What I’ve learned about alcoholism (and recovery)

It took getting sober for me to understand anything about alcoholism. When I think back to the chain of events which led me to recovery I am grateful, but my heart aches for the millions of others like me who are still battling the disease.

Addiction is one of the most confounding phenomena of our human existence, and honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand it. Nature or nurture? Genetics or choice? It’s far too complicated for me to get my head around, so I don’t try. I just stick to the truth – that my life is better now that I don’t drink, and that the problems I experienced when I did drink are not ones that I ever want to face again.

I don’t write about being an alcoholic for any other reason than the chance it may save someone’s life. I’ve had a few people reach out to me since I first wrote about my recovery journey, and it is always in those moments when I say a prayer of thanks and think, “That is why I do this.”

It’s my way of paying forward what was given to me at the many recovery meetings I have (and still do) attend. I often question whether I am doing the right thing, sharing these intimate details of my life with my readers, but I always come back to this:

I didn’t choose this path, but I’m on it. I didn’t want to be an alcoholic for all the hideous, shameful images that evokes, but I am one, and I am not hideous or shameful. Therefore, perhaps there is someone out there, suffering as I did, confused as I was, and trying to control something they simply cannot control, but are too scared or ashamed to get help.

Maybe I can help, just a little. Maybe I can take them by the hand and say, “It’s okay.”

“You are a sick person, not a bad one. There is a solution.”

I want to tell them about all the wonderful experiences I have had as a recovering alcoholic, all the funny, soulful, beautiful recovering people I have met. I want to tell them about being restored from a hopeless mental and emotional state to a useful and joy-filled member of the human race. I know everyone has their own journey to walk, but I want to tell others who are suffering that they don’t have to walk it alone.

Meeting local kids during the Rickshaw Run, India.

So here are some things I have learned about alcoholism that I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t get sober, in the hope that it may answer some questions people may have and clarify some myths about the illness. These lessons are based purely on my own experiences. I am not an expert, a psychologist or a doctor. But if my experience helps one person to seek help and find recovery, my story will have been worth sharing.

Being an alcoholic doesn’t necessarily mean you drink every day, or that you drink straight vodka in the morning.

I didn’t drink every day, and I didn’t drink in the morning, unless I was still going from the night before! Of course, as the disease progresses, this is a common outcome. But for me, I could go days or even weeks (okay, that was tough!) without a drink, but would always end up in situations which filled me with shame and guilt again.

I would think, “This time, it will be different.” It was, only worse.

Alcoholics do not process alcohol like normal drinkers.

My body doesn’t process alcohol like normal drinkers, which is why I used to be able to drink so much, but then black out when it finally hit my system. I always wondered why I seemed to be able to drink more than everyone else (especially in the beginning), but then sometimes black-out and not remember sections of the night.

This is a physical phenomena. This is not a choice I made, but the way my body is. When I heard this, so many questions I had silently wondered about for many years were answered, and it was one of the reasons I could finally admit that my drinking was not something I could control with will-power alone.

Normal drinkers can stop when they’ve had enough, alcoholics can’t.

The craving that develops when we alcoholics drink is something that normal drinkers don’t experience. Normal drinkers drink for fun, taste and relaxation, and can stop once their body tells them they’ve had enough. Alcohol is toxic, and can be tolerated (and enjoyed) in moderate amounts, but for some reason, we alcoholics don’t have the mechanism which tells us we have had enough.

Alcoholics are usually wondering where their next drink is coming from.

I was shocked when I finally came to terms with how much alcohol dominated my life. Though I didn’t drink every day, I always knew when my next drink was coming. For example, sometimes I could manage to not drink during the week with the knowledge that I was going to party on Friday night and could drink freely then.

I could go without as long as I knew one was coming, and my life revolved around my drinking schedule.

It was quite a realization for me to learn that MOST PEOPLE DO NOT DO THIS.

I had to get honest about just how much I obsessed over alcohol, even when I wasn’t drinking. All the brain power and mind-games I put in to the whole thing!

Now that alcohol is no longer a part of my life and I have accepted the fact that I can’t drink without saying goodbye to my self-worth, I have so much more time to pursue other things in life.

There is simply NO WAY this blog would exist if I was still drinking. Perhaps I wouldn’t, either. Even if If I did, I shudder at the thought of what my life would be like, and what I would have missed out on. I wouldn’t be traveling, I wouldn’t be writing, I wouldn’t be with Tyrhone, and I wouldn’t have done the many amazing things I have gotten to do in the last few years.

Hiking the Great Wall, China.

Getting ready to visit a temple in Bali.

Skydiving in Mexico.

Mostly though, it’s the way I have changed inside that has been the biggest blessing. I am so grateful for the internal transformation I have experienced as a result of getting into recovery.

Prayer helps me.

I wasn’t exactly a avid pray-er before I needed help to stop drinking. But I was desperate enough to try anything. You see, I wanted to stop drinking, but I needed to drink. I didn’t realise how much I needed it until I was staring down the barrel of a life without my best friend, alcohol.

We had grown up together, been through everything together, celebrated and commiserated together. That sort of relationship isn’t easy to give up overnight. I’ve never been so terrified and confused as wanting to stop and wanting to drink at the same time. I thought I was insane. Turns out, I was insane.

I’d run out of denial, explanations and excuses. I knew I was screwed and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to be un-screwed. So, I prayed. I prayed without belief, or any idea of who or what I was praying to. Turns out it didn’t matter. As long as I was asking for help from something outside of myself, I received it.

