded. What does it take before you consider yourself to be “happy” these days? Find out! Start writing it down. OK, here it is 6PM at night, am I happy yet? I’ve been drinking for 30 minutes so far. What about at 8PM? Am I happy now? Do I finally get happy at 10PM at night? When I pass out at 1 in the morning? When am I actually happy as a result of my drinking?
If you don’t ask yourself these questions honestly then you will never know. You will just assume like all alcoholics that drinking makes you happy. The reality is that if you are a real alcoholic then your drinking rarely, if ever, makes you happy any more. Start measuring and find out.
If you actually do this you may find that you are only happy for a few hours at most each week.
This is insane!
Truly, do you realize that there are people walking around in sobriety (such as myself) that are basically happy almost all of the time? And that we are filled with real joy for many moments throughout each day? And that we have learned to become grateful for what we are experiencing in recovery?
Now do you realize that this is possible for any alcoholic, even if you think that you are different? Or that you can never be happy in sobriety?
Admitting that you are unhappy and that you want things to change
If you want to stay drunk or on drugs, then keep telling yourself that you are happy with your life.
That is the opposite of the real solution here. Just keep telling yourself that you are happy. This is denial.
Do this, and you will stay stuck in addiction. Simple as that. At the end of your life you will look back and realize that you were lying all along. You were never really happy with drinking and drugs. It was all a big game to try to get to that next buzz. And it always let you down. There was never any pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Drugs and alcohol were one big lie.
This also illustrates the solution:
Admit that you are miserable.
Embrace your misery. Recognize it for what it is.
Admit that your life is screwed up and that you are completely miserable.
Now take it a step further and realize that it is all your own fault. Realize that the normal things that you point at to blame in your life are not really the source of your misery. Your drinking or drug addiction is the source of your misery. You bring it all on yourself.
Normally we don’t accept this responsibility. We say things like “If you had my life, you would drink too!” We make excuses. We point fingers. We blame others. But in the end we are the ones who are putting addictive chemicals into our bodies every day, and we are the ones who are to blame for our problems.
The alcoholic must realize that:
1) They are miserable.
2) It is their own fault.
3) They don’t know how to live.
You must admit these things to yourself if you want any hope of real change.
Anyone can go to rehab. But if you want to go to rehab and successfully change your life, then you may as well do this hard work while you are doing it. This “hard work” is getting honest with yourself and realizing that you need serious help.
How to go about asking for help
Genuinely ask for help from your friends or family. If they are not willing to help you get to rehab then find someone who will.
If you are honest with yourself and you don’t believe that you need rehab then you probably don’t. But if that is the case then ask yourself: “Am I really being honest with myself? Have I really measured how happy I am in my addiction? Am I happy most of the time in my life? Am I blaming others for my unhappiness?” If you can get honest with yourself and you really are pleased with the results that you are getting in life then, no, you don’t need rehab.
People go to rehab when they want to get different results in life.
Ask for help and the follow through. If you ask for help from most reasonable people then they will likely direct you to professional treatment services. At the very least they may take you to an AA meeting. Either way you should go along for the ride and earnestly seek to learn something. If you are desperate for change then do not shoot down solutions that people offer to you.
Part of the problem in early recovery is that we don’t really know what it is that we need. If someone tells you to do something then you have no idea if it will really help or not. At this point of true surrender you should be completely baffled. Go to detox? AA meetings? Sure, whatever you say. Anything has to be better than the misery and pain that you have been living through in active addiction. So be open to solutions when they are offered.
If you have no one to turn to then you should call a hotline to try to get help. At the very least you can tell them what your situation is and that you would like to see about getting professional help. Then when they make suggestions to you, follow through and take action.
The key is to take action and do what you are told to do. What could be more simple?
And yet, it’s so hard to do…..
What the secret is to success in early recovery and why nearly no one follows this simple advice
The secret to success in early recovery is to get out of your own way.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that you cannot be making decisions for yourself. You must do this for a while. How long is a while?
