I got sober at 27 after being a binge-drinker, drug taker and prescription drug abuser for 10 years. I was ‘vaguely’ suicidal during that time – meaning I really didn’t want to die, but couldn’t ever come up with a better solution for dealing with the pain I was in. Finally after years of struggling, I got help for my drinking and drug use and my life began to get better. Then at 3 years sober, I hit an emotional ‘rock-bottom’ and this time was seriously suicidal.
I didn’t want to drink or use drugs, in fact it was the last thing I wanted to do. But I was more desperate than I had ever been and very frightened. I had thought now that I was sober, that everything was meant to be better. I thought those days were meant to be in the past, but here I was again in this big black hole of despair and no substances to numb the pain.
Because I had 3 years of sobriety under my belt, I knew what I needed to do to keep safe, so I stuck close to the friends I made in recovery and just hoped that ‘this too shall pass.’
I scrambled around for answers. I figured my rock bottom had been triggered by the demise of a relationship and I thought that maybe I needed to go back into therapy to resolve the issues that I had with my father. I guess I had been on a ‘high,’ since getting sober and thought everything had been resolved but I was still as lost as I had ever been.
The truth is my sobriety rock bottom was the best thing that could have happened to me because it gave me the ‘gift of desperation.’ I wasn’t going to give up; I had come so far and was going to do whatever it took to stay sober.
It’s amazing the lengths you will go to when you are truly desperate.
What I learned from my experience is that stopping drinking was the easy part, it was living sober that was the challenge. Alcohol and drugs aren’t the real problem; they were only a symptom of the problem. I was completely emotionally stunted and unable to sustain an intimate relationship with anyone. I had always used alcohol to give me courage and to mask my feelings. Because I obviously couldn’t do that in sobriety, I had to learn how to manage my emotional life without the aid of alcohol.
When I first got sober, I only really did as much work on myself as I could get away with. I really didn’t resolve the issues that had driven my drinking and drug use, so it was inevitable that at some point, they would come up again. With nowhere else to run and desperate to stay sober and have a chance at happiness, I did the deep emotional work I had avoided up to that point. To my amazement, I discovered that was where freedom lay. I didn’t realize it at the time but desperation gave me courage I never knew I had. Tired of running away from myself, I finally surrendered and faced up to all the demons I had spent so many years fighting.
My experience was that it was actually the fear of facing my demons that was actually far worse than the reality of facing them. I discovered that I wasn’t much different from most people in that respect. In fact I was lucky, because alcoholism forced me to face things that I may have otherwise spent my whole life avoiding. Alcoholism forced me to develop an understanding of my emotional life.
The path from drunk to sober is rarely a straight one; there are many obstacles and wrong turns along the way. The fact is that some of us just don’t make it; drink, drugs or suicide gets to us first. There is no doubt this is a hard path.
But drinking and drugging away your demons is far, far harder.
Sometimes when we are at our most desperate need, is the moment where we find our remaining courage to reach out and grasp the tools to obtain lasting and fulfilling sobriety. Without the ‘gift of desperation’, I never would have found the deep and fulfilling recovery that I have now.