those who quit drinking …

i was intrigued by levy’s comment on the art and alcohol posting a few days ago and thought it would be worthwhile to dedicate a blog entry to it. here is what he says:

I can appreciate the turn around stories of artists and I get that there are lessons to be learned, but how did they do it? and what part did therapy play? How does what they did make a difference to me?

i think these are valid questions and it would take more than a few hundred words to do them justice. however, here are a few thoughts:

let me say something about the question of “how did they do it?” how did they overcome the darkness of alcoholism and come out the other end? i don’t know the exact stories of these particular people but when i think of people with similar stories, clients who i’ve dealt with, a few things come to mind:

the support of friends and family.
isolation is the friend of all mental dis-ease, including addiction (i see addiction mostly as a mental health issue). “demon alcohol” loves to tell the suffering alcoholic that nobody understands her, that she is better than everyone else and/or not worthy of anyone’s love or attention. the bottle becomes the best friend then. people who recover generally have or get a support system that will not let them fall too deeply into isolation.

gut-level understanding
most people with addictions are not nearly as much in denial as people around them believe. most alcoholics know quite well that drinking too much endangers them and others around them. they may not want to admit that to others; that can feel very shameful. but within themselves they usually know it.however, this knowledge is often experienced only at an intellectual level (“in the head”). once a person with an addiction really feels, at all levels of his existence – spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically – that continued drinking will inexorably take him further into the downward spiral, he can often reach a commitment to work on stopping his alcohol abuse.

therapeutic support
for some people, therapy is very helpful. for one thing, it can help put in place the two aspects i just talked about – a support network and a true understanding of the destructive nature of alcoholism. therapy can take all kinds of forms. it can be one-on-one therapy or in a rehab group; it can be with a counsellor, social worker or clergy; it can be face-to-face or online.

self-help approaches like peer counselling or groups like alcoholics anonymous are also a form of therapeutic support. sometimes it’s helpful to use more than one approach, for example going to a 12-step group once a week and seeing a counsellor twice a month.

a 24/7 approach
it’s not enough to see a therapist once a week. those who are successful with overcoming addiction are usually people who find ways to deal with the very real, daily, often hourly temptations that they are facing. they build and use strategies that work at any time of the day. one client i had, for example, realized that her greatest danger zones were the bottle that was waiting for her after coming home from work, her friends at her local bar, and drinking beer while watching TV.

we put together a plan which included not having any alcohol in the house (not even for guests), and always having a case of her favourite juice in the car – just in case she might feel like visiting with her friends with whom she might be watching TV. that way, she would have something to drink “to hold on to”. she gave up hanging out with her buddies at the bar, and it turned out that one of them was relieved because he had wanted to cut down on the drinking himself. they now go hiking together.

another question that levy asked was, how does what they (i.e. the artists who recovered from alcohol abuse) did make a difference to me? i’ll come back to that in one of my next postings.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

10 thoughts on “those who quit drinking …

  1. Levy

    I see. I see that once a person is to see into the lie of dependence with alcohol that awareness can provoke intentions to quit. I’m not as sure of what shame – given that’s a response to social clues how that is an internal “intellectual” event that supports awareness – this is not crucial to my concern, nor is the agreements you suggest on replacing x or y. My concern is not in what I see, but in what I don’t see – relapse requiring resilience. It seems to me that with awareness of the negative does not add to the person. It only provides boundaries and restrictions/rules to be broken under various situations or other awarenesses. The concern I have is what strength has been build upon that can be leaned upon in those situations when rules can not.

  2. isabella mori

    thanks for your comment, levy.

    i’m not totally sure i understand your question. all i can say is that the things i named – a support network, gut-level understanding, therapeutic support, and a 24/7 approach – are things that work for people who are struggling with alcohol use. maybe not for all of them (there are no sure-fire solutions) but for quite a few. they also work long-time, i.e. they’re not just measures that help a person quit for a few weeks, only to start drinking again.

    is that a useful reply to your comment?

  3. Levy

    it wasn’t so much a question of practices that work as it was a matter of value to the patient. rules of behavior work if followed – a dog shocked whenever it reaches a certain distance from a certain point responds by not going pass that point. that doesn’t mean that its inclination towards irresponsibility or wondering has changed or if the circumstances of the shock where taken away that it would not bolt. So concern, if you can call it that, what improvement/value do restrictions alone have for the patient?

  4. k

    What about God? When you’ve got nowhere left to turn……… Then the doors open into a whole other world of learning, opportunity, feeling, connection, understanding. We only need the key of willingness. Some people have it, others don’t. It’s quite mysterious….alcoholism…addictions….why do some people live and others die? Some people get it some people don’t? ….and still others leading those quiet lives of desparation. A spiritual answer is certainly needed.

  5. isabella mori

    thanks for your comment, k.

    you’re right. for many, a closer connection with a higher power, god, spirit, or whatever we want to call this mysterious force, makes a very big difference. i am really glad you brought that up.

    of course, the question is, how do we find such a connection or, if we have one already, how DO we make it closer?

    there is no one answer to that but AA has definitely helped some people with this, as have reading spiritual material, going on retreats, joining meditation groups, taking up yoga, or making a deeper connection with nature.

  6. isabella mori

    just a few words on levy’s second comment:

    “it wasn’t so much a question of practices that work as it was a matter of value to the patient.”

    well, i’d say if they want to stop drinking and these practices work for them, then they have value to them, wouldn’t you?

    “what improvement/value do restrictions alone have for the patient?”

    it depends on the person. generally, restrictions only, especially if they are not internally generated, have little and not very long-lasting value.

    i’m not sure why you ask this question, though, because the things i’ve outlined above aren’t rules or restrictions. they are circumstances and strategies that have been observed as making a positive difference for people who wanted to stop drinking, and stay stopped. and of course the list is incomplete, as k pointed out so well. for example, i have also not mentioned the concept of “maturing out.” (material for yet another blog entry! 🙂

  7. eli

    I am a recovering addict alcoholic, and what keeps me from relaps is the memory of the bottom, the last days of my addiction, I wont go into that here, but it is much like the dog who remebers the electric shock and stays with in the boundries to avoid said shock, at some point we all have to make personal rules to live by, based on our indavidual values and morals “our” and “indavidual” being the key to this delema, Im a rule breaker at heart, so it was very difficult to set my own boundries, but nessisary to my survival, and once I realized that it was my very servival that was at stake, I was able to find a way to seek help, take advice, use this advice and and try to live a life without such a selfish soul, and start to love myself and my fellow humans. thank you, and I apologize for my bad spelling, eli

  8. isabella mori

    thanks for your comment, eli.

    so – would you say that this “feeling like a dog that has been shocked” might fall under the “gut-level understanding” heading? there’s a huge difference between this and just knowing that you shouldn’t keep drinking on a purely intellectual level.

    i was really moved by your words, “live a life without such a selfish soul, and start to love myself and my fellow humans.”

    love. always the answer.

  9. eli

    The purely “intellectual” was never enough for me to want, and or stay, sober. I had to understand the importance of what I was, and am trying to do on a much deeper level, an emotional and spiritual level. With my best intentions I can intelletualize my self right into the bar, ( or in my case, right to the needle ). It is a gut level understanding, but the most potent detractor is the memory of how low I go once I give up my soberiety, much like the dog remebering the painful electric shock. Remebering myself as an addict, and the life I lve as one, is this painful shocking memory for me. And yes I agree, love is always the answer, love above all, “love is the whole of the law”, without it there is only fear, and fear drives so many destructive emotions.
    all love eli

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