I’ve been an alcoholic for years now. I’ve had DUIs, been arrested, attended court-ordered AA and substance abuse therapy, among other awful consequences, but I just keep coming back. I’ve drank for years, but after I left the military, I really struggled. I was diagnosed with PTSD and have taken prescription benzos, but never abused them. It’s the drinking that spiraled out of control and hasn’t ever let go. Alcohol is like my best friend and my worst enemy. It has comforted me and ruined me. I don’t like who I am, but I don’t know how to live any other way. My mom wants me to see a shrink because she says I sound depressed, but I know it’s the alcohol. How do I get the motivation to stop drinking? And even if I do, how can I be happy or like this mess of a life I have just because I can say I’m “sober”?
Sorry to hear you are in this situation. Alcohol has probably destroyed more lives than any other substance, going back centuries. Literally some of the most famous artists, celebrities and powerful people in the world have abused and had their butts kicked by alcohol. So you are not alone by any means.
The social function of alcohol makes it one of the most difficult to overcome as our entire culture revolves around having meals together for business or pleasure. It is part of communicating and bonding amongst family and friends. Along with food comes drink and for many that includes alcohol. On top of that, you are surrounded by the business of alcohol and the advertising of it. Whether you are aware of it or not, the average American is bombarded with ads on TV, radio or the internet for beer, wine or liquor. It is without a doubt rooted deeply into our society.
However there are many, MANY people who do choose to live a happy life without alcohol. So don’t think you can’t be one of them. But it does take some work and some choices that will require you to be uncomfortable at times, but it is well worth it for both your physical and mental health.
In my humble opinion and this is NOT medical advice but my own personal thoughts, going to see a “shrink” such as a psychiatrist because you are depressed is the wrong sequence. People go to mental health professionals to address their mental health problems. Well, you admittedly are abusing alcohol so OF COURSE you are feeling depressed – alcohol is a depressant! So first of all, anyone in your situation is going to feel that way. And secondly, how can you possibly try to tackle mental blocks or succeed in therapy if you are drinking? What are you like when you’ve been sober for a week? 2 weeks? Does your mental outlook change? Absolutely it does, so don’t try to delve into deep childhood trauma before you clear your head, it’s going to be overwhelming. But couldn’t your alcohol abuse be from childhood trauma? Sure, but you aren’t going to figure that out while you are still drinking. It will just be a blurry cloud trying to look into your past at this point, and set you up for failure.
My advice would be to focus on your health by stopping drinking first to allow your body and brain to heal itself before trying to tackle these issues. Yes that is easier said than done. If an alcoholic could just “stop drinking” long enough to tackle their mental issues, then we’d have a lot less alcoholics. So I would say that the most important thing you can do right now is to put yourself into an environment designed to help you succeed despite your best efforts to destroy yourself. What I mean by that is to get away from alcohol completely and surround yourself with people who are not drinking and wholeheartedly support you not drinking.
Nearly always, that means checking into a treatment facility. Minimally it means a detox but that barely scratches the surface. A longer term treatment center is more than likely what is needed to get some real time off the booze so that you can start thinking clearly, let alone work on yourself. Only after you’d had some serious time off alcohol (weeks, not days) can you start to address issues that cause your abuse of it and change your life in new ways.
To address your question: “How do I get the motivation to stop drinking?” my best answer is to just find something to live for. For many people, it is their spouse or children, for others it is their family or friends and for others it can be their faith. Ultimately though, it should also be for yourself – because at the end of the day you want a better YOU. As a child, you had hopes and dreams of some kind. At different points in your life, you had self-respect and felt like you mattered to someone or to a group of people or a job. You need to look back at that and realize that you can have that again, but you need to decide to change your life. Anyone can make a new start and live a happier and more fulfilling life, but you are the only one who can do it.
The second part of your question was: “And even if I do, how can I be happy or like this mess of a life I have just because I can say I’m ‘sober’?” Let me tell you a little secret I’ve noticed in my time in this line of work. Being “sober” is not the goal, not at all. I’ve met some people who were sober and MISERABLE. Even after years of sobriety, they were still just battling life every day and it was hard to watch. They might as well have been drinking because their entire life revolved around not drinking and what a struggle it was. How depressing. Why even be sober if life is so crappy that you are miserable anyway?
Being HAPPY is the goal. Living a fulfilling and rewarding life is the goal. Rewards can be through work, family, spirituality, friends, sports, faith, hobbies, purpose, etc. Usually it’s a combination of many things. Then you will have things to keep you going that alcohol could potentially take away. But if your life is so enriching and fulfilling without alcohol, why would you risk giving it all up to drink? The answer for someone who is doing well in recovery is: You wouldn’t. Just like you wouldn’t take a huge risk like jumping off a bridge for $20 (because your life is worth much more than$20), you can get to the point where you wouldn’t drink for any amount of money, because your life is worth more than anything alcohol can do for you.
Now, don’t get me wrong, getting to that point does take work. Life can be tough. You will have challenges for sure and it’s not all sunshine and unicorns. There will be times you want to give up, but you just have to keep looking at the gains you are making each day and what you’d be giving up. If your life is just working a boring job and watching TV, it probably won’t feel like you’re giving up much to go back to drinking. But if you are in a happy, fulfilling relationship, perhaps with children and you do meaningful work that you are passionate about, and you also enjoy physical activity, have a great group of friends and love waking up every day, absolutely you have created a lot that you’d be giving up.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say what you wanted more than anything in life was to be a professional athlete. You wanted to be the next Tom Brady or Lebron James. Well, those guys didn’t just wake up and become great. They worked hard day in and day out from the time they were young. Sure, they enjoyed playing sports but there is a difference between having fun and putting in the work necessary to become the best of the best. I’m sure there were times that they were tired, or hurt, or frustrated, or depressed, or upset, or lost confidence in themselves, or wanted to give up. But they didn’t because THE GOAL TO BE GREAT MEANT TOO MUCH TO THEM. Nothing was going to stop them, no matter what. They had the support of coaches, trainers, family and friends along the way, all rooting for them. Despite that, they needed to work even harder if they were going to be the top of the top. But in the end they made it. Now ask yourself, was it worth it? Of course, as what is life if it isn’t accomplishing great things?
By taking a similar work ethic to your own life, you can have things you only dreamed of having. But the goal of a happy and rewarding life must mean as much to you as being an elite pro meant to those athletes. Only your work isn’t going to be throwing footballs or shooting basketballs. It’s going to be discovering things that you find truly rewarding to your soul and going out and doing it. Even if you don’t love your job, you can do your best at it and do it with pride and honor. Then after work you can do the fulfilling things in life you enjoy. Better yet, find a job you really love and do that. Money is nice but it’s so low on the scale of what makes people happy that often the stress isn’t worth it. Focus on living a happy and fulfilling life. I don’t care if you clean sewers. After work, go paint or volunteer to help kids or play music with friends or hike in the forest or work on cars or do something that makes you fulfilled.
Passion for life is what can truly overcome addiction. You can do it. It’s okay to ask for help along the way, the best always have.
Elevate Addiction Services President