David's Story Of Addiction and Recovery
David has been alcohol free for 7 years this week, we will be celebrating with hamburgers and ice cream sundaes as big as our heads!
There is an adage that says, “it’s always darkest before dawn.” This is certainly true of recovery, it is highly probable that the day before the first sober day is the darkest or lowest. I recently saw a recovery / sober post stating, “No-one told me rock bottom had a cellar!” There are many points during someone’s addiction that may be construed as ‘rock bottom’ but the lowest point is different for everyone and it can always get a heck of a lot worse.
Marking this achievement is as important as any other annual celebration, I firmly believe that it is vital to our wellbeing to have rituals marking endings and beginnings. It’s ironic that in western culture most celebrations involve alcohol. I believe that without this sober birthday, I would not have my husband, in fact I would go so far as to say he would probably not be alive.
As a therapeutic practitioner my learning about the complexities of recovery from addiction has developed significantly since being in a relationship with a recovery warrior. The term warrior sounds dramatic, I think it is an accurate representation not just of David but anyone in recovery. Make no mistake it is an ongoing battle, as time passes so does the necessity of daily combat, however I realise David will always need his armour and strategies to defend
himself as he will never be truly safe or recovered.
On travelling in the car, early one morning, David drew my attention to a car pulling up, alongside us. The passenger window was down and there was an unmistakable smell of alcohol emanating from the hunched, ruddy faced passenger, who was being admonished by the driver. David commented that once upon a time this would have triggered a desire to drink or a feeling of revulsion about alcohol. He stated that it reminded him how far he had come as the only feeling instigated was one of sadness, for both individuals.
I have incredible admiration for David and the positive changes he has made. I know he has made difficult choices over the years and every decision he makes is with his recovery at the forefront. His recovery always comes first, without it he would have nothing.
It requires perseverance and resourcefulness to maintain a dependency, it is not for the faint hearted. It is all consuming and requires effort just to keep your head above water. The positives from this are that these skills can be transferred to achieve and sustain recovery.
Drinking is an acceptable pastime and there is a sense of community and belonging in a local pub or club. There’s even a harmless word to describe drinking in company, ‘socialising.’ Ironically an alcohol addiction generally leads to the person being isolated from friends and loved ones, resulting in lone or covert drinking. A barrier to someone stopping drinking can be the potential loss of all social or support networks. For a significant proportion of these supposed support networks the only commonality is alcohol. This is no
different to having a belief in solid friendships in the workplace that unexpectedly fade on leaving.
Many people are drawn to mutual aid or other recovery groups due to losing a sense of identity and belonging in sobriety. We are not lone wolves and feel value in belonging, unfortunately belonging to a pack can be what caused problems in the first place.
I once asked David at what point he knew his drinking had tipped from something he did frequently to a fully blown alcohol dependency. He stated that drinking had been a regular part of his adult life and he had begun, going to great lengths to conceal his level of drinking, however it was not interfering with his daily functioning or responsibilities. He identified the pivotal point as the morning after a black tie event, he recalled going into the utility room and feeling compelled to drink whisky in the belief it would help him feel better,
which unfortunately it did. This catalyst then spiralled him into behaviours that cemented his addiction.
David has always had an attachment to the Dales and Lakes because of his love of walking. I reckon that David’s drinking would have taken its toll on his health much earlier in his life if he had not had the levels of fitness as a committed walker. This, however, is a double edged sword as his active lifestyle probably also prolonged his drinking career.
When discussing his time drinking I struggle not with the events that David looks back on with shame or regret but the thought of him feeling so despairing and hopeless that this was his only option. David credits a stranger for planting the seeds of recovery within him. He recalled that the stranger’s kind words of encouragement resonated at a particular low point and triggered some modicum of self belief and motivation to make positive changes. It is
futile to berate or threaten someone into getting better.
David is always very clear that stopping drinking was the easy part. David was intent on addressing the root cause of his drinking which was only possible after he had put alcohol down. Although everyone is unique there can be similar experiences, certainly in early recovery. Initially, people are confronted by feelings about their undesirable behaviour when drinking. Imagine your most shameful behaviour being public knowledge and multiply that feeling by a hundred and you are probably not close. There can also be raw, unwieldy feelings that were previously quietened by alcohol.
Whether we have had a dependency or not we all progress through life and develop ways of managing our emotions and behaviours. As a child we may have thrown ourselves on the floor in a supermarket, on occasion, we may feel like doing this but as we develop we learn other ways to manage frustration and difficult feelings.
A significant period of time into recovery David spoke about experiencing the onslaught of memories and fleeting images, he likened this to being bombarded with fast moving spectres and being left only with the discombobulating feelings associated with the experience.
I feel emotional sobriety is often overlooked in the recovery process and by this I am talking about the ability to ‘feel’ and appropriately express feelings. To reduce the risk of relapse it is crucial to learn how to manage feelings rather than them being in charge and triggering reactive behaviours. The first step to managing difficult feelings is to identify them and name them. Often there is a feeling beneath a feeling, for example beneath feelings of anger can be feelings of hurt or betrayal.
Emotional awareness is part of the process in identifying and implementing behaviour change. A person can be sober, in recovery from alcohol and drugs but retain behaviours associated with addiction such as lying, manipulation, impatience etc. These behaviours are essential to survival when in the grip of a dependency. If behaving in a certain way has been instrumental in meeting needs and achieving a desired outcome a shift in thinking needs to happen before any change can. A behaviour may be habitual but if a behaviour has previously ensured rewards there may be a reluctance to let go of it. Outward displays of anger or distress can also be useful in distracting from an uncomfortable or difficult situation, particularly if there is a lack of tools to cope or express unmet needs.
Awareness and understanding can be achieved through working with a therapist, which then provides a platform for positive change. In spite of the many therapies available the most beneficial process anyone can engage in is to express themselves, verbally, through writing, crafting, dancing, singing or whichever medium works for them.
There can be consequences of addiction years into recovery, I have worked with people who have been diagnosed with health problems, bad credit, difficulty acquiring insurance, and previous criminal offences hampering travel or employment. Relationships can be irretrievably broken during an addiction or in recovery dependant on circumstances. How someone in recovery reacts and responds to these knockbacks and consequences is dependant on their resilience and ability to problem solve.
The biggest thing I applaud David for is that he has used such difficult and harrowing experiences to help so many people to overcome addiction. For me this is like escaping a burning building, going back in, at great risk to yourself, not only with water but throwing people over your shoulder and carrying them out.
I am grateful for David’s bravery and graciousness in allowing his story to be shared. I am also grateful for what he has taught me not only about addiction but about myself. Thankyou David and well done, keep doing what you are doing.