Recovering from Addiction Online
I didn’t know that I was looking to recover online.
I had four small children and worked full time, so the idea of giving another couple of hours of my life to AA, every day, seemed impossible.
I had just downloaded the local AA meeting list and was trying to Google AA alternatives, and there was SMART Recovery online. I had never heard of them before.
At the time, I wasn’t against AA on a religious basis or any other, really. I’d found it moderately helpful years back, but I had never committed myself to “working” the program’s 12 steps or to getting a sponsor.
On the first, I really didn’t understand the whole surrender concept. I tried, but whatever I was doing, it didn’t work well for me. On the second, I was so shy!
An Alternative Model of Addiction
When I started to read how sound, practical ideas can be applied to drinking and other addictions, at SMART Recovery, that was like a beam of light illuminating everything!
I first wandered into SMART Recovery online and saw this message board where it seemed like I could hear real people’s voices. As I read, the psychology and the kindness both grabbed me.
It didn't feel impersonal or predatory or distant or rote. They weren’t trying to sell me anything that I could see. I wasn’t sure how it all worked, but I wanted to learn more.
People were kind, writing back and forth to each other, actively trying to figure things out and encourage each other. It was like finding a new world. At the same time, the principles, the psychology behind it felt familiar and resonated.
I started to see a glimmer of hope.
I had never been to a chat room in my life. Even though I was a tech person, that whole concept was sort of scary in itself (this was more than 15 years ago).
The meetings were incredible, and the application of psychology made perfect sense.
Getting and Staying Sober
After one false start, I decided to try to make one small commitment -- to write something every day on their message boards, even if it was “hi, I’m okay.”
It was such a small thing, but I felt like I could do it. And then I was doing it. I hadn’t felt capable of doing anything I’d set my mind to or that was good for me or even known what that was for a very long time.
I dove into all of SMART’s online addiction recovery offerings and gave it my all. The online community resonated with me, and I wanted what the people there had.
I started to recognize and feel drawn to some of the people who wrote and ran the meetings or hung out in chat. It was such a relief to be able to talk openly with other people who seemed to understand what I was feeling.
Best, the things they were saying made sense. It was psychology, not something fluffy or esoteric or new-agey or religious or scary that I couldn’t quite grasp or embrace. Even if I couldn’t put it all into practice right away, it still made sense. The meetings helped me practice clear thinking and gave some terrific guidance.
And I stopped drinking.
Relapse and Renewed Hope
Fast forward a couple of years. I had done well for a long time, but when a lot of big-time stressors hit all at once, I fell down pretty hard.
I eventually fought back, but I threw myself off the cliff in a big way and things spiraled, as they do. It was very discouraging. And I couldn’t find that hard-won hope for a good while.
Even when I felt ready to stop again, I found it difficult to find my way back on lots of dimensions.
Shame After Relapse
I was so ashamed. Deeply, deeply. I had let so many people down, and just when I thought I was really getting somewhere . . . it was such a spectacular fall. People were very kind, and I learned a lot of humility.
Knowing from previous attempts that it was possible helped. Having open doors back to online recovery support helped.
When I did resurface, my family had pretty much given up. Old and newer friends were doubtful (and hurt) although I know they wished me the best. I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t feel worthy of much of anything, but I knew I had to start somewhere.
That’s all changed now, thankfully. At the time, everyone did the best they could. I was a lot, I know. I never want to minimize that.
I will be forever grateful to the people along the way who were able to treat me with love and gentle kindness throughout.
How Could I Let Myself Relapse Like That?
Well I don't know. It was willful. It felt inevitable, though I know that’s not true. That's why I become so gripped with terror every time I hear someone say, “Well, I only had one after work,” or that “they'll try drinking moderately.” I've watched so many people try it, not to mention myself.
I had told myself every cliched excuse in the book, all the things I heard people say, every day. The things I had helped others work through. (Sigh.)
"Well, it's my birthday” (that’s the one that started it).
“I'll just have a couple this weekend.”
“Maybe I could just drink on special occasions."
And I entertained all these ideas as if they were valid and reasonable, even with everything I had learned! How in the hell could that BE!
For those of us who have had serious issues, the risks seem so great. DUI, accidents, being unable to respond to emergencies can have such devastating consequences. It worked like Russian roulette for me, so I shudder, even though it's irrational.
