Facing Life Without Substances
by: Jim Urban, LPC.
Eric Clapton is well-known as one of the most talented and influential musicians of the 20th century. His music helped inspire a generation of guitarists and vocalists to share their gifts with others. What may not be as well-known about Eric is that he once spent an average of $16,000 a week on heroin and alcohol. In his autobiography entitled ‘Clapton’, Eric said: “In the privacy of my room I begged for help. I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether, I had nothing left to fight with.Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, my pride just wouldn’t allow it, but I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help, and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered.” Thankfully Eric accepted the help in that rehab center, and has been clean and sober since 1987.
It’s no secret that the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs is a major problem in the United States. According to a 2015 study by the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 15 million people in the U.S. are diagnosable with an Alcohol Use Disorder. Of those 15 million, only 1.5 million sought help that year. Of those 1.5 million only about 10% are statistically likely to still be sober today. A CDC study found that 10.1% of all US citizens ages 12 and older have used an illegal drug in the past month.
I worked for several years in the substance-abuse field, and treated hundreds of individuals with an addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. I can assuredly say that I’ve never once met an alcoholic or addict that knew how to manage life on life’s terms without the aid of their drug-of-choice. The two biggest issues that make or break one’s recovery are; surrendering their life to God or a Higher Power of their understanding, and learning to deal with the stress, challenges, emotions, and traumas that life brings for every single person who walks this planet. Being a member of an AA/NA group, or even a church, is no guarantee that someone will acquire the skills necessary to live clean and sober, and regain their sanity. Gaining the emotional resilience necessary to live a stable life in an unstable world is the only hope.
With that said, I’d like to share three essential starting points for facing life without the use of alcohol and drugs.
- Don’t go it alone. The “addict personality,” as it has been dubbed, has a tendency to struggle with pride, an unrealistic sense of self-sufficiency, and distrust of others. Those three traits, if not changed, guarantee that one will remain in active addiction for the rest of his/her life. The first step of AA says, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” What this step teaches in a powerful way is that one must accept that they don’t possess any ability to control their drinking, and that their life is unmanageable. An alcoholic trying to control one’s drinking alone would be as likely to succeed as a patient with Crohn’s disease continuing to eat spicy, fried foods and hoping one day they’ll stop experiencing the severe pain and sickness that accompanies that sort of diet. It just doesn’t work. If you’re scared of what life looks like on the other side of sobriety, please, for your health’s sake, talk to a qualified professional about your options for treatment. You can also talk to a recovering addict or alcoholic in your local AA, NA, or Celebrate Recovery group.
- Don’t hedge your bet. Hedging your bet in recovery means failing to let go of any reservations and conditions for recovery. What I mean is this: if you decide to enter recovery, but are doing so on the condition that life and people give you what you want, then failure is guaranteed. The truth is that recovery is no guarantee of your wife taking you back, your kids forgiving you, your finances suddenly dramatically improving, or the judge giving you a lighter sentence. What recovery does guarantee, however, is that you will find the peace, serenity, sanity, and stability you’ve been missing. With that newfound sense of peace and stability comes a greater ability to manage a relationship, career, money, and even a tough legal consequence.
- Don’t give up if you relapse. One of the most demoralizing experiences for someone in recovery is a relapse, especially if they have significant sobriety time under their belt. The temptation to throw in the towel on recovery can be very high. One of the most important things to remember is that, through support and adopting a growth-centered perspective, we can turn a failure into a powerful stepping-stone. Relapses can show you where your recovery needs more work and fine-tuning, and with that lesson you can reach new levels in your recovery.
Facing life without one’s drug-of-choice can be a scary, anxiety-provoking thought. Often the fear we feel about doing something means one of two things: either what we are about to do is bad for us and shouldn’t be done, or we are on the cusp of a change in our lives that will forever alter how we live. George Addair summed it up best when he said: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear”.
Tell us in the comments below how this article spoke to you, and what steps of courage you’ve taken in the face of your fears.