One of the observations I would make of the people I’ve met who are at the early stages of tackling alcoholism is that they expect a quick fix. Looking back, I suspect I was the same. You only discover what it truly takes after a lot of anguish, repeated cycles and a final acceptance of what is required.
Too often people turn up expecting a quick fix. This is exhibited in many ways.
Some will turn up to a fellowship meeting not really wanting to be there. It’s been suggested to them by somebody else. They get there and don’t like the venue. They don’t feel anything in common with anybody else. They don’t want to open up in front of others. They go away thinking that this will not be helpful to them.
Admittedly, it takes some courage to go to a meeting in the first place. But the pattern is often to attend two or three times and then disappear. Instead, if you don’t feel at home in a particular format or with a particular group of people, then why not shop around and find something more suited to you?
Alternatively, some will turn up at a clinic or medical practice following a referral. They expect a quick fix – a “magic pill” or whatever. They enter therapy but don’t fully engage. The biggest frustration to me as a mentor is the number of people who express an interest in talking but who disappear quickly thereafter.
What is going on here? I don’t mean to sound disparaging. As already said, it takes some courage to take the first step. Hopefully, those starting out on the path to recovery truly want to get well. But often the thinking tends to be – I’ve done what others asked me to do, I’ve perhaps been sober for quite a while. Something happened to me but I’m now back on an even keel and no longer need it.
I was much the same. It took several years of knowing inside that I had a serious drinking problem before I finally got my first referral. I didn’t volunteer myself, as it were. It was forced upon me, in a sense, by my ultimate collapse but it came as a great relief in many respects. That is because it was out in the open, perhaps not to everybody but at least to those who mattered most. Moreover, I was receiving treatment.
I was given medication. From memory this was some form of beta-blocker to control the panic attacks. I was assessed by a psychiatrist. I was given very intensive psychotherapy and I welcomed it. I was asked whether I’d ever contemplated suicide. I hadn’t. I experienced mood swings, especially during the winter, but I wouldn’t say that I ever felt truly depressed. We explored my childhood in great detail. I was given “homework”. All of this I now recognise to be very standard and it triggered a life-long commitment to study.
At the end of all of this – from memory it lasted several months – it was decided, presumably with my agreement, that I was “better”. No suggestion was made to me about ongoing support and it was me who expressed an interest in group meetings. I went along a couple of times but didn’t enjoy it. A lot of people were smoking – I came away reeking of smoke, similar to having been in a pub in the olden days - and I didn’t feel very much in common with them.
I was on my own. I’m not sure whether or not I truly believed I was better. I had acknowledged a problem. I’d collapsed and received treatment. It was a close shave and I’d learned my lesson or so I thought. In any case, I was then preoccupied with controlling the panic attacks and it took me about three years. But here is the key point. I had not properly realised that this was still the early stage. There was no quick fix and this needed to be for the longer-term.
Without repeating much of what I’ve written elsewhere, I then repeated the whole cycle all over again. Relapse was followed by repeated efforts at control, further relapse, blackouts and so on, until another collapse into panic attacks and referral for treatment. We could break this down into something like fifteen years of heavy drinking, five years of sobriety, followed by another five years of heavy drinking.
This time I was starting to get it. I knew that a commitment to sobriety needed to be truly for the longer haul. I started to engage with fellowship meetings. At first I did this online but eventually in person and I kept going. Although I had been sober for a number of years, I still found it helpful to hear and share experience with others. Eventually, I also arrived at the point of helping others and found this to be very beneficial.
The key point here is that recovery is not a quick fix. Don’t stay in denial. Recognise and acknowledge that you have a problem that will take a lot of work to get well. You can study what others have done. Find some books and movies that work for you. Share your story with others who have found themselves in the same situation.
Let’s try to sum it up. Recovery is about travelling along a path toward a promised destination. It’s a long-term commitment to a changed lifestyle, changed attitudes, and changes in who you mix with and what you do. It’s about opening up new meaning and purpose for you in the world. We are all "work in progress".
Like anything in life that’s worthwhile, it’s hard work, it takes effort, but the reward is freedom and it’s priceless!