2 years ago, I was a practicing addict.
I think my drinking problem started in college, but I didn’t notice it at first. I would go out with friends, and the feeling of being drunk would just kind of sneak up on me.
Later, it occurred to me that I was the only one drinking to relax – they drank for the fun of it, but sitting there at the bar or a table I would guzzle shots until the warmth hit my belly and I was able to relax, to be friendly, to be normal.
It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that it caught up with me. The long nights spent away from home, the endless complaints from my wife that I was always at the bar – the alcohol I snuck into my car so I could have a drink after work to unwind from the stress of it all before driving home.
I lost my job. I hit rock bottom. My wife refused to talk to me, I lost my friends, and I was facing a lawsuit after driving under the influence.
I’d snowballed down a hill, my problems getting bigger and bigger and here I was with nothing. Yet somehow, the worst part wasn’t the nagging, it was the voices in my head that wouldn’t let me be. I was sick, disgusted with myself, and constantly putting myself down over using. And the only thing that would silence them was more alcohol.
“You’re worthless, you’re failing everyone and yourself”
I was 34 when my family helped me get into rehab. Of course, I’d quit before. Always for a few months, sometimes more, before I’d start to drink again. Sometimes I even thought it was under control – before the self-doubt hit and I realized that I was an addict and I couldn’t help myself – and I’d always drink more to make myself feel better.
I spent 9 days in a hospital going through detox. But the self doubt didn’t go away.
Leaving treatment, the first thing I did was buy a bottle of Jack Daniels. I cracked it open in the car and cried as the ethanol stung the back of my throat.
“You’re an addict” the little voice in the back of my head told me, “You’ll always be an addict”, and for a while I believed it.
What I didn’t know then was that my low self esteem was a vicious cycle that fed into my addiction, causing me to seek out alcohol as an escape. I scored at the bottom of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. I hated who I was, and what I had let myself be. But blaming yourself is a symptom of a disease, and it’s as much a problem as drinking or using any other kind of drug.
It was another year before I went looking for help again. This time, seeking out a rehab center that offered cognitive behavioral therapy. I was able to learn that my self-esteem was a meaningful contribution to my inability to walk away from alcohol. I was using it as a crutch. I won’t ever have to fail because you expect nothing of me. I learned that I was using alcohol to cope with stress and trauma from my childhood.
Building up my self esteem wasn’t easy. I had to remind myself on a daily basis that I wasn’t no one, I wasn’t some loser who would always be that way. The choices I make are my own. I think the most powerful thing for me getting clean and moving past my problems was the understanding that even if I can’t control my past, the choices I make shape my future. I am in control of that, and I am the only person who gets to say what I will or will not do.
Leaving rehab this time was different, I transitioned to a halfway house, I became involved with a local 12-step group, and I continued working on my health. I learned that there are many ways that one can improve their self-esteem after rehab, and I kept working for my recovery.
I went further, I cut toxic people out of my life, I started exercising, I got a new job.
I’m now two years sober, I’ve been back with my wife for 18 months – and even though it hasn’t been easy, it’s been worth it.
Today, I’m grateful for the help that I’ve received from friends and family, I’m grateful for people who pushed me into getting help, and I’m grateful for the people I had to talk to during my recovery. Without them, I would not be sober today.