Most addicts bear no resemblance to the dope-heads and tweakers you see on TV.
I quit drinking almost a year and a half ago, but this is the first time I’ve publicly admitted it. So in honor of this moment, I’m going to tell you the five things I’ve learned about recovery so far.
1. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the way to go
Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous work for many people, but they’re not for everyone. I’ve been to those meetings; I liked them. I’ve made friends in those rooms. But for a staunchly secular person like me, it can be hard to take those programs seriously.
When I hear the word “God” in meetings, it makes my skin crawl. Even the phrase “Higher Power” has never worked for me, even though I know you can choose whoever or whatever you want to fill that role. Some people make the community, or even just the room itself, their Higher Power. But that never worked for me either. I’m suspicious of any program that isn’t backed by some hard science — and so I’ve come to regard cognitive behavioral therapy as my recovery path of choice.
Personally I’m a fan of the addiction-healing program SMART Recovery. SMART Recovery is essentially free group therapy, where people trying to recover from alcohol or drugs can freely talk about their anxieties and hear stories told by people who are suffering from similar problems. The meetings tend to be more intimate than AA meetings. The program isn’t perfect, but for me, talking about my problems and focusing on what I can change about myself works better than going through the “12 steps and the 12 traditions” and all that other stuff.
If you haven’t seen the “Almost Everything We Think We Know About Addiction Is Wrong” video above, do it ASAP.
2. Relapsing is a part of the process
My recovery birthday is July 18, 2015. Since then, I’ve had a few relapses — obviously I’m not proud of them. What I am proud of, though, is that I didn’t spend a lot of time wallowing in guilt. The regret and self-loathing provoked by those regressions can pull you into a dark place. The important thing is not to beat yourself up: Keep making forward steps, even when now and then you slide a couple feet backwards. (NB: For some recovering addicts, relapses last for years.)
3. Having a support system is critical
It may sound a little hokey, but the #1 thing that’s helped me to advance in my recovery is having the support of my friends and family. I’ve befriended other addicts during my journey, but most of my loved ones — what we call “normies” at meetings — are the ones for whom I’m most thankful.
Since going into recovery, they’ve stood by me through and through. I’ve caused them a lot of grief over the course of the past couple years, but they’ve never wavered in their support for me. I’m lucky for that. I’m also tremendously lucky to have a caring and supportive partner in my life, who I met a month after my last relapse. He’s even given up drinking for me.
I know not everyone’s as fortunate as I am. But remember this if you’re trying to kick an addiction: You’re going to have to hang on tight to anyone who’ll let you.
4. There’s a TON of good addiction literature on the internet
Weirdly, one of the things I’ve most enjoyed about the recovery process is reading about it online. The internet offers a large and vibrant community where you’ll find a variety of perspectives on substance abuse and how to deal with it.
For example, there are dozens of great recovery blogs that you can rely on to keep you engaged with your own path out of addiction. One of my favorites is The Fix, an online magazine whose editorial mission is to de-stigmatize all forms of addiction and mental health matters (they cover all kinds of addictions, including gambling and junk food bingeing).
All of these digital resources can offer you the knowledge and wisdom you need to deal with your own self-destructive cravings.
5. The problem isn’t just about you or me. It’s about us.
As President Barack Obama and the recording artist Macklemore recently said in the realest video about drug addiction in America, drug overdoses kill more people than traffic accidents. That might be a shocking statistic until you learn that your typical addict bears no resemblance to the dope-heads and tweakers depicted by TV shows and movies.
Something I’ve learned since admitting I had an alcohol problem is how important it is to get rid of the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery. We’ve got to be able to talk about this stuff openly or we’re never going to get anywhere. Who knows how many people haven’t tried to get help just because they were too ashamed to admit they had a problem?
This is something we can all help with. Personally, I’m hoping that by sharing my story, my own struggles, strivings, failures and breakthroughs, I can do a tiny bit to help pull the veil off a pernicious and misunderstood problem.