Recovery From Alcoholism
Recovery From Alcoholism
Alcohol addiction is a chronic illness. It needs a chronic treatment.
We become addicted gradually. Initially we can start and stop at will. Later, we find we can stop altogether for a time but find it difficult to predict what will happen once we start to drink in any day.
‘Alcohol recovery’ or ‘recovery from alcohol addiction’ depends on how ‘recovery’ is defined.
Addicts themselves may say they’re in recovery when they are in a temporary dry spell. They don’t acknowledge alcoholic abuse even at the worst of times. They’re not abusers in any way.
Their friends may say addicts are in recovery when they are off alcohol but still smoking cigarettes and having the occasional joint. Alcoholism abuse and alcoholism addiction are not terms that they would use at all. They see drunk and drugs as part of a normal life for anyone. Anyway, they don’t see alcohol as a ‘drug’.
Their families may say addicts are in recovery when addicts still have a job. They certainly don’t see alcoholic drinking, of alcoholism, in their family.
Their doctors may say they’re in recovery when addicts are taking antidepressants.
People define addiction and recovery in any way that suits them.
I define an alcohol addict as, ‘someone who cannot predict what will happen in any day after he or she takes the first drink’.
I define abstinence as, ‘abstinence from all mood-altering substances and processes that affect that individual’.
But in recovery I want to see far more than mere abstinence. For myself I want
peace of mind in spite of unsolved problems.
Happy and mutually fulfilling relationships.
Spontaneity, creativity and enthusiasm.
I recognise that I put a hard task on myself. But I had beaten about the bush until I was 47. By that time I’d tried every other way of controlling my addictive behaviour through intelligence, determination and willpower and they hadn’t worked.
Other people have every right to form their own definitions and make their own practical decisions. But, as I did, they will take the consequences.
I got into recovery eventually because I was in pain. That is a common motive, perhaps the only one. I recognised that continuing my behaviour as it had been was likely to be more painful than changing it. Previously I had dreaded changing my trusted mood-altering substances and processes. I felt they kept me alive and even – eventually – gave me a reason for living.
But I was washed up. I looked around for my family and friends. They weren’t there. They’d had enough of me. I came very close – as many alcoholic addicts do – to feeling that I’d had enough of myself.
I was lucky. I met other alcoholic addicts – and addicts of other kinds – and I followed their practical examples. And here I am, 32 years later, happier and more creative than I’ve ever been. And my wife, Pat, tells me she’s happy too.
There are 12 characteristics that define an addictive nature and separate that tendency from the behaviours of ‘normies’ or simple idiots.
1. Preoccupation with use or non-use.
2. Contentment with use on one’s own.
3. Use primarily for mood-altering effect.
4. Use as a medicine, as a tranquilliser, antidepressant, sleeping tablet or pain-killer.
5. The need to protect the supply.
6. The inability to predict what will happen after the first use in any day.
7. Initially having a higher capacity than other people.
8. Continuing to use despite damage.
9. Continuing to use despite the repeated serious concern of other people.
10. ‘Drug’-seeking behaviour.
11. ‘Drug’-dependent behaviour.
12. The tendency to cross-addict, coming out of one addictive behaviour and picking up another.
Having any 4 of these addictive characteristics indicates the need for further assessment on the possibility of having an addictive nature.
I had all of them in one or two addictive outlets and 6 or more in several. I’m a fully paid up member of the addicts’ club. But I’ve never had inpatient treatment. Or therapy to any significant degree. I simply followed the suggestions of other alcoholic addicts who had been down the same weary road that I had gone down.
I had experienced what they had experienced.
Being rejected by professional colleagues who couldn’t understand why I behaved as I did.
Being patronised by doctors who gave me information I already knew.
Eventually I was in a lonely group of 1. Something had to change.
Like others in my position, I set about trying to change the outside world. I looked at my family, my home, my work, even my country, and thought I might change them.
It hadn’t really occurred to me to change myself. I was still earning my living and supporting my family. What could possibly be wrong with me?
It was only when my wife, Meg, was sitting in front of a divorce lawyer that I was in sufficient pain to want to change things. I asked our family doctor what was wrong with Meg. To my amazement, he said that it was I who had to change.
