One of the most common pieces of advice for sobriety is to talk to other people about what you’re going through. I can say without a doubt that it’s been one of the most important tools that I’ve used to quit drinking and stay sober for the past four years.
The only trouble with this advice is that for many recovering addicts, it’s far easier said than done. It wasn’t so easy to open up about my addiction after spending years doing everything I could to keep it hidden.
Seeing a Therapist
When I first became concerned about my drinking habit, I was still in my early twenties. At the time, I was a daily drinker and a pack-a-day smoker, and I was actually far more concerned with the smoking than the drinking.
I tried to stop drinking and smoking on my own, but it became immediately obvious to me that it wasn’t going to happen. So, my next step was to go to a psychologist.
Therapy didn’t feel too alien to me, because I used to go regularly for depression as a teenager. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat nervous.
It had been years since my last time seeing a psychologist, and this time around felt completely different than last. When it came to depression, I never blamed myself for what I was feeling. With my addictions, though, I couldn’t help but feel at fault.
I had created these problems: it was my decision to start smoking and to drink so much. I should have known where it would lead.
These days, I see a lot more nuance to it, and no longer put so much blame on myself. I understand now that addiction is not a moral failing. Unfortunately, this understanding didn’t come until years later.
Booking my appointment was hard. It felt like I was fighting against my instincts. Getting in the car the day of the appointment, walking into the office, and signing in at reception were just as difficult.
Fortunately though, once the therapy actually began, everything felt far easier.
I’ve had good and bad therapists in my life, but this was definitely one of the good ones. A competent, experienced therapist is going to be used to clients who feel anxious and nervous. They know how to put people at ease and get them talking.
My meetings with that therapist were the first time in my life that I had openly discussed my addictions. Admitting to him just how much I was drinking and smoking took a huge weight off my shoulders. It was a relief to finally let out the secret that had been weighing on me for so long.
Through this therapy, I quickly discovered how powerful talking about addiction could be.
My therapist told me that our sessions weren’t enough on their own. With the amount I was drinking, he recommended rehab. I rejected the idea completely, not for any good reason.
Not wanting to push me, he suggested AA instead. I still didn’t like the idea, but it felt like a fair compromise.
Booking a therapist had been hard, but it was nothing compared to the idea of going to a meeting with a whole slew of strangers. I’ve always had a lot of social anxiety, and these kind of meetings really seemed like something right out of my nightmares.
I went to the meetings anyway, but it was not easy. I only ever spoke briefly and infrequently. At the vast majority of meetings, I just listened.
Listening alone was helpful. I learned a ton about sobriety, including many strategies that I used in years to come. It was also great to finally meet people who were also alcoholics and learn that so much of what I had been going through was not unique.
Even so, I wish that I had spent more time talking. I think I would have gotten much more out of it.
With my anxiety, it was really hard to speak up. I’d always wait until it seemed certain that nobody else was about to speak, because I was incredibly paranoid of accidentally interrupting someone or making someone else wait. These weren’t rational fears, but just an effect of my anxiety.
I can’t remember exactly, but I think that I only spoke once a week or so, despite going to meetings every day.
After this first attempt at getting sober, using therapy and AA, I eventually ended up relapsing and going back to drinking for years. It wasn’t the fault of therapy or AA — as my life got better, I got overconfident, and thought that I had beaten my addictions. I hadn’t.
Down the road, I tried to quit again. I briefly tried in-person meetings for a second time around, but found myself facing the same struggles with social anxiety. As great as these meetings are for many people, I couldn’t find a way to make them work for me long-term.
But that left me with a problem, because I still needed to find a way to talk to other recovering addicts. As much as I wished that I could break my drinking habit on my own, I just wasn’t able to do it.
The solution that worked best for me were online forums. The one I visited most often was Reddit’s StopDrinking.
These forums allow you to talk with other recovering addicts over a keyboard rather than face to face. It eliminated my social anxiety while still giving me the benefit of getting to interact with peers.
It was through online forums that I finally found the confidence to talk completely openly and frequently about my addiction. The more that I opened up, the better that I felt.
There are a lot of benefits to talking with other addicts. I learned from their successes and mistakes, I got support on rough days, and I felt less alone in my struggle. Most importantly of all, though, is that it kept me from spending too much time talking to myself.
When I was recently sober, I was great at talking myself into a relapse. I could never think rationally about drinking, and would instead come up with any excuse I could to convince myself to go out and buy a few beers.
By talking to other people about my cravings, I was able to cut out the BS. It forced me to become more honest with myself and to stop tricking myself into relapses.
After getting comfortable talking with people in forums, I also became more comfortable with talking about addiction in real life. Although I didn’t ever go back to meetings, I did start talking in-person with people I knew who had also gotten sober. This was another huge help.
Learning to talk about addiction is hard, but it gets easier with practice. These days, there are more options for talking with fellow recovering addicts than ever before, many of which work even for people with social anxiety. There are in-person meetings, online meetings, chat rooms, and forums. Anyone with an internet connection can find someone to talk with at any time of day.
If I could do every part of sobriety over again, the main thing I would change would be to start talking about my addiction sooner and more often. It really is one of the most powerful tools I know for staying sober. It might be possible for some people to get sober on their own, but it’s certainly easier with help.