One of the most detrimental things an addict / alcoholic can do to hinder their recovery is to believe the world’s view that their problem is an external one – that if only they’d quit drinking or drugging they’d be restored, good as new. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The belief that alcohol / drugs are the problem can defeat us before we even get started. Of course our using is a problem and needs to be stopped, but it isn’t The Problem. What is the difference between the heavy drinker and the alcoholic? Well, one is able to control or stop their drinking in dire circumstances, while the other cannot.
I believe that it is imperative to recovery to understand why two people, who seem to drink the same way externally, react completely different when forced to stop. Surely, there is a chemical / biological factor that the heavy drinker doesn’t have. But I think the main difference is psychological and spiritual.
Jim is a heavy drinker. Whenever he drinks, he almost always gets completely loaded, and it’s putting stress on his marriage. When his wife comes to him with an ultimatum, Jim agrees to quit and no longer drinks. He misses it, but it does not run his life. Bob, on the other hand, drinks just as much as Jim, promises his wife to quit as well, but doesn’t last more than a day before he’s drinking again. Bob was just as sincere as Jim about quitting drinking and loves his wife just as much as Jim, so why couldn’t he stop and Jim could?
It all has to do with intention. I believe the main difference between the two drinkers is the “why” of why they drink. The heavy drinker sees drinking as something fun, exciting, and loves to party. While the alcoholic’s drinking career may start off this way, by the end they see drinking as an escape, a necessity to deal with life, and medicine to cure an internal conflict so deep that they’d rather throw their life away than face life sober.
I can’t recall ever meeting an alcoholic or addict that didn’t have a serious mental or emotional problem. Whether it was depression, bipolar, anxiety, family issues, abuse, etc., there was always something they were trying to numb themselves to. We are all sick, hurt people and using is our medicine to fix the mess inside of us. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe heavy drinkers share the same view of their drinking. The reason we can’t stop using is because dealing with our shit sober scares us so bad that we’d rather live a lifetime miserable and high.
If all you do is decide to get sober without cleaning up the internal mess, you may be able to stay sober for a little while, but you’ll either go back out for the same reasons you started in the first place, change to some other addiction to forget your problems, or be absolutely miserable. There is freedom in quitting drinking, but if you don’t deal with your demons, you can never truly be free of them.
I know this message all too well because it’s one I didn’t listen to. My main reason for drinking was to deal with an anxiety disorder and be able to relax and be the fun, outgoing person I wanted to be. I finally came to a place where I decided to get sober because it was ruining my life. But I felt sorry for myself and decided getting sober was a hard enough mountain to climb as it was and never fully dealt with my anxiety issues. It’s a blessing that over 7 years later I’m still sober. But I’m still dealing with the same feelings that I drank away all those years ago. I look back at my sobriety and know I’ve never been free. I may have been released from my prison, but I’ve still got handcuffs around my wrists and shackles around my ankles.
I am working through these issues now, but I know it would have been so much easier had I dealt with them when I first got sober. And over these 7 years there have been some close calls when my anxiety almost drove me back to drinking. Not because I wanted to, but out of self-defense because I felt like I had to drink in order to remain sane. I’ve been lucky. I am an exception to the rule, and most people in my situation turn back to using.
When you enter into recovery, submit to becoming fully recovered. Don’t just live sober. Live free. I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say that all of us have something that was driving us to use. Clear that closet out and deal with those demons, or they’ll continue to haunt you and tear your life apart, sober or not.
photo credit: Zdenko Zivkovic via photopin cc