He was right. But it still took me time to recognise the full truth of what he was saying and, even then, I learned it from other alcoholic addicts, not from professional helpers of any kind.
I tell my own story in order to help others who find themselves in similar situations and, hopefully, help them to get off the downhill slope before I did.
In the rehab I created, I helped over 5,000 alcoholic addicts and others – drug addicts, food addicts, gamblers, workaholics, sex and love addicts, all sorts – to learn how to put their days of active addiction behind them and get into lasting recovery.
Some did. They went on to have great lives, being the people they wanted to be instead of the active addicts they were born to be.
Others didn’t. They tried easier, softer ways. Some had bitter, resentful abstinent lives. Some had recurrent relapses. Some died.
There may have been others who did well as a result of trying other ways of getting into lasting recovery. But I didn’t hear from them – which is odd because I certainly heard from the relapsers. Often they blamed me, saying that my methods hadn’t worked.
All I am entitled to say is that they worked for me. Even when Meg died 3 weeks after I came out of bankruptcy caused by a fraud by my accountant as well as my incompetence in running a business. (I employed too many staff, did too many things for them, and paid them more than I could afford.)
If our addiction doesn’t catch us one way, it tries another. That’s why I emphasise that we need to look at all our addictive outlets, not simply at the most pressing or obvious. For example, cigarette smokers have double the relapse rate of non-smokers in going back to using alcohol or recreational drugs.
Recovery from alcohol addiction – or any other compulsive behaviour – is therefore a lifetime process, one day at a time.
None of us wants a chronic illness, like asthma, hypertension or diabetes. We want an acute illness like appendicitis. We want someone else to ‘fix’ us and take responsibility for us.
I used to tell patients – and I’ve said it on television – that the recovery rate of my rehab (on its own) was zero. It depends on what actions they take in support of their own recovery after they leave.
My counselling staff were not always appreciative of my honesty in this respect. But my responsibility – and theirs – was to do whatever we could to reduce the relapse rate of our patients. We did this by trying out new therapeutic methods. If someone believes that a particular approach is helpful, I want to know about it. That’s why I’ve travelled all over the world looking at rehabs, attending conferences and doing all I can to learn more.
My visit to The Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, California, in December will be my 32nd visit to America. I want to learn any way I can to help the patients I see now in my outpatient rehab. I hope to continue doing this work for the next 20 years.
I have the experience, energy and enthusiasm. This is a far cry from the depression and resentment that I had in my days of active addiction. I don’t want to be like that any more. I want to keep the life I have now and channel it towards being even happier with my wife, Pat, and even more creative. I feel good.
But I know full well that it would be only too easy for me to become complacent. After all these years it would be very easy to say that I’m no longer an addict because I no longer use any mood-altering substance of process. That would be as stupid as saying that wearing glasses for 50 years cured my short sight. They didn’t. The simply enabled me to see. But, as soon as I took them off, I was just as short sighted as I ever was.
There is no time when I will be cured of my addictive nature. It goes with me. It’s part of me. I am very well aware that this is an unpopular message. There’s no quick fix. Continuing recovery is continuing hard work. The process is simple – in just the same way that I can learn how to do a backhand stroke at tennis. But that does not make it easy. Commitment to daily preventive actions, the necessary treatment to get into lasting recovery from alcoholism or addiction of any kind, is just as challenging for ‘recovering’ addicts as it is for all those who have chronic illnesses. We have to face up to our problem, acknowledge it, and work alongside people who do the same. Then we live and love and get on with our lives.
I find the term ‘alcoholism’ unhelpful because it names the illness – the inexplicable sense of inner emptiness (that probably comes from genetically inherited defects in neurotransmission in the mood centres of the brain) after one of its treatments. Alcohol and drugs and all addictive behaviours are bad treatments because they have so many damaging side-effects.
I prefer the to use term ‘neurotransmission disease’. This labels it as a chronic illness. We are not responsible for having it but we are responsible for our behaviour towards other people. And we are responsible for our own daily actions that lead to continuing recovery.