“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.” ~ Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye Two years ago, I finally got “on the wagon”. I gave up drinking. It was the hardest, most wonderful thing I’ve ever done, and I’d like to tell you why and how I did it.
Why I Needed to Give up Drinking
During my drinking years, I would have NEVER referred to myself as an “alcoholic” – that was a label for drunks. But there were signs that something had to change:
- Over the years, I had a few minor run-ins with the law because of drinking. (Nothing too serious, but I realize now that they COULD HAVE BEEN.)
- On separate occasions, both my mother and my brother hinted that maybe I should try cutting back. (I tried that – but there always seemed to be a reason to party.)
- Sometimes, I drank too much on dates and made a fool of myself. (Maybe that’s why there were so few second dates.)
- It wasn’t “fun” anymore –it was just something that I “had” to do every day. (And the hangovers were getting worse.)
I could go on. But the single incident that prompted me to make a change was when my apartment caught fire. There’s no way to pretty up the story – I was drunk… I was hungry… I tried to cook… I sat down on the couch and passed out, with the food still on the stove. I’m lucky that I didn’t die. I’m luckier still that I didn’t kill someone else. No, my only punishment was I had to move back in with my parents because my place was smoke-damaged. Almost dying, almost killing someone else, and having to sleep in my own room and live with my mom’s disappointed look kind of put things in perspective. Maybe…just maybe… It was time to try something else.
My Treatment for Alcoholism Started with First Things First
I thought about trying an outpatient alcohol treatment program, but after I called a local intake line, but decided against it for a few reasons –
- I had tried to “cut back” or quit before, without success.
- I had been drinking pretty heavily for a few years – I had a history with alcohol.
- I had pretty good insurance through my job, so I wanted to go to this full-throttle.
The first step was alcohol detox – and that wasn’t fun at all. For me, it was only four days, but I had not gone that long without a drink since high school. I’m glad that they gave me medication to help with my withdrawal, or I may have opted out before I even really got started. After detox, I checked into a residential facility for a 28-day program.
Residential Treatment for Alcoholism Was the Right Solution for Me
The place surprised me – it was bright and spotlessly clean and the people welcomed me without a hint of judgment. That’s something that even my family had not been able to accomplish. For the next 28 days, it seems as if every moment of my week was accounted for –
- One-on-one sessions with my primary counselor
- Group therapy
- Education classes
- 12-Step meetings
- Practical life skills
- Relapse prevention
- Team-building social exercises
- Yoga (yes, I participated)
- Planned recreational time
- Different therapies that allowed us to express ourselves – art, poetry, and music
Some of the things seemed corny at first, but I played along, hoping that maybe they knew what they were doing. And I found out that it was necessary – we were learning how to do things WITHOUT being drunk or high. I got the most out of the group sessions and the 12-Step meetings. These were people whose lives were completely different from mine, but somehow, exactly the same. I mean, we differed in the particulars, but I understood – intimately – everything that had happened to the other people in my groups. It was like I had found my long-lost tribe. And that helped me stay sober because I couldn’t let myself – or the tribe – down.
My Life after Treatment for Alcoholism
That was two years ago. I’ve stayed completely sober, but I can’t take all the credit – I was in an outpatient program for four months after I “graduated” residential treatment, and I still regularly attend AA meetings. Compared to my old life, it seems as if nothing is the same— On a daily basis, I feel better physically – no headaches, puking, or tremors. My family no longer looks at me with such disappointment and disapproval. I have a girlfriend now, and I only have to worry about being a “regular” fool, instead of a drunken one. Through AA, I have a whole new set of friends who support my sobriety and who – on occasion – I have been able to support. It’s strange, but in some ways, I care more about having their approval than my own family’s. Here’s the best thing about sobriety – I found that I like myself well enough that I do not have to hide behind alcohol. And at the end of the day, the person in the mirror is the only person I have to face every day.