How we have recovered
With respect to drinking problems... there is no such thing as a 'free lunch'. Consequences are attached to the quick fix strategy of using alcohol to mentally get us where we want to be - and these consequences progressively stack up over time and our problem just gets worse and worse. If we are fortunate our journey may however, bring us to a place where the desire to stop the consequences and the pain attached to this way of living, outweighs the desire to continue drinking
If drinking has caused a serious problem for us, our experience shows us that it is extremely difficult to simply stop and stay stopped without help. For many of us it is quite literally impossible. An unwavering determination, gained from a deeply felt desire to stop drinking has to be in place for us to succeed - without it our chances are very slim. In addition however we need to have a clear idea of how we are going to go about it
If you have arrived at a place where you want to stop drinking more than you want to carry on - our suggestion is to make good use of this feeling. This could be a turning point in your life. But we should make it very clear, that in our hard earned experience - recovery doesn't simply fall into our lap just because we want it to. We need to take action.
Time to take action
The first opportunity we have to take action on our journey of recovery is to address the very important issue of our health. We should know by now the dangerous and addictive quality that ethyl alcohol possesses having endured its effects so often. Our physical health can be seriously affected by drinking unsafely - frequent drinking of unsafe quantities of alcohol causing our bodies to become reliant on our intake of drink. So one of the first complications we can often, but by no means always face... is a physical addiction to alcohol - as well as being 'mentally addicted' to the thinking we described in the recovery section. Our bodies can be damaged often quite badly, and so it makes sense to get ourselves checked out thoroughly by a Doctor or medical professional, who is qualified to give us the advice we need. In our experience it can be helpful to explain to our Doctor exactly how much we have been drinking and for how long - and that we have come to a decision to stop drinking, and would like advice on how this can be done safely. This process often referred to as a 'detox' may need to be medically supervised if we have been drinking unsafely for any length of time
Sometimes the relationship with our Doctor has deteriorated or in some cases become non existent. If so, we strongly suggest persevering in trying to find a Doctor who will see us and hopefully take on board what we are trying to do. If for some reason we are refused, then we will have to do the best that we can... calling in at a hospital or medical centre perhaps and asking to see a Doctor or health-care professional for help and advice on how to stop drinking or detox safely
If our condition is bad enough it may be recommended that we go to a treatment centre where we can have 24 hour supervision as we dry out. Right here at the very beginning, we will just have to do whatever we need to do - safely - to get off the alcohol and start the journey into a new life. Taking the advice that we are given is perhaps one of the first challenges our pride has to face. However, taking action to see our Doctor can be for many of us, the first positive step in recovery - asking someone for help, but this time with honesty, and... any kind of humility that we can muster.
Cutting down or tapering off?
It is absolutely vital that we explain to our Doctor or health-care professional who is advising us that we have lost control of our drinking. Some Doctors will suggest a 'tapering off' of our intake because of the dangers of stopping abruptly. We know from our experience that attempting to cut down can be as dangerous as stopping abruptly in that if we are truly unable to cut down and instead get drunk when trying, we could easily wreck our car or burn our house down for instance potentially causing ourselves and others great harm. If on the other hand we feel very confident that a wind down of our drinking is actually possible then this can be tried and used in a positive way as an experiment to see whether is is actually achievable and if not then we have all the proof we need that it is not actually possible for us. What is missed in the advice to cut down is that if we could actually do this then we wouldn't need the help we were seeking in the first place and our situation would be in hand. The reality is that our situation is anything but in hand, and the reason that we are in trouble in the first place, is because of our inability to employ any kind of control - tapering off or any other type. We must at all costs get the seriousness of our situation across, but intelligently and with any help we can get from family, friends or anyone else who knows what we are like, trying to remain as calm as possible.
Having explained that we find it impossible to cut down in the long run we need to ask for help from our Doctor to STOP SAFELY. This is vital as we can become seriously or even fatally ill if we stop abruptly when we have been used to drinking high levels of alcohol. A controlled detox is often the suggested way forward if our drinking has been heavy and persistent either in a treatment centre or at home with visits from health-care professionals. If you have been drinking high levels of alcohol or feel at all unsure about stopping your drinking abruptly you must avoid this course of action unless seeking medical help with the process. This is very important.
If you are the type of drinker who binge drinks or drinks in excessive bouts you might find yourself taking a decision to stop when you are not going through a period of drinking so this of course is a completely different matter. A decision under these circumstances would not normally have the attendant problems of stopping abruptly during heavy drinking however medical assistance in our endeavor is always a good and safe choice and we would certainly recommend visiting your Doctor under any circumstances before stopping and talking through the choice you are making and why you have made it.
