From the time I came to the realization that alcohol was damaging my life and relationships to the time I found permanent sobriety, 10 years elapsed.
It was the most traumatic and horrifying decade of my life-full of dry periods of various durations, broken rules surrounding my attempts at moderation, a growing chasm in my marriage, and dramatically intensifying alcohol-induced depression and anxiety.
If I’m lucky enough to live to 100, that’s still a double-digit percentage of my life wasted. Now, in my third year of recovery, the significance of the chunk of life I spent analyzing the severity of my affliction and avoiding the inevitable outcome is breathtaking to me.
Oh, what I would give to have those 10 years back!
At the top of the list of reasons that it took me 10 long years to find lasting recovery was my perception-the very popular societal perception-of traditional methods of recovery. This opinion was developed over nearly a half century by media and pop culture, and also regularly reinforced through the stigmatized remarks of my friends and neighbors.
But, perception feels like reality.
My mind’s picture of the typical Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting was a damp church basement full of cold, metal folding chairs occupied by hopeless sad-sacks drinking bad coffee from Styrofoam cups and chain-smoking cigarettes while whining to each other about their bad luck and hopelessness.
I know better now. I know AA offers comfort and support and has saved millions of lives over the past century. But when it was time for me to get sober, AA was not an option because of that very mainstream perception.
A 30-day stint in an inpatient rehab was also out of the question for me-I didn’t need to detox, but I most definitely needed treatment. But, t he idea of abandoning my family responsibilities for a month was a conversation stopper. If slow, gradual death by alcohol was the alternative, I was willing to take my chances.
I knew I needed to stop drinking for the sake of my family, and to save my life. I also knew, , that AA and inpatient rehab were I not options for me.
I was aware of no other way to receive treatment for abusing alcohol, and the feeling of hopelessness was simply overwhelming.
I could imagine no way out as I drank to ease my alcohol-caused pain and prepared for my imminent death.
The one thing that brought me comfort, a kind of fellowship and support, was reading.
I read dozens of books about alcoholism and recovery. I read memoirs written by the alcovivors who came before me and clawed their way out of addiction. I read clinical medical books that explained the damage alcohol did to my brain chemistry and taught me how hard my organs were working just to maintain equilibrium.
I read because it made me feel like less of a pariah and more like the millions of other sufferers, and I read because the more I learned the more I wanted to know.
But most importantly, I read to pacify the cravings to drink.
When the witching hour approached every evening-the time my brain and body were screaming at me to pour a drink-I found a comfortable chair in a quiet corner and read my books.
The words of my mentors in the world of recovery were like a comforting hug protecting me from the urges to give in and drink.
Reading made me feel like I was addressing my addiction. Reading made me feel like I was not alone. When I read something that resonated, it gave me strength to keep going. In the end, that’s what surviving early sobriety is all about. We just have to find a way to keep going.
Reading as a cornerstone of trauma recovery is called bibliotherapy, and it was my salvation.
Not only did reading provide me with the support and encouragement I needed to stay sober, it made me a believer in the strength of powerful writing.
Bibliotherapists (more commonly known as writers) such as Caroline Knapp, Sarah Hepola, and Annie Grace inspired me to share my story and help others recover through my words and experiences. It also taught me about neurotransmitters, the damaging effects of shame and stigma, and the power of connection found in recovering out loud.
Bibliotherapy gets little or no respect as a legitimate mode of recovery. I understand why. No one talks about it as a serious alternative to AA, and it will only work for a self-motivated individual who finds connection in written stories and is thirsty to learn.
Bibliotherapy is relatively unknown and underpublicized, but it saved my life, so I’m a believer.
There are many different ways to recover from addiction. If traditional methods don’t work for you, maybe an alternative like bibliotherapy can help you discover your own truth.
The important thing is to not give up. You can find the road to health and recovery, because finally, after decades of stagnation and an acceptance of dismal success rates, champions of recovery are building new mousetraps. It’s actually a great time to be exploring sobriety and looking for a better way to live your life.
I think the word “recovery” is actually insufficient to describe the emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual transformation that takes place when we remove the poisons from our lives.
Surviving a crippling relationship with a deadly substance has done something to me. It is something that extends far beyond healing my brain chemistry and improving my relationships.
My recovery has opened my eyes to my potential as a husband, as a father, and as a contributor to society. It is far more than recovery from a disease.
It is enlightenment to the possibilities.
My transformation through survival and reemergence is magnificent, and I wish the same enlightenment for everyone who thinks it is time to end the destructive relationship with the thing that’s holding them back.
For more, check out my free ebook: Guide to Early Sobriety
Originally published at https://www.elephantjournal.com on March 21, 2019.