I could drive myself crazy trying to explain how prayer works for me, but I prefer to stick to the facts – that I haven’t had a drink for over four years. I still continue to pray to a power greater than myself who I do not understand, and I continue to be healed.

That’s not to say you can’t get sober without prayer – many can, and do. It’s just something that helps me. Connecting with the inner stillness within me via meditation and yoga also really helps me too.

Admiring Tibetan prayer flags in Sichuan province, China.

Rock-bottom is not a place – it’s a feeling.

When I first got sober, I worried I wasn’t bad enough to qualify for being an alcoholic. I thought alcoholism meant no job, no home and no friends. Turns out most of us have cars in the garage and a roof over our heads. Alcoholism does not discriminate between race, gender, social standing, age, intelligence or socioeconomic status.

But after listening to thousands of recovery stories over the last few years I have learned that though our lives may be different, our feelings are the same. Shame, confusion, guilt, resentment, fear. Feeling restless in our own skin; low self-esteem paired with inflated egos. What a combination! I have met other recovering people who have very different lives to me, but we share the same internal experience.

When I hear someone share their painful experiences of alcoholism, along with the mental and spiritual bankruptcy it brings, I can relate. That reminder of what life was like as an active alcoholic is enough to keep me from a drink for another day, and that is all I ever really have; just today.

Recovery is amazing, and help is available if you want it.

I thought my life was over when I got sober, but it was really just beginning. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but I cannot fully express in words how grateful I am to be a recovering alcoholic. Sharing my journey with other recovering people is the single greatest joy of my life. It has brought a richness into my existence that I sometimes cannot quite believe I get to be a part of.

Therefore, I feel lucky. Alcoholism is a hideous, soul destroying disease, which robs us of all our light and love. Recovery is the opposite. It fills us with hope and connects us to other human beings who we can help and who help us. Though the path of life may be a rocky one, not having to walk it alone is a gift I will always be grateful for.

I still have days when my thoughts and feelings seem out to get me, but today I have the tools to handle them. I am not perfect, and I do not pretend to have all the answers, but do I have a solution which works for me; a continuous path of learning and growth.

Whilst I have suffered with shame my whole life, I am learning that being an alcoholic is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the gateway through which I have been healed and transformed, and my hope is that by sharing what I have learned about alcoholism, I can help others suffering with the disease to find their own recovery path.

“I can’t promise it will be easy, but I can promise it will be worth it.” – Unknown

If you have any questions about my recovery from alcoholism, feel free to email me via the contact page. Our discussion will remain confidential.

This independent film about recovery called The Anonomous People looks pretty interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing it!

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What I’ve learned about alcoholism (and recovery) — 26 Comments

  1. Love u and love this! Thank u for sharing your journey and for explaining that recovery can be (and is!) and amazing and liberating experience! I’m thrilled that i get to know the best version of u and see all that u are able share now that u have made the choice to ‘do the hard yards’ and be free. Love this… Posted it on the aMg fb page. Hope that’s ok!
    holly recently posted..love and a few f-wordsMy Profile

  2. Question: would you think someone who feels a need to drink every day is an alcoholic? Hadn’t really thought about it before, but wondering about a parent. One glass of wine pretty much every single day (at dinner, pretty much never two glasses). Drinking to intoxication about 3-4 times per year (parties or weddings), never missing work or anything. I know you wouldn’t be in a position to offically diagnose, but just curious if it’s an issue you think someone who cares about that person should look into helping with.
    Carina recently posted..Surviving the divorcerMy Profile

    • Hey Carina! I wouldn’t think that one glass of wine per day constitutes alcoholism. Especially if that person is not experiencing any negative effects. Most alcoholics I know can rarely stop at one, our bodies crave more when we drink. Saying that, it’s not always how much we drink, but what happens when we do. Alcoholics often experience a personality change after one or two drinks, and have problems with relationships. It’s a self-diagnosing disease, and usually things get pretty bad for us to consider stopping. I hope that helps.

  3. Wow… what an honest, heart wrenching post. Congratulations again on facing this addiction and prevailing. I think all of us that blog wonder if we’re sharing too much personal information but the internet makes for strange bedfellows, and if you can help just one single person you don’t know, and may never meet, by sharing your story, then I believe it is a decision well made.
    Rhonda recently posted..UP ~ A Love StoryMy Profile

  4. Thank you for continuing to share your story! Yes, I can tell you from first-hand experience that you sharing your journey is inspiring and helpful! And is such a beautiful, raw, honest way of spreading the message that anyone struggling doesn’t have to walk a hard journey alone and there’s nothing to be ashamed of, no matter what the particular mental health struggle is, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, etc… and thanks for the education on alcoholism, just learned a lot that I didn’t know before.
    Sam recently posted..On Fear and Exploring LifeMy Profile

  5. Hi Sarah,
    Brilliantly written. You have explained this illness in such an honest and open way that both sober and alcoholic individuals can understand. So proud of you and enjoy the wagon ride 😉 Stay on board the wagon and keep colouring our lives with your stories,
    <3 Patrick

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  7. Thank you sarah. I’m always interested to read your thoughts on alcoholism. As I’ve said before, my dad died from it so it’s something that’s never far from my mind.
    Victoria recently posted..Walking on iceMy Profile

    • Hey Victoria, I’m so sorry for your loss. My father also died of the disease, and led a rather miserable life leading up to that, so my heart goes out to you. If I didn’t get into recovery myself I never would have found the compassion for him which I now have, so if you ever want to chat, I am only an email away. Much love to you xxx