When I first went to treatment I was utterly mystified. I had no idea what was coming, but I was sure it was going to be bad.
Mostly, I just thought life was finished. As someone who is on the young end of the baby boomers, I just assumed life consisted of drinking and at least a little weed. All that was definitely done.
I quickly learned that there was an entirely new road ahead of me. I still wasn’t convinced it was going to be a good road, or a road that was going to be all that much fun, but I could at least see that there were possibilities ahead.
After years of sobriety, I have learned many things about being sober and some of these things a large enough to generalize. Here are the top five things this baby boomer has learned about sobriety.
One – Stop Digging
There is a cliché that goes something like, the first step to getting yourself out of a hole is to stop digging. I’m sure I am paraphrasing and that there is some old-timey way of saying this, but the kernel of this old saying is true.
The years of drinking and drugging bring with them a mass of problems. Problems with the law, with creditors, with family and friends—they pile up and quickly. I found that once I started experiencing real consequences for my boozing, consequences began to mount.
By the time I found myself in jail a few times, I had also failed to pay just about everyone I owed money to and some of those people were friends.
As I faced supervised probation, homelessness, and a list of people who no longer had any interest in talking to me I still thought the only thing for me to do was to hatch another scheme to get myself out of it all. I certainly had no intention of giving up the only thing that made this mess bearable.
I didn’t just keep on drinking, I stepped it up. By the time I got violated by my probation officer for showing up drunk I had broken my skull falling down a staircase and was about to get kicked out of the room I was renting that was connected to the staircase.
I had to give up. The hole was getting deeper and deeper, and I was digging it. I got myself into a detox and from there into a treatment center.
The point I am making is that we all think we can get it under control. It is ingrained in us that we are the masters of ourselves even if we are masters of nothing else.
But drink and drugs are too much. Once they get hold of us, we are not in control and the only thing to do is make that final decision and stop. For me, this took months in a treatment facility.
I’ve known plenty of people who stopped with some simple treatment interventions. There is no way out of the hole while you are busy digging it deeper.
Two – It is Not a Victimless Crime
While I was drinking I felt that I was safe from the judgment of others primarily because I was only hurting myself. I was over the age of 21, I did not drink and drive, and I was not a violent drunk. I believed no one had any right to tell me how to live as long as I wasn’t hurting anyone.
After I got sober and had a chance to reflect on things from a vantage that was a little more clear, I came to see things differently. Even if we are not hitting people or wrecking cars, our boozing and drugging impact other people.
All those days that I was late for work or called off work meant someone else was doing my job. That someone else had their own job to do.
My long mornings sleeping off the toxins from the night before resulted in dumping a lot of work onto the shoulders of other people. They suffered for my inability to get it together.
My family had to watch helplessly while I destroyed myself. While I was drinking and using I generally did not give a thought to how those close to me felt about what I was doing.
Now I look back and feel a shudder as I think about what they must have seen. Nights we see as just harmless over-indulging are nights of mortifying horror for parents, siblings, partners, and most of all children.
We think we are fine or maybe just a little silly when we are juiced up. Everyone around us thinks we are terrifying at worst, and pathetic at best. This leaves a mark on everyone we touch. Though we are the ones drinking and doing drugs, everyone is caught up in the drama.
Three – There are a lot of ways to get sober
When it came time to call bull on myself I didn’t really think about where I was heading. I just seized an opportunity to get into a detox and treatment program that would take me.
As a result, I was pulled into a very traditional program that was firmly and completely grounded in the 12 step model. I had to work the steps, including the God steps.
I am not an atheist but I am also not a believer in any conventional sense. I sucked it up and did it. This left me with some resentments toward treatment itself.
Since being sober, I have found that there is an entire world of treatment options. Medical science has kept pace with the world of addiction treatment and we now have options. If anyone is contemplating treatment I would urge them to A: Stop digging (see above), and B: do some research and make some phone calls.
The list of alternatives to 12 step is too long to detail here, but just know that people get sober and stay sober using methods, programs, and treatments that have nothing to do with A.A. and the 12 steps.
I am not knocking the 12 steps. I would not knock any path that gets someone sober. It is just important to know that there are a lot of ways to experience addiction and there are just as many ways to get sober.
Four – There is life after Treatment
I think one of my biggest fears, one of the things that made me so averse to getting sober was the fear that I would simply never do anything cool again.
After all, my boozing years included playing guitar in punk bands, mosh pits, dives off of cliffs, and a host of wild times. How would I ever be able to do any of those things as a sober person?
The truth is I never did any of those things all that well because I was drunk out of my mind and just stupid. Fearlessness that comes from a bottle is not fearlessness.
Doing something wild with all of your faculties of awareness in complete working order is much more intense than doing it while numbed from booze and drugs.
The world is still out here, complete with all of the challenges and dangers it held while I was drinking. For what it is worth, I now play lead guitar in a punk band, I am a published writer of things that are far more weird and cool than anything I wrote when I was drinking, and if I step up to a dare, I do it fully aware of what I am doing. Life is a lot more fun when you know what is going on.
Five – Learn from it all
It is real easy to look back on the drinking and drugging years and just cringe. Don’t do that. It is over. Do what you can to make things up to people, pay off your debts, and get off probation. Then look back and say “I did these things, now what do I learn from them?”
I know I can survive things most people cannot. I know that life will rarely get as hard as it was when I was drinking. I’ll get through almost anything.
I’ve been in a jail and I value freedom like I never did before. Tell the stories. Remember who you were as you look at yourself now. We are tough people who went that far down and managed to come back up.
Thanks for reading!