Asking for help
Many of us have willingly come to the aid of others if help were needed, but so often we would not dream of asking for help ourselves. It may be the case that some of us have asked for help but have not been able to carry out the advice we were given because our dependency would not allow it. In our experience, the ability to ask for help demonstrates a frame of mind crucial to the process of recovery. For as long as our drinking has been a problem to us we have been using a will of iron to make sure that our drinking can continue as we wanted or needed it to. We have used determination in a way that few are able, so is it any wonder that until we actually admit that our way has not worked, we can't even begin to recover. For as long as we think that our drinking strategy has got even the slightest possibility of working - we haven't got a chance. Asking for help is a way of... throwing in the towel. It shows great promise if we can take this positive step, despite not feeling comfortable with it - as we begin to live in the real world, rather than the one we created whilst drinking.
Identifying with others and recovery meetings
One of the things that we have found most useful and uplifting on our journey of recovery is the sharing of our experience with others in recovery. It is hard to say how the process of identifying with others works to such good effect, but one thing is certain - the influence on our recovery is remarkable. To this end we have found that the fellowship, and identification with others that we have found in recovery groups, is invaluable
This site is all about the sharing of our experience... how we drank, what happened as a result, how we stopped - and how we continue to live our lives in recovery without alcohol. We have all experienced feelings of desperation, that finally lead us to ask for help in a way that was different from help we had sought previously. In past attempts at getting help many of us had tried all types of treatments or remedies that we thought would fix us, from hypnotherapy and acupuncture through to all kinds of therapy and medication each time hoping that the procedure or substance would do the work of making us better - whilst our part would simply be, to attend appointments and take our medication. Our repeated disappointment did not deter countless attempts at different methods of trying to solve our problem, pinning great hope on each new treatment. Many of us have experimented with different methods of drinking trying every variation that we could think of... some of us not drinking at all for a while if we could manage it. What many of us wanted to achieve was a state of mind where we felt at ease with ourselves, life and people - in a way that made us feel like we didn't need to drink
None of us were able to find this state of mind for any length of time if at all - and so we felt that there was no other option but to carry on. This was the only way we now knew of, that had in a way 'worked' for us... except the problem was that it wasn't really working for us in the same way that it used to, the only real relief that we felt was when we were on route to unconsciousness. Finally we acquired what we sometimes call in recovery the 'gift of desperation'... beaten and exhausted we somehow felt, perhaps instinctively, that we should ask for help from those who had personal experience of alcoholism. Our pride had been kicked into submission and we now no longer cared how it would look. Walking through the doors of a recovery meeting was not 'part of the script' that we or our parents had planned for us - but there we were... now prepared to try anything. Becoming open-minded and being prepared to go to any lengths, is we think, the key to our success
Recovery is about finding a new relationship with life - and asking for help is the beginning of this new relationship. If we start dictating the terms and thinking we know best from the outset... then what has changed? We have been dictating the terms and thinking that we know best for years. Our experience has shown us that there is everything to gain by attending recovery groups and absolutely nothing to lose. Why not listen to how men and women have got sober, often against all the odds... are we so accomplished in our lives that we cannot learn from other people? Are we going to turn our back on this source of help because our pride won't allow us to go through with it or because of some kind of prejudice? At the end of the day the choice is ours to seek help from those who have been successful - or to once more go it alone
Although there are many self help recovery groups connected with alcohol problems to be found, in our experience Alcoholics Anonymous is the 'matriarch' of all such groups having been around for 70 years helping people from all walks of life to live alcohol free lives. We, as do so many treatment facilities and professionals in the field of alcohol problems, suggest going along to AA to see what is on offer. We did... and managed to get sober because of what we found.
Getting through the first 10 or so alcohol free days, by which time the majority of alcohol has gone from our systems, is a raw and torrid experience for many however those who have drunk less may find the experience much easier. If in a treatment centre or hospital we will be cared for around the clock, however a great many of us are deemed to have sufficient good health and acceptable levels of risk attached to the process of stopping that the advice from our Doctors is to detox (come off alcohol) at home, often assisted with medication and visits from medical professionals. Some of us may not need to detox to the same extent as others who are severely affected. In fact we may not need to detox at all, as such, if for instance we have already stopped after a recent binge or because we drink perhaps lower volumes with less frequency
Our troubled relationship with alcohol takes many forms but there is one element of our drinking that is like a connecting thread - and this is our dependence upon what alcohol seems to do for us problem drinkers in terms of 'changing our emotions' and 'how we feel'. In recovery we experience a profound change in the relationship we have or perhaps don't have with our feelings. We have often been suppressing our emotions for years and there is a saying in recovery circles that sums up the difficulty we face with our returning feelings - which is... 'The good news is that in recovery you get your feelings and emotions back - the bad news is... that you get your feelings and emotions back!' So during these early days we can feel very raw, emotional, volatile, angry, and tearful as we begin to reacquaint ourselves with the emotions and feelings that we had at various levels been suppressing and manipulating for so long
The thing that is vital to remember is.. that we are on a journey and our experience shows that it does get better if we stay away from alcohol. What we did at this early stage of our recoveries - was to stick very close to recovery meetings and other recovering problem drinkers, using the phone frequently and picking up invaluable tips on recovery and staying sober. Many of us also stayed out of bars and pubs at this stage, choosing to steer clear of drinking situations where possible, as this is what we felt would be the safest thing to do. Although we by no means advocate a program of avoidance, it can be helpful to steer clear of situations in early recovery that could put us at risk.
