Five years ago today, on January 4th 2010, I did what I’d done for the previous decade; I met someone for an early lunch, popped to the pub and had a beer, then a gin and tonic, and then a glass of pinot noir – my last ever. Then I got in a cab and checked into rehab.
Thus, today marks a major milestone – five years of sobriety… six years ago I’d never have even thought I could make five days. It’s an achievement I’m extremely proud of, but it’s also embedded with a huge amount of difficulties, memories, and sadness at the whole ‘what if’ nature of spending a decade of my life on this planet in addiction. But these are emotions which I’m – still – learning to live with and deal with; ten years of damage isn’t cancelled out overnight.
The overwhelming emotion however is pride – pride at conquering something which was slowly killing me, and hugely impacting the lives of everyone around me, especially my friends and family. The recovery from alcoholism is a major part of what makes me, ‘me’ and (most of the time) I wouldn’t change any of that, (we all want to change a little bit of ourselves every now and again – let’s be honest), and it’s given me a perspective on life, work, ‘people’, that I think serves me well.
It’s also brought an enormous amount of contentment to my life – a balanced, calming sense which I didn’t realise the value of before. There’s so much pressure on being ‘happy’ that people seem to have forgotten the tranquillity of just being ‘fine’ – ‘fine’ in a normal, relaxed, contented manner rather than the ‘fine’ that defines the great British sulk. The need for contentment is so important – otherwise, the vacillation between happy and its inevitable opposite, sad, means there’s a polarity about existence; a polarity which is fuelled by addiction as the addict seeks to cancel out the negative and aim for the happier side through whichever drug or habit is their wont.
Thus, getting sober meant more to me than the clinical definition – it was a need for a behavioural sobriety also. The ups and downs of being in the grip of addiction were gone, and a calm contentment remained – yes, I still get sad, and I still get happy, but they’re part of a spectrum now, rather than a two-tone wave.
Importantly, the time in rehab taught me how to cope with being sober, and gave me the tools to remain so – there was time spent understanding the medical element of addiction and what happens to our bodies when we drank / took drugs / gambled; whichever our own demon was. There was behavioural analysis also, and long dark days looking at our paths to the rehab clinic and what dangerous, toxic parts of our lives might have been conduits to addiction.
It wasn’t easy – rehab is not just detoxing. Ten, twelve hours of self-analysis, deconstruction, and therapy every single day is exhausting… but then so was addiction. The constant anxiety, the ever-present panic, the physical pains, the stress of working out how to centre your life around the next drink once you’d finished work – not to mention the financial side; there’s nothing that’ll better stop you saving up than spending forty quid a night (not) getting drunk but trying to knock back the world’s supply of red wine four bottles at a time while doing so.
The most important thing to me though in rehab was the removal of the shame element of addiction – there’s so much tied in with being addicted or relying on a crutch to get through life which will completely shoot through all self-respect. I think an enormous element of addiction lies within problems to do with self-esteem and escaping from… something. Deep within this, when you’re struggling, (often alone), these esteem issues become even more manifest and there’s a feeling that you’re stupid, that you’re the only one suffering, that you’re ‘wrong’ somehow. Sitting in a room with a broad demographic of people (who you’ve never met before entering the clinic) and hearing them talk about the problems you’ve been battling daily is an unimaginable burden off your shoulders. “I’m not alone. I’m not stupid,” are refreshing, and life changing emotions to feel after years of torment – indeed, the first thing they embed into you is the mantra that “you’re not a bad person trying to be good, you’re an ill person, trying to get well.”
Of course, rehab is just one solution and it’s just one pocket of time in a centre – in my case a month; but it set me up with the tools, the mentality and the courage to get out there and look after myself in the long term. Starting with AA on my re-entry into the wide world I kept myself surrounded by others who kept me sane – although, as I’ve written about before, I found in the long term that once I felt safe and secure and knew I never wanted to go back to addiction, I needed AA less and less.
But this is my journey, my story – AA (and its equivalent programmes for drug, sex, gambling) do wonderful things and can deliver a lot of the reassurance, support, insight and strength of character addicts need to get, and most importantly remain, well. Rehab isn’t the only solution, but it’s what was needed for me. AA and networks of people in the same mire as you are superb and can start on the road to a better, and more calm, contented place.
It’s been a great five years, and while each week is difficult and some days are better than others, hey – that’s life. The difference now is that I’m facing it as me, not ignoring it and running away. I know that as long as I have my sobriety I can deal with anything, and I know that it is, therefore, the most important thing to me so I keep it very very key to everything I do. It’s not easy being in a world where drinking is everywhere – especially at Christmas where everywhere you look you see people enjoying the one thing you simply can’t touch… it brings back a lot of painful, unpleasant memories; but then I think back and I remind myself of how far I’ve come and I feel pride again. I know that alcohol is something that was part of the old ‘me’, and without it I am the current ‘me’ – and you know what, contrary to how I felt before getting sober… I like him.