There are those who realize that they have a drinking problem and are able to cut back or simply stop. I wasn’t one of them. I abused alcohol for 20 years knowing that it was causing problems both physically and mentally, but didn’t stop until I had lost everything. Here’s what I learned from thinking that my life was finished, when it fact it was just starting over.
Denial, Dependency and Despair
From the first time I tried alcohol as a teenager, I loved the feeling it gave me. Growing up in an extremely dysfunctional family, I had developed problems with anxiety and low self-esteem, but when I drank I felt calm and confident. Most of all, I found that a few drinks numbed me from the pain of being abandoned by my mother and the fear of being abused by my father. So like anyone who uses a substance to self-medicate, I quickly made the transition into dependency. For many years I believed I was managing my alcohol consumption and could give up whenever I chose. Denial ensured that I was never going to make that choice voluntarily, because even though my tolerance was increasing I was convinced I wasn’t doing any harm. Alcohol made me feel not only invincible, but I thought it revealed the “real me.” When I was drinking, I was convinced that I was more likable and more capable. However, the reality was quite different. I had become an unreliable, unapproachable and incompetent alcoholic whose life was spiralling into chaos. Eventually I was drinking day and night simply to prevent withdrawal symptoms and manage the incessant cravings. No longer did alcohol reassure or uplift me; instead, I battled depression and panic attacks. With no family to support me and friends becoming reluctant to associate with me because of my drunken behavior, I became isolated. In addition, I was less able to function at work and had no other option but to stop. Naturally, debts started to accumulate and eventually I lost everything I owned. It took an alcohol-induced suicide attempt for me to admit that I was an alcoholic. I was so ashamed of what I had become and even though I was physically still alive, it truly felt like my life had come to an end.
Steps to Starting Over in Alcohol Recovery
In some respects, my breakdown did signify the end. It meant that my drinking days were over and so was the denial, the deceit and the hopelessness. As soon as I admitted my problem, I was no longer alone and help was available. In fact, there always had been, but I had never been willing to change. When finally I was ready to start over I began with these first steps. #1 Faced the truth It was impossible to get well until I could face the truth about my addiction. I was honest about how much I was drinking and how long I had been hiding my problem, and admitted that I had no control over my alcohol use. #2 Removed the mask I had spent so many years pretending to be someone that I wasn’t. It was time to remove the mask that had concealed my authentic self. I desperately wanted to be free from my alcoholic persona, so as scary as it was to reveal my vulnerability, I gave the real me permission to show herself. #3 Let go Starting as I meant to go on required letting go of everything that had kept me trapped in the cycle of alcoholism. It wasn’t just alcohol I had to clear out of my system; my destructive mindset had to go too. I had to distance myself from any negative influence that could take me back instead of moving forward. #4 Slowed down Particularly toward the end, maintaining my addiction was a full-time preoccupation. No longer exhausted by the burden of having to find the next drink, being sober meant I could slow down. It meant I was able to pace myself, giving myself time to reclaim my faith, renew relationships and make the right choices for my life. #5 Dared to dream Each day in sobriety improved my physical and mental health. Within a relatively short period of time, I was truly enjoying my life. No longer being defined by my past I learned to embrace the day and dared to dream about my future. When I started over, I had no idea what recovery would bring. It has brought me happiness, serenity and success, but most of all it has given me the freedom to live my life as the person I was meant to be. So if you are in the grip of an addiction, be encouraged. It’s never too late to make the decision that it’s going to be the end of that phase of your life and the beginning of something new. I made the choice to start over and you can too.