Countless, the number of times I was strongly determined to stay sober, and countless were the number of times I failed. There were instances where I couldn’t go a week without relapsing; sometimes I couldn’t even go an entire day. But the times that hurt the most were the ones when I had managed to stay clean for several months, and in a moment of careless weakness I had managed to screw it all up.
Addiction is an incredibly powerful force with a very strong grip, and once it has a hold of you it will refuse to let go. There will be times when all your failures and relapses are going to make you consider giving up, letting the choppy waters of addiction take you out to open sea, and, in due time, drown you. But in the midst of all the turmoil, I assure you, there is hope. Here are a few pointers that helped me stay afloat.
Learn How to Ride the Waves
I have talked to some people who have told me that once they decided to stop drinking or using drugs, they never went back again. But these people, if you ask me, are the exception to the rule. The nature of addiction is volatile, unpredictable and sometimes sloppy. It’s like a raging bull that you are trying to tame, that’s why it takes some of us years, even decades to be able to finally control it. Don’t take your failures, the times you lost your grip and fell, personally. They aren’t. Your falls are nothing more than another painful and frustrating side effect of addiction.
Recovery is not a perfect science, and it will most likely take a combination of physical, mental and sometimes spiritual reconditioning in order to make it work. I am convinced that finding the root of the problem is imperative in order to figure out how to proceed. Sometimes genetics play a role, sometimes childhood trauma, sometimes grief and loss. Whichever the reason may be, it can no longer be swept under the rug. It has to be confronted and slowly worked through.
Find the Right Help
For some people, a 12-step program works great. It wasn’t the way to go for me, so I decided to first focus on the main cause of my addictive issues, which was the need to escape the pains and emptiness of depression and anxiety. I then began a safe (non-addictive) medication regimen that would alleviate my mental issues enough so I wouldn’t have to rely on alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. Then I began seeing a therapist regularly to work through the childhood issues I’d been struggling with for years. This approach worked for me, because it gave me enough strength to make the changes I needed to make. However, it may not work for you. Whichever route you choose to take, the most important thing is that you completely commit yourself to your recovery, without excuses.
Understand Your Triggers
I get it. I’ve been there. When your addiction reaches its most severe level, your only reason to drink or use drugs is the fact that you are alive. You get high because you are breathing, and nothing will stop you from doing that. But it wasn’t always this bad, was it? Do you remember what made you want to get away in the beginning? For me it was mainly the anxiety. I had been living with it chronically through the years, and the only thing that would bring me some semblance of peace was alcohol. When I got out of High School I only drank socially with my friends. Then, on the stressful days that would drain me, I would have a few beers after work, and then all days became stressful and all of them contained beers after work, then before work just to get through the day, and then every emotion required alcohol in order to be properly processed.
For this reason, I knew that, when I began to work on my sobriety, I needed to work backwards, and as I achieved longer stretches of abstinence, I needed to stay away from the potential triggers that could put me in grave danger. But stress is everywhere, and unless I planned to go into an inpatient rehab program (which I could not afford) I would have to face those stressors from time to time and learn how to work through them without alcohol or drugs. This is where therapy came in handy; I learned several methods of bringing down my stress and anxiety without having to rely on my old ways. Was I always successful? God no, not even close. As a matter of fact, in the beginning I failed more than I succeeded. But the more I tried the more determined I became, and the stronger my willpower grew. I strictly followed my medical treatment and never missed therapy. I learned to face my emotions head on, instead of drowning them in dangerous amounts of substances. I gradually got better, almost like the person that learns to play an instrument or a sport. Only with plenty of practice can you improve your skills.
I eventually began to see alcohol and drugs as a hinder, and no longer as a need. I am sure you can do the same. But always remember, some trial and error will always be part of that equation.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Understanding that stumbling from time to time is part of the process will allow you to keep realistic expectations. More importantly, it won’t let you give up. So many people feel that they are helpless and they surrender to their addiction, which can be deadly. Don’t let that happen to you. See your failures as stepping stones to your overall success.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can stumble as you please. Addiction is still very dangerous, and every fall could be your last, remember that. You have to have a real action plan in place and make a real effort to stick to it. If you don’t do this, you will not be fooling anyone but yourself. You really have to try. If you fall, then you pick yourself back up and keep trying, that is the message I am trying to convey. Don’t “fall” on purpose regularly and pretend that you are trying. You have to learn to no longer lie to yourself.
Read this article several times if you have to, and really look deep inside yourself, and make a commitment to yourself to get better. Only you have that power. Only you can make it happen. All you need is a little push, and the right understanding of your condition.