Why is Sobriety About Change?
Well, let’s start with sobriety. The word sobriety is a noun that is defined in the dictionary as, “the state or quality of being sober.” The word sober as it applies to addicts and alcoholics is the mental state of not being altered. If you are an addict or alcoholic and you are sober, that’s a good thing, right? Of course it is, but the big question all addicts and alcoholics face is how long are they going to stay sober? You can go to rehab and get treatment like I did, and 28 days later you are sober and feeling good. You have every intention of staying sober. You go back to your job, family, and friends, and you tell everyone that you are never going to drink or take drugs again. This is a great plan, and most are sure they can follow through. I had this simple plan when I got out of my first rehab; I was just not going to take drugs or drink again, ever! Looking back, I am sure I really believed this to be true.
Two months later I was walking by a liquor store. I stopped and looked inside and thought to myself, I am not really an alcoholic, and I will prove it. I am going to get a bottle of vodka, go home, have a couple of shots, and call it a night. I really don’t remember what happened to that plan, but I found myself in a rehab again three months later.
Again, I got out of the rehab, went home, and was feeling good about my sobriety. I put together another two months of sobriety, but I slowly started slipping into my old drinking habits again. Soon, I was drinking and taking prescription drugs daily. I had to be hospitalized twice because I had become a non-functioning mess.
Each time I would get out of the hospital, I promised myself I would stop taking drugs and drinking. Of course I meant it, but just saying I was going to stop this time wasn’t enough. I was always perplexed about this. I knew I was strong, and that I could say no to many things, so why couldn’t I say no to this?
The drinking and drugs went on for months, and I could barely feed myself. My health was so bad that I was barely able to walk, which was a problem because I had to walk, as months before, I had totaled my car in a one car accident going to the the grocery store. I just got out of my car and left it there like a dead animal on the side of the road and walked home. Somehow, and I truly don’t know how, I could get up everyday and pull myself together and walk to the liquor store about three blocks away, buy a bottle of vodka, stagger home, walk through the sliding glass door to my bedroom, and collapse on my bed. This process went on until I could no longer get out of bed. I figured I was just going to die there from alcohol poisoning and lack of food and water.
Obviously, this didn’t happen. A friend of mine came by to see me and was appalled at the state I was in. He called my daughter and told her, “If you ever want to see your father again, you’d better come now.”
My Last Rehab and Still Not Getting It
After spending four days in the hospital, I was transferred to my last rehab. I woke up in a converted girl scout camp in the Santa Cruz mountains. The place was called “The Camp.” We lived in small wooden cabins that lined a hillside. There was four to a cabin with four small beds. There was a big meeting hall in the middle of the property where we met for meetings. Here I was again in rehab going to daily meetings with a bunch of strangers. I asked myself, Why didn’t I just die? I have been to rehab before, and it doesn’t work! AA doesn’t work! Nothing works!
I couldn’t walk on my own when I first arrived, so the counselors let me stay in bed until I was able to walk independently. I felt horrible and could barely sleep. On the second day, I got up, struggled to my feet, and went to my first of five meetings that day. I was hearing the same old things I had heard before and again thought, why didn’t I just die, so this would all be over?
Day after day, I got up and went to meetings all day and night. Slowly, I began to feel alive again, but just barely. I still couldn’t sleep at night, but I made it to every meeting and did my best to participate. After about a week and a half, I was able to speak more and interact with everyone, and I was nominated to be the camp president for the last week I was there. Being president at “The Camp” is just a person who helps the counselors and staff take role and collect money for our weekly pizza night. I turned this down because I felt someone who really wanted to live and get better should be the president. I was certain when I got out I would relapse and probably die.
