When I first got sober I felt 90% like a drunk, and 10% capable of getting and staying sober. Today I feel 90% capable and 10% like a drunk.
I imagine addiction as a canal or pathway in the brain that we are all capable of accessing, with a dam or barrier keeping us from traveling down it. Some of us with genetic predispositions are born with weaker barriers. Then we add trauma, mental health, continued substance abuse and other outside factors that chip away at the barrier until the force of the water or the habit breaks down the walls and we are swept away. Whether your barrier broke very quickly or it slowly chipped away over time, the walls break and you ultimately lose control of the flow.
We hit a point in our addiction where we know we’ve made a wrong turn, where we know we are in trouble. It feels like we should be able to just turn around and go back now that we have become aware. It's confusing and frustrating for us and those around us. If I know what I have to do why is it so hard to do it?
In the beginning of sobriety you are going against the current. When you broke down the barrier, you opened up your brain to a new pathway and the only way to stop it from flowing that way is to go back upstream and rebuild the wall. This is why in the beginning of sobriety, you feel 90% like you will never overcome being an addict and only 10% capable of overcoming it. You may have stopped drinking, but sobriety isn’t just about abstinence, it’s about working your way back to the wall and fixing the issues that broke it down in the first place. It’s about closing down that path and the habit.
Here are a few tips to help you in these early days of sobriety.
1. Stay out of the ruts
The deepest part of your addiction was created by the same continuous patterns. You cannot simply turn around and take the same path back and expect success. You have to change your route and patterns. If you know you always stop at the same gas station, drive a different way home. If you know certain friends will not support you, block their number. If you know holidays are difficult, create new plans and new traditions with even new people if needed. Your FOMO will wear off faster than the guilt and shame of continuing the same patterns.
2. Share that you are on a difficult journey
Swimming upstream is a lot of hard work, and even harder when you are doing it alone and you feel like no one is watching to make sure you make it. Talk to a counselor if you can, or a friend, coworker, family member, alcoholics anonymous, or get on social media and search sober hashtags and reach out to complete strangers who are in sobriety. If you have ever played competitive sports, you know the difference in the gym or stadium energy when there is 1 person in the crowd and when the bleachers are packed. Find anyone and everyone you can to come cheer you on.
3. Just keep swimming
Corny and cliché yes, but just keep swimming. The beauty and curse of addiction is nobody can come in and save you, which is wonderful news because that means you are in control and you are strong and capable so just keep swimming.
4. Do the work to rebuild
When you get back to the spot where the wall collapsed, don’t just try to continue life per usual. Study the wall. Why did it break? What happened? Where did it start to crack? Heal the broken pieces and rebuild and maintenance the structure to keep you from going down that path again.
Addiction is not a choice. We may not have chosen or meant to go down this destructive path, but we do have a choice on how we come back.