I don’t know. Maybe a year. Maybe two. Depends on how long you were addicted for.
When I got clean and sober this last time (earlier attempts failed and resulted in relapse) I made a decision that I was going to really get out of my own way.
In order to do this I made a pact with myself upon entering treatment:
I would not use my own ideas no matter what. In every single decision and in every single aspect of my life, I would seek advice and counsel from other people. From my peers in recovery. From my therapist at the rehab center. From counselors in recovery. From sponsors at AA. From the people in the 12 step meetings. In every single issue of my life going forward, I would make no decisions for myself. And I would stick to this for at least the first year of my sobriety.
Now of course we all make our own decisions in the end, even if we say we are getting advice from others. How could we not? But I was really sticking to this idea, and so I genuinely sought out advice in every decision and I really tried to listen to other people. I took suggestions. I went back to college even though I did not really want to. I started exercising even though I hated exercise. I tried meditation for many months even though I saw no point in it. And so on. I tried all of these things in my recovery because OTHER people told me to do them. And all the while I made sure not to go crazy with any of my own ideas, unless I passed that idea by many other peers in recovery first. If someone objected to it then that was a huge red flag. If everyone told me to do it then eventually I would gain confidence in my own idea.
But this took discipline. Or rather, maybe it taught me discipline. Because I had to agree with myself that I would not just run off with my own ideas until I had triple checked them with people in recovery that I trusted.
So you are an alcoholic and you say that you cannot even trust yourself? Then follow through on that advice and start checking yourself every single day with other people. Don’t do anything unless it is peer reviewed first by people in recovery who care about you.
The secret to success in early recovery is to listen to other people and to do what they tell you to do.
This is dead simple.
Really it is.
And yet is so hard to do in real life. Which is why so few of us actually do it.
To be genuinely humble and take direction from others is hard. Yet this is what truly sets us free.
Using rehab as a platform for success and growth
Going to treatment is NOT a punishment.
It is an opportunity. It is a springboard to a new way of life.
Yes, you have to surrender if you want it to work out. How else can you expect to take advice from other people and really get out of your own way?
The only way to do it is through full surrender. And in order to reach that point of surrender you must be miserable.
And in order to be miserable you can’t just be miserable…..you have to realize that you are miserable. And you must realize that it is your own fault. And you must realize that alcoholism is at the root of it all.
Once you realize these things then you have a chance at surrender, at becoming willing, at succeeding in recovery.
Until you realize these things there is really no point in going to treatment at all.
Going to rehab cannot teach you these things that I am talking about. Going to rehab cannot teach you that you are miserable and that you are stuck in denial.
Rehab can help you after you have broken through your denial. But not before.
Once you break through your denial then just about any treatment center can put you on a path to recovery. It does not matter much where you go, but only that you get medical detox and residential treatment. The details are not nearly as important as the fact that you finally surrendered to your disease.
If you are willing to go to rehab then this can be the turning point in your life. All you need to do is surrender and be willing to take action. The rest is just a matter of following through.
For example you may go into detox and then follow up with residential treatment. While you are there they will likely introduce you to AA meetings and possibly some other forms of therapy or ongoing treatment. At some point you will walk out of rehab and be wandering the streets again, totally “free.”
What happens at this point is entirely within your power to change. Many people go back to their old ways at this point and simply relapse. A select few will take the journey of recovery (and greater courage) to start delving deeper into themselves. In other words, you have to keep getting honest with yourself in recovery so that you do not get sucked back into the disease of addiction. This is difficult but not impossible to achieve. Many people do it in a program such as AA and some people do it within religious organizations. And some of us do it like I have done it with an emphasis on personal growth and holistic health.
Rehab can be a springboard to a new life if you are willing to be courageous enough to change. It starts by admitting that you are truly miserable in your addiction, and that this misery is all of your own making. Once you truly admit that to yourself then you are ready to start rebuilding your life based on positive action. Going to rehab is not a magic cure for everyone but if you have reached this point of surrender then it is definitely the most positive thing that you can do in your life.