Having listened to my story about how I went from drinking eighteen bottles of beer a night to working a steady job during the week and traveling around the state in my spare time, Melissa confessed to me that she believed she drank “a little too much” and wondered aloud how she might “cut back”. She used all of the common excuses: life is so stressful she needs a few drinks after work to wind down, she heard 12-step groups are cults and besides… she doesn’t have the time to go to a meeting every night! Rehab? She’d lose her job! She doesn’t need to quit, she just needs to find a way to become a “normal drinker” again.
What Melissa didn’t understand is that she was already long past the point at which she could moderate her drinking. I knew enough about her after-hours lifestyle through social media and slightly too-much-information stories she told coworkers about her weekend misadventures. She didn’t have a few drinks after work to wind down, she got absolutely obliterated on an almost nightly basis. Her weekends were a blur; her stories having obvious gaps of memory in them. She confessed that both her husband and her children had mentioned her drinking to her but she appeared to still be at the point where her (similarly alcoholic) friends thought she was “fun”.
A big part of her issue with moderation was that there was no way to separate drinking from her daily routine. Like all of us, she had built habits over time that were now automatic. Once 4:30pm came, her body was automatically expecting her first drink. On Friday, she subconsciously knew that she was off to the races for two days. She called in sick so often on Mondays that they may as well have just given her the day off. Getting drunk was such a huge part of Melissa’s life that it would be impossible to quit without changing everything about herself.
This is why so many of us fail over and over again when trying to get sober. We can’t simply stop drinking because drinking is psychologically attached to every activity in our lives. The successful sober people don’t become financially independent fitness freaks because they quit drinking, they focused on their goals and their fitness in order to quit drinking.
I still see friends throughout my life who relapse continuously. They all have the same problem Mel did: they are unwilling to change their fundamental systems for living. They don’t want to get rid of their drinking buddies because they’re the only friends they have. Even though they used to watch television or play video games while they drank, they don’t understand why they can’t stay sober when they still are watching television and playing video games every night.
When I decided to get sober, really decided that I was done, I called a rehab facility and went the next day. I wasn’t worried about what my boss would say, I didn’t care what my friends or family thought, I just did it. The day before I decided to go to rehab a little over a year ago remains the final time I touched alcohol. It hasn’t even entered my mind as something that’d be fun to do since then. Rehab taught me a whole new way of living and I took all of their advice to heart.
Melissa’s story doesn’t have a happy ending yet. She may never get sober; most alcoholics don’t. The most painful thing about alcoholism, and addiction in general, is that you can’t force the addict to do the right thing. This post doesn’t have a direct answer to the question asked in the title because there isn’t one, and if there were most addicts wouldn’t listen to it. You have to decide right now that you have ruined your life as much as you are willing to and that you are going to do whatever it takes to get sober.
Anything short of that is doomed to fail.