The Twelve Step Program
Our collective experience is one of staying sober by practicing the '12 Step Recovery Program' (widely used in treatment centres and recovery facilities throughout the world) and attending recovery meetings. You can probably tell by what you have read so far, that this is not something we feel the need to shout about from the rooftops, it is simply the way we got sober and are able to help others who have a problem like ours... it has worked for us and continues to work for us. The 12 Step Program was devised by an alcoholic called Bill Wilson in the late 1930's, Bill being the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. The program can be found at all AA meetings and at some other recovery forums, however our experience is of learning how to practice the Program in AA as best we can
Many of us when discovering the program for the first time saw the word God incorporated into the wording - and immediately became disillusioned because we were not Godly people and did not want to be in any way involved in anything that was remotely religious, whilst others who did have religious convictions found no problem with it at all. Those of us who did not like the God stuff but were too desperate at the end of the day to care - discovered how we could pacify our prejudices long enough to realise that we didn't need to worry after all as the fellowship of AA is not religious
We touch on this issue for a very important reason. Those of us who flinch at, and revolt against, the word God can easily leave at this point, as so often happens, not realising that the Recovery Program and fellowship of AA is entirely non religious, this being stated very clearly in a 'preamble' before the start of any AA meeting. Members foster a culture of tolerance - tolerance towards those with religious convictions, from those who don't feel such conviction... and likewise tolerance of those who choose not to have religious or indeed any other convictions, from those who are religious. The object is to stay sober - not promote religious beliefs... or atheistic ones
It turns out that the word God was put very specifically into the 12 Step Program by Bill Wilson, the primary author of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' in which the Program can be found. Bill was a hopeless alcoholic driven half insane through his drinking, but because of the way that he drank and the feelings that he felt, so many of us can relate to this man quite easily. Bill and the co-founder of AA Bob Smith, were both committed Christians and unsurprisingly both the book they produced and the Program contained within, had quite a few references to God. The first 100 members of AA got a say in the editing process of the book and many, because they were atheist or agnostic, asked for some changes in the text and agreed on the phrase 'God as we understood him' and another expression 'Power greater than ourselves'. These simple phrases have allowed so many people in dire need of help to stay in AA and recover through the 12 Step Recovery Program, often using the power of the group as a 'Power greater than ourselves'
Illness... or willpower problem?
There is a great deal of controversy around the idea of a drink problem being called an illness. Confusion and controversy also surround the words 'alcoholic' and 'alcoholism' and perhaps here we are able to throw some light
For a certain sector of the population, a problem exists that is connected with the consumption of alcohol. This problem seems to be on a sliding scale from - drinking a bit too much for our own good to... a complete loss or lack of control over our drinking with the attendant consequences. The first stages of a problematic relationship with alcohol may be manageable for some people if the appropriate action is taken in time, leading perhaps to a carefully managed return to drinking in safe quantities providing the person concerned is actually able to do that. Our experience however relates to drinking that has gone beyond the option of control
Our experience is of an inability to control our drinking. The consequences of such an inability are not only 'potentially' fatal but are often proved to be so. This type of drinking puts us in a different category from those who could perhaps alter their habits or adjust their intake and lifestyle. We are in very serious trouble with our drinking, but often our denial is so strong that we don't actually realise the seriousness of our situation
In this category of drinking we seem to have lost the ability to choose how much we drink once we have started and we also seem to default to an ingrained way of changing how we feel by drinking alcohol. In addition, we seem to have put in place a capability of overriding the mechanisms by which we avoid repeating a mistake over and over again and at the same time our ability to reflect on and consider the consequences of our drinking, intelligently and effectively, seems to be diminished to the point where it has become bypassed. At this level of drinking our willpower, often very powerful in all other areas, does not have sufficient sway to overturn the drinking strategy which now seems to override all our thinking processes. Anyone who observes this level of drink problem cannot fail to notice that we are not acting in a rational or well way, in fact we seem to be acting in an irrational and unwell way
Some put forward a very powerful argument that suggests that alcoholism (a loss of control and dependence on alcohol) is itself a progressive illness in terms of either a predisposition or an inherent mental and physical reaction to alcohol. A very powerful point must however be made here, which is... that no one at this stage of investigation can be categorically sure one way or the other and the very real danger in this debate, is that it can be conducted at professional and other levels at the expense of the person with the drink problem. The most helpful, practical and logical step to take when we cannot drink with safety and control, is to STOP doing the very thing that is destroying us.
