Let’s start off this article with a little anecdote. When I was in my early twenties, I found myself in a gender-specific rehab facility in Southern Florida. I wound up there because of a series of self-destructive bad decisions – if you have ever suffered at the hands of a substance abuse disorder of any severity, you might know just what I mean. I was truly a victim of my own circumstances and trust me when I say that I would have rather been anywhere else in the world. But alas, I woke up in Florida in a residential facility with very little wiggle room or personal freedom. Little did I know at the time, but this is exactly what I needed. I spent a total of three months in the facility, learning about the disease of addiction, working through unresolved trauma and relating to a group of dysfunctional addicts and alcoholics on a level that I never deemed possible. Once my inpatient rehab experience was complete, I transferred into a sober living house and continued on in my journey of clinical care. I attended an intensive outpatient program for several months and then transitioned into an outpatient program. I learned vital life skills and relapse prevention techniques, and I eventually transitioned back into fully independent living. I was dedicated to my recovery, and for this reason I was able to maintain my sobriety. I attended at least one 12-step meeting every day, worked through the steps and began to sponsor other individuals.
Friendships that Last a Lifetime
While I did love Florida, I eventually decided to move back to the West Coast. I still live on the West Coast, and I stay dedicated to my personal program of recovery while balancing a social life, work and whatever else adults tend to balance (which honestly seems like an awful lot). I also still stay in touch with many of the people that I met while immersed in the recovery scene in Southern Florida. Many of the friends I made are still sober and are living in various places across the United States. It has been completely awesome and so, so rewarding to see how recovery has changed all of their lives for the better. Seeing as I am currently in the middle of a cross-country road trip, I have been getting in touch with and seeing many of these old friends (COVID-permitting). I was fortunate enough to see one of my Florida friends that I hadn’t seen in probably close to for years. He and I met up and decided to stay at a hotel; a hotel that offered a free wine reception. While I thought nothing of it, because we had arrived far after the reception had ended, he asked the hotel concierge if there was any way we could partake. while I of course refused, he accepted a glass of wine and let me know that he only drank when he was on vacation.
Exceptions to the Rule
I was pretty surprised, not only because he had recently picked up a 30-day chip after experiencing what he referred to as a pretty nasty relapse, but because the flawed thinking that goes hand-in-hand with making exceptions to the rule was something that we learned pretty early on in recovery. Staying sober is staying sober. If you are drinking, even if you are limiting your drinking to vacations and holidays, you are simply not sober. No matter how hard you try, you cannot define sobriety on your own terms. Imagine if we all made up our own rules. “Yes, I did struggle with a pretty gnarly heroin use disorder, but as long as I only use heroin after midnight, I think that I’ll be fine.” “Sure, I spiraled out of control after a 5-year run in with oxycodone, but hydrocodone is different, and I’m sure that I can consume it safely.” “Yes, I did lose absolutely everything in my life as a direct result of my drinking, but so long as I stick to wine and beer and avoid whiskey and other hard liquors, I don’t think that I will get into a car accident or undergo a violent divorce again anytime soon.”
This sounds crazy, no?
While my friend and I sat down and had a lengthy conversation about this very topic, he insisted that because he was able to control his drinking and limit it to certain events, times and places, he was no longer problem drinking. It can be a little bit frightening when you are faced with a situation like this. How can you talk sense into someone who seems so mentally out of whack? The truth is you really can’t. You can try and try until you’re blue on the face, but if someone is convinced that they can successfully drink on vacations or follow any other one of many ridiculous self-imposed rules, it can be difficult to speak logically and be heard. As addicts and alcoholics, we go to great lengths to convince ourselves that drug use and drinking is totally fine so long as we effectively control it. However, most of us know that based on our past experiences, we cannot effectively control our drinking or drugging for any extended period of time. Still, we tried to convince ourselves and others that everything is just peachy as we struggle through finishing one glass of wine without immediately reaching for another.
Sober is Sober is Sober
Ask any longtime member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and they will tell you with certainty that sobriety entails staying completely free of all mood- and mind-altering substances. Even taking one small sip of alcohol counts as a relapse. Remember that if you are considering only drinking on holidays or on vacations, that there is a reason you entered into recovery in the first place. You probably cannot control your drinking, and you likely have a very healthy relationship with alcohol. This is not something that can be fixed or changed. This is a fact of your life, one that can be easily worked around, but never one that can be effectively “cured.” If you have already started to weigh your options, there is a very good chance that you are on the road to relapse. Rather than desperately try to develop loopholes and exceptions to the rule, it is a good idea to work towards acceptance sooner rather than later. Acceptance can be quite difficult. Accepting that we do not have the ability to drink like other people can be a painful and drawn-out process. Still, it is necessary… Otherwise, we will inevitably find ourselves right where we left off before we entered into a program of addiction treatment.
Chapel Hill Detox
At Chapel Hill Detox we not only focus on physical stabilization, but we focus on instilling our clients with the life skills and relapse prevention training they need to maintain sobriety for years to come. We believe that addiction recovery is a lifelong process, and that setting a stable and solid foundation for continued sobriety is absolutely essential. We also thoroughly educate our clients on the disease model of addiction, so that they understand how important it is to stay on the right path as they continue along in their recovery journeys. For more information on our medical detox program or for more information on the disease of addiction, please feel free to reach out to us at any point in time. We look forward to speaking with you soon.