My counselor came to me and suggested I don’t go home after my stay and instead go to a Sober Living Home. I said no thank you. My reasoning was if I went to a Sober Living Home, they would catch me drinking, kick me out, and I would be homeless. My counselor was relentless about this and would talk to me about it constantly. The last few days I was there, I went to her and said, “O.K., I will go to the Sober Living Home.” I don’t know exactly why I chose to do this, but I am certain that my daughter telling me, “if you don’t do this I will never speak to you again” was a very important factor in my decision. So, when I was released, I rented a car and drove to a Sober Living Home in San Jose, Heart of the Silicon Valley.
Here is Where I Found the Key to Sobriety: CHANGE
Well, this eureka! moment didn’t happen overnight; it happened slowly over time. When I first got to the Sober Living Home, I was surprised at what I found . The house was nothing like I was expecting, It was large, well furnished and had seven bedrooms and four bathrooms. The house was in a nice neighborhood with an enclosed pool in the front yard. I went inside and met with the young man who was the manager at the time. He was a nice guy who was finishing up his degree at Santa Clara University. He showed me around and introduced me to some of the sixteen other clients who lived there. I thought, This is nice. Very nice. Not what I was expecting at all. I got settled in and went shopping for what I would need to live there: bedding, hangers, food, soap and toiletries. I went to bed that night and couldn’t sleep as usual (recovering alcoholics can’t sleep well for months), but I was pleased this wasn’t some flop house as I expected.
As days went by, I got to know the others, went to AA meetings during the day, and attended intensive outpatient classes at night. Though I was comfortable for the most part, I was getting cravings and wondered how long it would be until they caught me drinking or doing drugs and kicked me out. I really didn’t want to drink or use again, but I felt I was what they told me at the other rehabs: a man with a disease that caused him to drink.
I’ve come to learn that that last statement is not true. All the rehabs talked about all kinds of things; they talked about personal responsibility, the need to assess yourself, higher powers and making amends to others, and many other things. But, all I ever heard was that I had a disease. Why? Well, if I was going to listen to all the other things, I would have to admit that I had become a terrible person who had hurt many people. I knew I had put myself, my family, and my friends through hell, but instead of taking responsibility for this, I wanted to take the easiest way out. Saying I was diseased would give me a pass for my behavior and no reason to change.
As time went by, I was able to remain sober primarily because I had people around me who were in the same boat, and this made me feel better. The house was a place where I couldn’t hide away and be by myself. I was pushed to face my situation directly instead of running from it. I really didn’t know how long I would be able to hold out, but at the time, that house was a blessing. I was making friends and having some good days. The realization of how necessary change is in sobriety was just around the corner.
I was scheduled to go back to the doctor for a check-up and complete blood panel, and I was anxious to see the results since I had been clean by then for three months. The results were not what I was looking for. I still had high blood pressure, a thyroid condition, a problem with my pancreas, high cholesterol, and I was pre diabetic. I wasn’t upset or sad for that matter, I just asked one question of the doctor, “I have not been drinking or taking drugs for months now so what am I doing wrong?” The doctor looked at me and said, “you are overweight, and I’ll bet your diet is horrible.” He then looked at my chart and said, “I have prescribed medication to you for depression, anxiety and sleep disorder, and you have seen me multiple times for drug addiction and alcoholism. You need to change your life, Bob, because, clearly, how you are living isn’t working for you.” I stood there stunned. To punctuate the point, he said, “that’s all I can say to you, Bob,” and left the room.
While driving back to the house that afternoon, I came to the realization that my doctor was right. I wanted to survive and shake my addiction problems, and in order to do that I needed to change. I ate like a spoiled child; sodas all day because I was addicted to them, ice cream whenever I felt like it, burgers, burritos, spaghetti, I put cheese on everything, and I rarely drink water. I never considered diet as a cause for my anxiety and depression; I just knew that my anxiety was present, and that drugs and alcohol would make it go away. I needed to change. If I changed my diet and got some exercise, I might feel better, and if I felt better, I might not want to escape life and my troubled mind with drinking and drugs.
