Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fat lady singing...

Many people believe that once an alcoholic has stopped drinking that the worst is over. People also believe that going to rehab for 90 days means there are only sunny days ahead. The reality is a far different picture from what many people believe.

When detox begins in a medically supervised arena, the brain begins to divest itself of the accumulated toxins that have been stored in the frontal lobe. It is a slow process to get rid of all that poison. In fact it takes FOUR years for the brain to be toxin-free. Even if there is zero alcohol in the blood stream, the alcoholic will be under the influence (even if minimally) for the next four years. So that means, while the person may be able to go back to work, repair broken relationships, find peace and in general return to a somewhat “normal” life – there is always the pull back to the bottle or vestiges of the alcoholic personality on a daily basis.

If a person goes to rehab for 90 days and then immediately goes back to drinking, it may be because that pull from the brain is over-riding any logical thinking process. Alcoholism is an addiction and it is difficult enough to break the addiction even if there were no left-over toxins interfering with logic, reason and emotion.

After the 90 days in treatment there must be a continuation of treatment for the alcoholic to ignore those pulls away from rationality. Most people continue their journey in a 12-step program, but there are other programs – Smart Recovery is just one example. In my opinion, support groups are great, but there needs to be that one-on-one counseling in order to keep working on the more intimate issues. The therapy must dig deep to find factors that may have encouraged the drinking in the first place. Was there a traumatic incident? Was there some PTSD, child abuse, or any other major life change around the time the drinking stepped up in pace? What are some of the triggers that may put the alcoholic into a tenuous situation? Usually many of these issues are not uncovered in a group atmosphere because they can be too personal, too painful to discuss openly. There is often not enough time inside the rehab center of other support groups. When things do start to become clear, it will take a lot of work to resolve the discovered issues in order to reach full recovery.

It doesn’t happen overnight; within a month, year, or more. It’s long and hard. It could take four years. The good news is that once these issues are uncovered it will then be possible for the alcoholic to start to truly recover. Dr. Phil says, “You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.” No truer words have been spoken – in my opinion. I always say “Knowledge is power.”

Usually when a person comes out of rehab the family feels like they are on top of the world. There is hope; there is a promise of a normal life. It’s a “honeymoon” period where everything is sweet, loving and light. But for the family there is also the edginess of waiting for the other shoe to drop. They are cautious in their happiness. And that’s as it should be because it takes four years; it takes support groups; it takes counseling; it takes patience; it takes understanding; and sometimes it feels impossible.

In my case, Riley was once sober for just about five years – so what happened? He had gone over the four years so he should have been toxin-free. Rile was extremely active in AA. He had sober friends and attended booze-free activities. What Riley did not have was the one-on-one counseling. He did not ever reach a place where he could be completely honest about anything that may have contributed to his alcoholism. To this day, he will tell you the only reason he became an alcoholic was because he liked being drunk rather than sober. He did not care about destroying anyone else’s life – wife, kids, friends – and he openly admits this as the truth. But, he cannot tell you “why” he is this way. To top it off, he uses counseling sessions to convince himself that he is “not that bad.” He also thinks of his appointments as social events. As a result he is missing one of the key elements, in my opinion, to achieving life-long sobriety. It really isn’t over until the fat lady sings and for Riley, the fat lady is on stage without a microphone or a band – she’s not singing anytime soon.

Just a reminder – most of my posts are my opinion and based on my experience combined with research on the subject matter. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, therapist, or any other “professional”. I’m a survivor and that’s all I ever claim to be.
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