Why Was It So Hard To Stop Drinking Again?
Once I let alcohol back in, it was very hard to connect with the tools I had learned and even to see what was plain to see. I did not want the answers that were clear and in front of me.
I wanted for alcohol to be able to fix things, or at least to have it beside me. It seemed familiar and comforting and I didn't want to hear about anything else. I was suffering enough. I gave up, and I shoved all rational thought away for a good long time. It was an abusive relationship.
What Helps After Relapse?
How did I quit again? Why did it all come together at that particular point -- November 19, 2009?
I’m not sure. I looked around me, at the normal state of my household at that time, and I realized that nothing could possibly get better if I continued what I was doing. That sounds completely obvious and trite, and it was, but I saw it with some clarity and force a few days before, and then I set it down again.
I knew the tools of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) worked. I went back and re-read those same messages of hope from before, and the newer ones, although I didn’t participate much.
I had to force myself to write out some of my now-favorite exercises for a while, but then they clicked back in again quickly.
What a relief not to be drinking; I felt that immediately, and I tried to notice and pay attention to things like that.
I was able to remember that that's what made everything in my life a misery. I was on high alert against any thoughts to the contrary. It felt good to sleep and eat and feel sharp.
I reaffirmed my decision, "I will not drink," all the time. I was not isolated from it at all. My partner was drinking like a fish and doing drugs, but I was very firm in myself. I kept booze out of the house as much as I could, and I reinforced my decision almost daily. (I don't recommend this setup!)
Keeping it Going
I did not fantasize about romantic drinking moments. I was ruthless about that. I said "NO" loudly in my head at the first whisper of a thought.
I forced myself to remember how often those alluring scenarios, turned into nightmares. I recalled the close association of drinking with so much misery and fear and sadness in my life. I pictured the disappointment and sadness I'd see, again, in my children's faces if I was to slip again.
What a relief to know that I never have to see those looks of shattered hope or veiled disappointment or resigned acceptance ever again. It's bittersweet, but precious.
Anyway, it was a "no matter what" thing about not drinking, at least to get through the immediate future. But I knew that I didn't want to go back there. I still don't think about "forever," but I sure don’t picture going back to drinking or drugs any time in my future.
Learning to Let Go of Faulty Beliefs
I made a lot of breakthroughs in these past many years. There were so many old and faulty beliefs that I had to let go of. This was a key.
I no longer believe that I have to drink/use if I get hurt in a relationship, or if someone goes away, or dies.
I no longer believe that I must "fall apart" in highly dramatic fashion -- family weeping, sirens wailing -- in response to feeling overwhelmed or stressed or hurt or scared.
I no longer believe that if I do not find my (perfect) white knight, that life will be AWFUL.
I no longer believe that I MUST have the life of my fantasies to be happy.
I no longer believe that I am both responsible for the ills of the world but, somehow, not for my own actions.
What Have I learned About Life Beyond Relapse and Addiction?
I have learned that life can be sweet, even when it’s hard.
I have learned that a kind word is an easy thing and can go a long way.
I have learned not to take things personally -- as much as is humanly possible for me!
I have learned that compassion springs best from having some for myself -- and this is hard; I work on this.
I am very conscious of my impact on my circumstances and surroundings. Not to change the world, but to be able to manage how I engage with it, which, I think, creates room for change. Room for the possibility of change.
I am learning to tweak out my anger, perfectionism, procrastination, and control issues. And it's been slow work. :)
The bonus is, I learn a little more every day about how astonishing, intricate, and complex the world is. Beautiful and dark. Frightening, yet hopeful. Awe-inspiring.
I'm glad to be a part of all THIS life -- the one I have, the one I can influence. And I intend to take full advantage of that from here on in.
ACK! That is a TERRIBLE idea! That would ruin everything!!!!
Peace, Progress & Perspective, friends.
I just celebrated my 11th year on the 19th of November, 2020!! It seems like it finally took! The countless efforts I made along the way ultimately led me to a place where I was ready to make a decision. From there, things started to fall into place. I hope that sharing some of my journey and thoughts might help you make this piece of your own journey a little shorter and more direct!
I'd like to reassure and spark hope for anyone out there that could use an encouraging word! You can do this thing!
If you’re struggling with drinking, drugs, or other addictive behavior, let’s talk!