Every individual is unique. So is each person's story of addiction and recovery. What "recovery" from alcohol addiction looks like will vary based on each person's circumstances. A large part of recovery means figuring out for yourself what a full-recovered life looks like. How is alcohol harming your life specifically, and what would it mean to be free of your addiction?
Even though you are unique, you are not alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found in a 2000 study that, on any given day, over 700,000 people in the U.S. are receiving treatment for alcoholism. Within each of those stories, there are some common patterns.
Recovery from addiction is not as simple as quitting drinking. The decision to stop using is only the beginning of a long journey changing habits and rebuilding your life. Understanding the stages all alcohol addicts go can be a source of wisdom and hope as you find commonality between your own experience and those of others. Here are the basic stages of addiction recovery, what you can expect and how to best set yourself up for a successful recovery.
Stage 1 - Denial
Many people realize that their drinking is a problem long before they are willing to admit they are an alcoholic and powerless to control alcohol use apart from sobriety. The addicted mind creates many rationalizations and excuses that keep you in denial, thinking things aren't as bad as they seem.
You may have had a few bad experiences while drunk, but you either justify it in your own mind, or try to make decisions to try to drink less by your own power. As your life continues to spiral out of control, your awareness of a problem will slowly grow. Eventually, you will hit a "bottom" where you realize your need for help.
Stage 2 - Realization
Over time, you will start to realize the full strength of your addiction and that your attempts to control it by your own power have reached a limit. Your sense of denial is fading, and you see reality as it truly is.
This shift in your mind is a vitally important first step, rooted in dissatisfaction in life as it is now and a willingness to change. This is the first step in deciding things have to change, and seeking help to do so.
That is not to say that you may have some mixed emotions about treatment, including hesitancy or fear of giving up drinking. Ambivalence is ok, because growing in self-honesty is an important part of the process. Courage consists of being able to take those fears, and still journey into the unknown path of recovery.
Stage 3 - Treatment
In some ways, withdraw and early recovery is the hardest part of the journey towards sobriety. Whether you choose to simply go cold turkey by yourself (after asking a healthcare provider and keeping supportive friends in close contact), or by checking into a rehab center, you will experience a wide variety of strong emotions as you do the work of encouraging yourself and dealing with thoughts and feelings apart from your chemical crutch.
You may also face some physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, but these often do not last long and can be relieved through medical support. At this period, you should cancel any other commitments or concerns as much as possible, and focus all of your attention on getting sober.
Stage 4 - Maintenance
This is leaving the whirlwind of a rehab center and returning back into the real world. You are returning back to a place with more independence and familiarity, but must work to change your lifestyle into something new. New friends and routines that support your recovery will replace old ones that centered on alcohol.
Support group meetings can be an especially important part of learning how to stay committed to your sobriety. Over time, you will start to deal with larger issues related to your physical and mental well-being.
Some people do find the challenge and temptations too strong, and relapse. The aftermath can feel discouraging, but that's not a reason to consider your recovery a failure. Simply take the time to evaluate your weaknesses, and think of what you can do strengthen yourself against that vulnerability as you "get back on the wagon" again. The key is to take things one day at a time, living each moment in the present and taking care of yourself.
Stage 5 - Continuing
After a certain period of time, maybe five years into sobriety, you have created a comfortable life and begun to define yourself apart from your addiction. Staying sober has become a habit. However, it is important to recognize that challenges will continue to come.
Continue to closely monitor your thoughts and feelings, and stay in contact with supportive friends who can hold you accountable, staying aware of weaknesses and committed to continued recovery and sobriety. Recovery is a lifelong process, and continuing to work towards it will make it easier to deal with any challenges that come your way.