I had a friend, “Mike,” at the house who was a personal trainer and a recovering heroin addict. I asked him to train me, and he agreed. I set some goals for weight loss and conditioning, and Mike helped me with a new, healthy diet. Days went by where I was eating healthy and drinking water only. After just a month, I was looking better and feeling better. I had a new focus in life: health! Six months later, I went back to the doctor, and my blood panel was completely healthy. I was ecstatic with the news, and felt like I was in control of my life for the first time in a long time.
The Steps Mean Mental Change
Around the time I was making physical changes to myself for my health, I was into my the twelve steps of AA. I started to look at the steps in a way that I had not thought of before, especially the fourth step. I used to think of the steps 1,2,3 as you admitted you were powerless over alcohol and drugs and a higher power would help. 4,5,6,7,8,9 were to identify your bad behaviors and make amends to those you have wronged, and steps 10,11,12 were to keep you on track. I went back and read my fourth step and realized there was more to seeing what a jerk you had become, there was an opportunity to change your life forever and that’s what I set out to do.
I started to see that just admitting to myself and another human being the nature of my wrongs was not enough. I needed to see how I could change my whole outlook on life. Previously, I was convinced that I was a great guy with a bad addiction. After reevaluating my fourth step, I discovered that I was a great guy who can be selfish, dishonest, untrustworthy and lazy. Take the last four things out of that last sentence, and you have a great guy, but that requires change.
I was walking to the gym one day, as I always did, and realized that if I change the way I think and communicate to the world with a new resolve to be honest in all my affairs, there would be a huge benefit to my life, which is peace of mind. I always thought AA and the steps were just to help you stay sober, but they are not. You are examining yourself and all your bad habits, so that you can change them into more productive habits. In that moment, I finally got it. Sobriety is all about change, not just trying to stay sober.
You can go to rehabs, doctors, and Sober Living Homes, and still not find the answer to your problems with drugs and alcohol. Yes these are a great resources for help, just as AA is, but if you don’t turn inward and look at the person you really are, you are not likely to find the source of the problem: YOU.
This is not to say all addicts are bad people. They’re not. It is my belief that addicts and alcoholics have found themselves in a place in life where they can no longer cope with their lives and have found respite with drugs and alcohol. If this is true, simply stopping their drug of choice solves nothing; it just brings back into focus the reasons they started in the first place. The answer to long term sobriety is about change. This usually requires us to face our fears and conquer them, which is a tremendous challenge to any person, sober or otherwise.
I have been to three rehabs. Reflecting on my time there, so many people in the rehabs with me were unaware that they held the key to a better life without drugs and alcohol. Most seemed as if they were expecting the meetings and the counselors to fix them and relieve them from their burden of drugs, like saviors. The same was true at all the AA meetings I have attended, where I would see people get up and speak of their problems with anger and guilt but never with personal responsibility and how they were going to change. Over time, I would see them pick up chips for their sobriety times, only to see them disappear and come back to start again with the same rhetoric as the last time they were there.
The importance of personal change was most clear to me when I was a manager of a Sober Living Home. For two years, I lived with and ever-changing group of sixteen addicts and alcoholics. This was the best environment to study this theory of the importance of personal change. Living with other addicts and alcoholics is much different than seeing them at AA meetings for an hour, or for a few weeks at a rehab. I was able to see their personal habits and how they dealt with life. It was very clear to me that the people who were trying to make the most change in their lives were the ones who understood that the key is change, and that they always held that key. They were the ones who didn’t care if they had a disease; they didn’t blame others for their circumstances, like I used to. They would speak at house meetings of their old habitual behaviors and conducted themselves the opposite. They were in the process of changing, and you could see it.
I will have many more Blogs about the subject of change and sobriety. I will also be speaking on my favorite subject: Sober Living Homes. I think this new concept of Sober Living Homes is THE most important aspect to long term sobriety. To me the sober living experience is where all the magic happens. I would love to hear your comments good, bad or indifferent. I am not an expert on recovery, but I want to share my experiences with other in hopes it may help.