“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”
~ Anne Frank
I have been sober for seven years, five weeks, and three days. But who’s counting, right? I had my last drink during the holiday season of 2009. It was the single hardest thing I have ever done, but it is also the best decision I ever made.
There is no question that I would be a completely different person today if I had not quit drinking altogether. Hindsight may be 20/20, but who knows where I would have ended up if I had kept on the path I had been going on.
The road to that first step of recovery was not smooth sailing. I had been drinking since I was a young teenager, and for many years I simply didn’t see my drinking as a problem. I drank to be social, I drank after a hard day’s work, and I drank to calm myself down if I was feeling angry or agitated. If alcoholism had a bright flashing warning sign, my behavior during my teenage and early adult years would have been it. But I just didn’t see it. All I saw was the fun to be had, the anger and disappointment to be subsumed, the stress to be relieved. Then it hit me.
Around my twenty-eighth birthday, my girlfriend broke up with me. Not because of any lapse of judgment or a slow fading away. I loved her and she loved me. Instead, she said she was leaving for one reason: I was an alcoholic. It was like a slap in the face. My first response was to laugh. Then I started to think. It may have taken a stupid amount of time, but eventually, I realized that she was right. I was (I am) an alcoholic. Hell, I was drinking a beer when the realization finally hit me. Thankfully, that was not the end of my story. It was just the start.
I am beyond grateful for the progress I have made over the past seven years, and would not trade my recovery and sobriety in for anything in the world. But how did I get to where I am today? Whenever I tell my story, I break the journey to sobriety and then full recovery into three parts – or steps if you’d like to use the AA lingo.
The First Step: I had to jump into recovery with both feet
Even after I realized I was an alcoholic, quitting cold turkey was a non-starter. I tried starting out recovery on my own, but quickly realized I would need some help if I were to make any progress at all. This is where an intensive outpatient program for addiction treatment came in. The program gave me the freedom to continue living at home and keep up at work. But at the same time, the intensive nature of the treatment gave me the kick in the pants I needed to detox completely from alcohol and the accountability I needed to stay sober for those first weeks of recovery. An IOP may sound drastic for some struggling with alcoholism – after all, many think of it as only an option for drug addicts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Outpatient treatment works for many, whether you struggle with drug dependency or alcohol addiction.
Dipping my toes into the idea of recovery and sobriety didn’t work; I had to jump into recovery with both feet. Now I’m swimming and thriving, and I haven’t looked back.
The Second Step: I had to turn to others to help me along the way
After finishing the intensive outpatient program, I still needed support as I figured out what sobriety looked like in daily life. To keep myself accountable, I started attending a support group based on the twelve-step model. At first, this was just the best measure I knew for keeping sober, but by the end, I learned more about myself and how I relate to others than I ever had in my life. In fact, I still attend AA meetings a couple of times each month – mostly because I enjoy the company.
“The most well-known programs are Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Cocaine Anonymous, all of which are based on the 12-step model. This group therapy model draws on the social support offered by peer discussion to help promote and sustain drug-free lifestyles.”
The Third Step: I continue to choose sobriety every day
Just because I completed an intensive treatment program and continue to attend AA meetings does not mean that I am no longer an alcoholic. I continue to face the temptations and triggers that social, professional and personal life present. The difference is I now know what it’s like to be sober, which makes the choice to stay sober clearer every day. During the early stages of recovery, I learned the coping skills and tools necessary to overcome the stressors of life. Staying sober has not necessarily become easier over the past seven years, but life has certainly become sweeter.
Clearly, I have learned a great deal through my recovery. But my story is not unique. There are many others who are going through the same thing I did or are about to. Recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism is no easy task, and it can be even more difficult if you go through it alone. If you are struggling with addiction and looking for the hope that recovery offers, do not hesitate to reach out for the help you need today.
If you have a story or thought about addiction or alcoholism you’d like to share, feel free to leave a comment in the section below. My recovery is the best decision I ever made, and it can be yours too.