The first step on the path to recovery is to see and accept that there is a problem. For most of us, despite our best efforts to avoid this truth and deny the problem, it is pretty obvious. We know some people can drink and use until dead, but to even consider recovery we have come to realise that there is something badly wrong with our ‘habit.’
We have come to a place in life which is difficult, lonely, and full of fear. We are often depressed, anxious, and full of self hatred and self pity. We have probably suffered great losses due to our ‘problem,’ including relationships, jobs, health, wealth, and certainly our happiness.
For some of us, we have been led to the edge of life itself, suicide, closed wards, cells, and life threatening conditions. For others, there is just the slow quiet despair of the loss of control of our drinking or our using. The shames, the fears, the complete absence of self worth or self esteem. We have lost friends and partners, probably damaged or severed ties with most people who are close to us. People do not wish to be around us, and usually with good reason.
More than this, we actually need to feel beaten, in order to surrender and accept that we need to do something to save ourselves from further hells, or even to live at all. Until we know we are beaten, that the addiction is greater than any of our best efforts or intentions to cut down or control, we cannot accept defeat. In most cases, defeat is to be avoided, but in this case, it is victory.
To help us face this fact, many of us need to listen and accept the cold hard facts. We need to write about or talk about our drinking or using, and start to come to terms with how it has robbed us of all that is good. We need to face what it has done to our lives, connect our losses and situation with the cause, which is our addiction. What toll has it taken, and do we really need to find a lower low, a darker rock bottom still?
For me it was a suicide attempt, a need to be detoxed from alcohol in a closed ward to prevent the fits and DTs. It was the loss of work, relationships, friendships. Any kind of self-care or love or value was taken, and took a lot of work to recover. The weeks of blackout, the morning vomiting of blood, the shakes and fits until I forced the third drink of the day down. The lies, the despair, the shame. Who had I hurt, what had I said, what had I done?
It was a very dark place, a proper hell. For others it doesnt need to get so bad, the loss of a relationship or a job may be the call to action. All that it takes to step into recovery is willingness, and a sense of being out of control. For most of us, any semblance of control is a distant memory, if indeed we ever had it. Our lives had become progressively darker, more messy, more unmanageable and more lonely.
Alcohol, or whatever we are entering recovery from, has taken over. It is more powerful than us, the addiction is too all-encompassing, we have lost control. We are being controlled by it. The disease has caused us much suffering, and it is a disease. We are not necessarily to blame for developing an addiction, in fact, if we see it as a disease it might help us to recover the seeds of self worth. We have become so used to blaming ourselves, to feeling less than, to feeling unworthy, a nightmare, a disaster, a wreck. How many times did I embarrass myself and others, did I lose control and become violent or unpleasant.
Did I choose this? Did I intent it?
Of course not. It takes a while to see that we can be good people in spite of whatever we became in our addictions. Many of us became criminals, or at best selfish and inconsiderate individuals due to the primacy of our need to get and consume our drugs or drinks. There was no choice in it, it was a survival mechanism once physically addicted.
Of course we didn’t intend or choose this.
The addict or alcoholic turns into the victim of his self-medication. Most of us got bad because we were trying to cope with life and its suffering. We felt uneasy or shy or awkward, and drink helped us. It gave us some security or confidence, and this is how we learned to feel secure and confident. We didn’t intend to hurt anyone, in a sense, in the rivers of addiction, this stuff almost happens to us. Maybe this is why it is hard to accept.
Just to say “I am an addict, I am an alcoholic, and this is why I behaved the way I did,” is a relief in some respects. We understand that we weren’t responsible for our actions to a great extent, but that now we may have a choice. We are responsible in recovery for our choices and actions, and to make amends – it is not absolving ourselves of any responsibility, but rather learning that we can become good people and responsible people once we remove our crutch, and learn to live again without it.
We must learn to live again. Everything is new, everything is a challenge, since for us, we relied on drink to do pretty much everything in the end. Even to function, even to go out, even to stop the washing machine mind of self hatred, we needed drink. Yet the good news is that we can. I did. Thousands of others did. You can hear their stories in meetings around the world. You can find someone who has been there to help you through.
Eventually you will realise that you will be uniquely qualified to help others to recover. If you’ve been there, and got out, you know the way to show for others. You become useful, and worthy, and confidence returns.
This may be hard to believe, but I am so grateful I was an alcoholic. The suffering made me work and change. After I had made amends to those I hurt, and after I did the work necessary to rediscover my humanity and my happiness, once I had changed from a selfish and suffering nightmare to a useful and happy person, I realised that I would never wish to go back. No drink could provide the kind of happiness I know today. No high can replace the high of a life well lived, a life of meaning, a life of love, a life of service.