Asking for help in addiction or alcoholism recovery
Asking for help in addiction or alcoholism recovery
Another year of my recovery from drinking has just been completed sometime around now, (I can’t remember my sobriety date and it is not that important to me these days) but it was around this time. Like many I vowed to stop on January the first, but had a few false starts until the end of March! I have been thinking about why I have managed to stay alcohol and drug free for quite a long period so far, (I’m in my eighth year now). I had stopped for many times in the past, for a few days, months or on one occasion for a couple of years before I would go back to my binge drinking lifestyle again, generally as a result of some event that I was unsure of how to cope with. Once I had started, I would feel the temporary relief from drink, and would generally continue. I would also feel disgusted with myself even though I realise now that I had achieved a lot by stopping for a time, and that all was not lost by having a drink. Although I drank a lot, I was still able to function, but this was becoming harder towards the end and was a major factor for me deciding to go alcohol free. I had simply had enough of making poor decisions in life due to my excessive drinking. I wanted to move on, I wanted to be normal and live life in a similar fashion to people I admired, rather than the drinkers in the pub or the clubs, I was hanging out with.
I had seen others stop and had read about many celebrities – mainly musicians who I respected and in some cases knew, talk about how they had rebuilt their lives. Many had seemed to go through the AA route. I would probably not have gone to AA without hearing that these people had gone there, which is ironic as it is a breach of the traditions of AA to say that you are a member and that you are supposed to stay anonymous. Many AA members are quick to criticise members who “come out” , but apart from courts and some rehabs sending people to 12 step groups, it is often the celebrity endorsement that attracts many people, or at least what alerts them to AA.
Anyway AA was the first place I asked for help about the drink problem, and the first place that I met many people who had built up some alcohol free time. Unfortunately, many of the answers that I got from AA members, were not really that helpful! The approach, is a one size fits all solution and is based on the old-fashioned religious ideas in the “Big Book”. It is certainly not about building self-esteem and independence, but is more about guilt and confession with powerlessness playing a major part. However it would be wrong for me to say AA was completely useless in my case, as I did find that having some fellowship with others in a similar position, was helpful for a while. Having a place to go to help break the habit of drinking was useful, rather than just isolating which I had done before. It was shame that the fellowship was not mixed with more rational sharing, and discussion of techniques that would really help people move on from alcohol abuse.
I had decided to stop for good before I went to AA, so I never used the day at a time method, which is the AA suggestion which may have merit in the first few weeks, but I feel can hold people back in the long-term. For instance I feel it is ridiculous for someone with my length of sobriety worrying about staying sober “just for today”, day after day. I have dealt with the issues that I wished to blot out by drinking and have proved to myself that I can stay stopped. I have no wish to start again, as drinking would not fit in with my new lifestyle and self-image, which is about healthy living. I do actually feel that I would be able to moderate now, which is a controversial view for many who believe the AA idea, but for me drinking does also, have many bad associations with my past and is not something I wish to do. I do not feel I would binge after taking a drink in the way that AA members often have a problem with, but I simply feel it would not be good for me.
Many of the advice given by AA members is very out of date, especially when it come to medication, so be careful asking for help about this. The powerless concept, disease theory and labelling myself as an alcoholic on a daily basis actually gave me a negative self-image which was not helping after about 15 months. It was time to ask for help again and look for a new solution. I was told that abandoning AA, was the wrong thing to do (especially by my sponsor), and that I would come “crawling back” when I was ready to subjugate myself to the program in the future. This has not been the case, but sadly several of those that started the program around the same time as me, have suffered terrible problems as a result of dreadful binges, including a stroke and life threatening injuries. I have seen two others committed to psychiatric care and feel that these incidents may well have been avoided or have been less severe, if the people concerned had looked at other solutions and asked for help elsewhere. Both people who were sent into psychiatric care had stopped taking medication after advice from well-meaning but ignorant AA sponsors. AA does talk “about not playing Dr” in the literature but there are a significant number of keen AA members who are anti medication, basing their ideas on the experience of those in the 1930’s and not modern times.