We have to be very clear on where the responsibility lies for our drinking. The reality is it that responsibility lies entirely with ourselves. Many of us became very hostile to statements like this, until we were at the point where we were prepared to see things differently, usually because we had become too exhausted with it all to carry on. Many unfortunate drinkers will not get to a point where they feel able to take this responsibility - and as a result a tormented existence lies ahead
Taking responsibility for our drinking in our experience can feel empowering and exhilarating if a little unfamiliar. It can also be severely challenged by old habits that are deeply rooted in our thinking. We have found that by repeating positive and responsible ideas over and over again new habits can begin to form, but this doesn't usually happen overnight. Recovery is a new and more responsible way of living, for many of us, a way of living that the child or teenager in us has rebelled against for years. In many respects... it's time to grow up in terms of facing all our responsibilities rather than just some of them or perhaps even none of them - but this doesn't mean that we will find responsibility in all areas of our lives instantly
Neither does it mean that our enjoyment has to come to an end. We have done things in recovery that we would never have dreamed we were capable of when we were drinking and had some of the funniest times of our lives living new experiences, often finding friendships with new people. We have discovered that we can live normally and learn how to simply be ourselves in recovery, and that our enjoyment doesn't have to be reckless to be worth having. We have discovered that there is life after booze.
'Alcoholic' and 'alcoholism' - our understanding
If you ask ten people what an alcoholic is you will most likely get ten different answers. If you ask ten health-care professionals to discuss the definition of an alcoholic you will probably end up with a lively debate with some differing views. Where does that leave us in terms of our understanding. Turning to the dictionary, a general description of an 'alcoholic' is... 'a person suffering from alcoholism' and in turn the definition of 'alcoholism' is simply... 'addiction to alcoholic drink'. Although those who compiled the dictionary are not necessarily medical experts, there is a simplicity to the definition that in a way defies argument. If we can't stop drinking and have become dependent in all the ways previously described what is the problem with terming ourselves 'alcoholics'. The answer is of course stigma. Whilst it is true that some of us at the end of our drinking do not particularly care what description is attached to us, many others of us have been battling to retain our credibility, and the word alcoholic is the last thing we would want to describe ourselves as
All of us in recovery have been through these first often painful stages of realisation with regard to how we truly stand in our relationship with alcohol. Many of us describe ourselves to our fellows in recovery as alcoholic, because it symbolises our surrender to the fact that we have no control over alcohol once it enters our systems and without a Program of Recovery little control over whether or not we put it into our systems in the first place. Our experience is that we do not have to fly a flag off the front of our cars declaring that we are alcoholic, however we can admit to ourselves that - according to the dictionary definition at the very least... we are one. It is a humbling admission we agree, but if we can admit this to ourselves then it can become a lifesaving one, that can alter the whole course of our lives. Our admission of powerlessness can turn out to be the most empowering step in our lives.
Growing and changing
In recovery we are able to identify old self serving ways along with all the consequences of living in this way, and can begin to grow into new ways of thinking and living which seem to serve us, and those around us, so much better. Positive thoughts, speech and actions seem to foster the desire to live a life with more meaning and a deeper connection with our fellows and our wider environment
Whilst complacency is a common occurrence for most, if not all people - it can prove fatal for those of us in recovery from a drink problem. Our experience has shown us over and over again, that if we allow ourselves to forget where our old thinking and way of life took us, then we can easily return to that very familiar way of living which included for us the self serving strategy of drinking, that we came to rely on so heavily. In recovery we need to continue to grow and change, learning more and more about how to greet, and cope with, life as it unfolds - strengthening our connection with reality and keeping up with the ever changing ‘here and now’.
The road ahead
In the short pages of our site we have shared just a little of our experience. Each day in recovery more and more can be revealed, in terms of what it is possible to discover about ourselves, and so crucially, how we can slowly learn to deal with what we find. There is a lovely saying in recovery circles which goes along the lines of... 'a leopard can't change it's spots - but in recovery we can learn how to re arrange them'
Recovery is not about losing who we are - its about... discovering who we are - and trying to make the best of it