When I took my first drink as a teenager, I never imagined that I would become an alcoholic.
Over a period of 20 years, I made the transition from occasional use to frequent misuse, then dependency into complete physical and psychological addiction.
An alcohol-induced suicide attempt resulted in my decision to start on the journey to recovery. Now 16 years into alcoholism recovery, I am free to enjoy my life.
Below are five lessons I learned in alcoholism recovery.
1. You numb the pain, you numb the joy
Right from the start, drinking wasn’t a social pastime; rather it was a way to self-medicate. In fact, I called alcohol my “hurt healer” because it numbed me from my childhood experiences. Having been abandoned by my mother and abused by my father I was desperate for anything that would take away the pain. Not only that, having a drink temporarily wiped out my feelings of never being good enough and for a period of time gave me confidence.
That euphoria soon disappeared when dependency set in and I found myself in the daily chase for an unreachable high. Worse still, the numbing effects also diminished. What I didn’t understand then was that alcohol is a depressant. Consequently, in my attempt to numb my negative feelings, I had also numbed myself to positive emotions.
2. You can’t change until you admit the problem
Like many people battling with an addiction, the stigma of alcohol dependency kept me powerless to change. I believed in the myth that I could give up if I wanted to and that it was down to willpower. I had the perception of the typical alcoholic — a dirty old down-and-out lying on a park bench. That wasn’t me.
The shame of not being able to control my consumption was overwhelming. And as the addiction both physically and psychologically progressed, so too did my denial.
Eventually I had no choice other than to confront my condition, but when I did it came as a relief. How I wish I had realized that once I admitted my problem the doors would open for my life to change and that I needn’t have waited to hit rock bottom before I sought help.
3. Giving up alcohol doesn’t end of your life
Like many alcoholics, my biggest fear was being told to remain abstinent. Even though I knew I had to stop drinking, I also believed that I couldn’t live without it.
At the start of my six-month residential rehabilitation it felt like my life was over. One of the greatest rewards of recovery though was that as I left behind my destructive relationship with alcohol, I began a brand new life that was immeasurably better than before.
4. Learn from the past, live in the present
I have stopped mourning what should have been, consciously sought to forgive and be forgiven, and learned that whatever happened before can only be accepted not changed. I no longer have to allow the past to define my present, I may simply learn from it. That was a great revelation for me.
More importantly, I came to understand that the present moment is the most powerful. Without the interference of alcohol I appreciate each day in a way that I was never previously able.
5. Your authentic self is waiting to be revealed
Until I started on my journey to recovery I never realized how much of my identity had been stolen. Under the influence of alcohol it was impossible for me to recognize my self-worth. I had no idea who I was and I was unable to grasp that my authentic self was waiting to be revealed.
Recovery has given me permission to discover and pursue the “real me.” I didn’t know it before but there is so much freedom in being able to live as the person I was meant to be.
A final word of encouragement
The transition happened gradually but embracing sobriety went hand in hand with overcoming depression. Today I know that I can face new challenges and have the courage to feel the fear, and the sense of achievement that follows. And instead of being constantly numbed to the world I enjoy life on life’s terms. What I know most of all is that from the moment I acknowledged my problem, I was on the path to finding the solution. It’s a path available to everyone, so if you are looking for answer to your addiction, it’s there for you too.