My butt hadn’t even begun to warm the seat cushion when it became abundantly clear: There would be no sitting back and getting comfy in that chair.
“What made it OK to stay with a drunk all those years?” the therapist asked my husband within the opening five minutes of our very first session.
The balls, right? Of course, both of us just sat there, stunned. It’s actually funny now, to think about my sweet, kind, reserved hubby trying to come up with a response to a question like that on the spot, when he’d never even been to therapy before in his life.
Couldn’t tell you what was going through my head at that moment. My heart, on the other hand, somehow knew.
This was going to be a good fit.
I can only speak for my own experience, but after 6 1/2 months (196 days) of success in staying sober, and 20-plus years stuck in various ruts before that, I firmly believe that to achieve real, lasting change in life, you need: A) the stakes to be high enough; and B) a willingness to surrender.
Until those two factors are firmly in place, nothing in the world is strong enough to “break the wheel,” as noted non-surrenderer Daenerys Targaryen would say.
This philosophy was formed over many years of half-assing it. My mid-to-late 30s can best be described as duplicitous — although, “f*cked up” would also do nicely — because while I intellectually understood I had problems, I refused to acknowledge how serious they were on an emotional or spiritual level, much less actually change my behavior.
I sought the counsel of — and spent a fortune on — psychologists and psychiatrists, and even a damn life coach. They all pointed to alcohol as a very clear instigator in my issues, from mental health to physical well-being to career satisfaction to marital harmony. And like a kid who’ll say anything to appease their parent in the moment, I would be like, “TOTALLY!” and then go do exactly what I wanted to do.
Which was drink.
I distinctly remember back about five years ago, sitting across from my therapist at the time and hearing her say, “Did you ever think [various shit I was struggling with] would work itself out if you stopped drinking?” I nodded in genuine agreement, because of course I’d thought of that. And then when the appointment was over, instinct kicked in, and instead of turning right out of the parking lot to go home, I hung a left and hit the liquor store down the block to buy a bottle of tequila.
That therapist sent me to a psychiatrist to see if I might benefit from medication. Along with an anti-depressant, he prescribed me something he said was supposed to reduce my alcohol cravings. I shrugged and took it, but honestly, I wasn’t someone who had cravings to begin with. I never stopped speeding from habit to habit long enough for my body and mind to compare notes, much less get in sync. I was on such autopilot with my drinking habits that tequila binges were as much a part of my lifestyle as waking up, going to the gym, or showing up at work assignments 2.5 hours early (s/o to all my old “Game On” friends!)
It’s not that I didn’t try to change — sort of. My concession to the professionals — and to my husband and family members, who piped up every now and again to ask me gently if I might consider not passing out at the table when we were out at restaurants or not falling down stairs and making a scene at parties or not snapping into a sudden rage and starting ridiculous arguments at rehearsal dinners… — was to “learn moderation.”
I attempted this by going without alcohol for a month.
Meanwhile, I was someone who had failed at moderating anything throughout my life and who regularly completed diet and fitness challenges that required some form of austerity for a finite time period, after which everything eventually went right back to normal.
So, to summarize: None of this stuff worked for me. In fact, I ended up getting worse.
It’s not because therapy is bullshit, or medication is ineffective, or that a life coach can’t be a wonderful asset for someone with large stores of disposable income, or that “sober curiosity” can’t lead to a meaningful breakthrough in one’s life. The specific calculation that finally equates to change is different for every person.
In my case, professional help + pills + loved ones’ persistent pleas = failure, until I was all-in, and I truly grasped how much I stood to lose.
The latest gem from our current therapist — yes, we stayed on after the initial shock; in fact, I have an appointment in a couple of hours — came during one of her single sessions with my husband.
She told him he should kick me out of the house if I ever started drinking again.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that kind of bluntness. But where I’m at right now, with my full ass planted firmly in the recovery process, I say, bring it. Numbness is not what’s necessary when you’re fighting an addiction that stealthily sucks people back in the second they let their senses go dull, even if it’s been years since their last drink.
People relapse every day. I’ve heard them talk about it in meetings. I’ve seen them vanish from the community. I’m no different, no better, no less in danger of letting go of the climbing rope and sliding back into the pit.
I need the razor to stay sharp. I need the reminders to remain constant.
I need the love, sometimes, to be tough.
My therapist shows me plenty of love, by the way. Our hours together aren’t always filled with edge-of-my-seat anxiety, nor does she just sit there spewing putdowns. However, through her work with addicts, she understands that recovery requires surrender. Surrender means acknowledging the truth. And the truth is that I AM A (FORMER) DRUNK WHO WILL THROW HER ENTIRE LIFE AWAY IF SHE EVER AGAIN CHOOSES TO DRINK ALCOHOL.
Those are the stakes. They will not change, no matter how many whiteboards I fill with red hash marks. The goal of therapy is to help me as an individual, and us as a couple, find peace and comfort in a new lifestyle without ever sinking into stagnation.
Our unrelenting resolve + her support and refusal to sugarcoat anything = a perfect fit.