Alcoholism casts a dark shadow over nearly every aspect of life, including physical functioning, emotional well-being, and relationships with others. No one knows this better than Steve (name changed for anonymity), who struggled with alcoholism for 17 years before getting help. Steve starting drinking when he was 14 years old, sneaking alcohol from his parents’ liquor cabinet. By the time Steve was 31, he was drinking 3/4 of a bottle of whiskey every day.
For many years, Steve did not see his drinking as a problem. It was just a way for him to relax, he claimed, after working long hours as a construction foreman. Soon, however, his boss began complaining that he had become unreliable. Steve’s wife noticed that he was constantly irritable and frequently yelled at their young son. They argued frequently. To avoid comments from friends and family, he began drinking more heavily in private. Eventually, Steve’s wife moved out with their son, saying that she couldn’t deal with his drinking anymore.
This was the moment when Steve decided that something needed to change. He went to his first AA meeting, started working the steps, and has now been sober for 8 years. On his recovery journey, he learned a number of important life lessons from alcoholism:
#1. Running away is not a long-term solution.
If you’re struggling to control your alcohol use, the time to change is right now. Steve spent years rationalizing his decisions and avoiding people or pretending that the problem didn’t even exist around friends and family. Running away or digging your head in the sand may work in the short term, but it is not an effective long-term approach. Eventually, alcoholism will kill your relationships and your emotional well-being.
While you might not have a problem with something as severe as alcoholism, everyone does have their own vices and unhealthy habits. If you want to improve yourself, then the first thing you’re going to have to do is really face and understand what is going wrong in your life and why. That honesty is likely to start you on a path towards a solution.
#2. Alcoholism affects more than just me.
We often focus on the addicted person when talking about alcoholism, but it is fundamentally a social problem. Alcoholics are often surrounded by people who enable them, as well as those being torn apart by their continued drinking. Most people become alcoholics because of issues inside of themselves – whether it be stress, insecurity, or a hereditary issue. And the further they sink, the more they can disregard other people in their lives.
But, they are certain not the only people guilty of falling into that trap where you feel like your problems are more important or more worthy of attention than others’. One of the best ways of getting through an issue is by working with other people who are affected by the same problem. Many heads and hearts working together have a greater chance of finding a solution. So, don’t let yourself get stuck in your own bubble.
#3. Not all coping mechanisms are good coping mechanisms.
Like Steve said, alcohol was a source of relaxation for him. It was a way to unwind after a stressful day. Despite being an effective short-term coping mechanism, alcohol is a bad coping strategy over the long run. Now, Steve has replaced alcoholwith exercise and vegging out in front of the TV. Both things serve to relax him without having harmful effects.
#4. Being an alcoholic does not mean you are a bad person.
This is perhaps the toughest lesson to learn for either the addict themselves or the people they have hurt in the past. For years after joining AA, Steve struggled with feelings of self-loathing and regret. It is important to recognize that alcohol is a disease. It reorganizes the brain, making it difficult to stop drinking. This does not mean that you are a weak or bad person. In fact, a person who accepts that he or she needs help is incredibly strong.
#5. The path to recovery is not always straightforward.
You will mess up, but that does not mean you are a failure. In Steve’s case, went on several benders during the early years of his recovery. Rather than abandoning his progress, however, he redoubled his efforts to do better in the future. Your road to recovery is long and may be filled with twists and turns. That’s okay.
#6. Battling addiction is impossible to do on your own.
Quitting drinking requires more than simple willpower. It requires the support of friends, family, and others who know what you are going through. Without the support of his AA community, Steve thinks he would still be mired in alcoholism. Finding social support is critical to a successful recovery.
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