Column

Atwater: No one said recovery would be easy

Mr. Atwater,

I’ve been in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous for six years now. Every time I come back, I have a little less hope than the last time. The people in the AA meetings are great – they are encouraging and kind. They tell me how much I help them with my information about what it’s like to start drinking again.

By the way, it’s never gotten any better. They tell me to stay close and work with my sponsor on what I might be missing in my recovery program. I drank again about a week ago and ended up in the hospital after a fall. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to go back to meetings once again, but I don’t know what else to do. Any thoughts?

In my history of discussions with recovering people, many of them have had experiences like yours. Some have hit bottom, walked in the doors and permanently put the plug in the jug, but my guess is it’s at least 50-50.

Some say that relapse is part of recovery. I would say that for those who do relapse, it can become part of their recovery or it can be their path to destruction, depending on how they handle it.

Addiction is a tricky disease, and some people don’t get all the head games it can play on the first try. Others don’t absorb necessary parts of the recovery program and get tripped up by their own unseen resistance. Still others have multiple addictions or other mental health problems that interfere.

The thing is, over the years I have seen the most tragic, intractable cases recover. I have seen onetime park bench drunks with long-term sobriety. I have seen people with severe mental health problems get sober and clear the decks to recover from both things. I have seen people with family problems, job and financial problems, health problems, domestic violence problems and abuse problems get sober.

I think it takes the right combination of humility, self-honesty and willingness for the magic to happen. I would translate your embarrassment and shame as humility, your reticence to go back to meetings as your preparation for a new depth of honesty, and your drooping hope level as the necessary amount of desperation to make an honest run at this thing.

Go back to your meetings with a new attitude. Be grateful for every day of sobriety rather than seeing it as a burden. Stay in today and look carefully at where your resistance resides. Is it “the God thing?” Is it admitting your faults? Is it making your amends? Have you been cynical or doubtful that it can work for you?

Go back with your new attitude, and don’t drink, even if your fanny’s on fire.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He hosts the weekly radio show “Straight Stuff on Addictions” at recoveryinternetradio.com. He can be reached by email at rickatwater@northwestcommunitycounseling.com.

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