It is easy to simply go through the motions of recovery and turn up at meetings and recite the AA phrases like “freedom from the bondage of self” but sadly the steps and other advice handed out, will not always help. Some people like myself actually felt worse, after the crude step 4 and I was not that keen on sharing details of my life in front of a group of strangers, in a large city meeting, after the instructions from my sponsor. These type of things were not helping and in fact resulted in having my privacy breached, which is something that was important to me. Many in AA will give you advice because they want you to be a member of “their club”. Often these members mean well, but have done very little in the way of investigation of alternative methods. We are all different, and need solutions for our individual needs, not some universal spiritual solution for a made up disease. Other AA members actually enjoy controlling and manipulating other people, especially those who are new, so asking them for help is not always the bast thing, even though they appear as friendly and want to hug you.
I was lucky that when I asked for help, after reflecting on the problems I was facing in AA, that I was sent to an excellent counsellor by my Dr. I was about a year and a half down the line and was ready to deal with the underlying issues in a more rational way, than asking some made up God, to remove my character flaws! The one on one counselling, really helped and made me look at events from my past in different way. I was able to move on and realised that the “resentment” based approach of step four, had not been the best idea for someone such as myself. Breaking away from the groups, and becoming more independent really helped me at this time. I was able to test my sobriety by living a normal life that was not dominated by recovery. I was able to change my perception of myself and to try a new way of living.
I think it is important to keep an open mind about recovery and be prepared to ask for help in different places, at different times, when circumstances change and a new approach is possibly needed. Blogging is a great way to meet new people with different ideas. Many are using the net to ask for help. Various formal groups such as Smart Recovery are now running online groups where you can discuss feelings and problems http://www.smartrecovery.org/community/calendar.php#.UywRYx8giXo. Hams recovery also has online chat http://www.hamsnetwork.org/chat/ . I would have no hesitation in using either of these groups for good advice should I need it. I would also go the formal route again via my Dr, as that proved really beneficial in the past. Many in AA say that only another alcoholic can understand the problems but I do not feel this is true at all. I do not aim to emulate other alcoholics but would rather be able to cope like normal people. Trained counsellors who are not 12 step based can often take a step back and help you view things from an alternative viewpoint. They are often more rational than those who have come from a recovery background and who are simply pushing the method they feel has worked for them. They often behave like sponsors rather than therapists, and have a narrow focus.
Another advantage of blogging or joining an online group like the soberistas, is that you will make contact with others who you can talk to as often as you want and read about the methods that have helped. These accounts are much more varied than the type of recovery speech you will get in AA, where most speakers will simply spout the 12 step jargon to gain acceptance from the group after their drunkalog. Discussing new methods or CBT is not the done thing in AA. It is a good feeling to realise there are people out there who will not judge you, and can offer support when you ask for it. This allows you to live an independent life that is not based around recovery forever, but is a place you can go to when you want.
It is important to ask for help, but sadly many choose not to do so. One of the reasons is shame after relapse in 12 step groups, where failure of complete abstinence is seen completely as a failure to correctly follow the 12 step program and will result in a loss of time and creditability within the group. Members will often go on binges that are made more dangerous by the period of abstinence. This type of behaviour is often not the way that people in other programs react, such as those who follow the harm reduction method. They are less likely to binge and this is a much more effective place to ask for help, if you feel that complete abstinence is unlikely or impossible. There is also rational recovery which appeals to many who wish to reject the spiritual solution of AA. the vast majority who move to rational recovery after AA prefer it and find it more effective. AA members often say that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. That can also apply for asking for help from people following a method of recovery that conflicts with your own beliefs. I do not think that “keep coming back until you get it” is always the best advice!
Please ask people for help when you need it, but also take a step back at times and look at if the advice given is really going to help, as not all advice is going to work for you!