Toby's Story: From Treatment to Recovery
Not all alcoholics require incarceration in a treatment centre. It is an extreme option.
In my case it took me away from my home, my wife, my two sons and my job for almost three months.
It threw me into the midst of a bunch of drunks and drug addicts of widely varying ages, social backgrounds, and dispositions.
It caused me to begin addressing painful issues from my past - ones that I would gladly have kept buried.
I was expected to look at, and accept responsibility for the trail of destruction I had created; to get in touch with my "feelings"; to act responsibly; and do all kinds of other things that seriously clashed with my natural tendencies.
But it also set me on the path of recovery from an illness/disease/social disorder (call it what you will) that I had been suffering from for many years - maybe all my life.
A treatment centre for alcoholics and drug addicts does not provide a cure. Neither does it solve all the problems of any individual.
It is little more than one step on a very long road. But for me it was a very important step: the first step.
My drinking career spanned 28 years. I first got drunk at around the age of 13 or 14. I got sober just before my 42nd birthday.
There were periods of control within that time.
The use of a variety of different drugs (speed, heroin, valium, codeine, etc.) helped keep the alcoholism in check, but of course caused new problems, which alcohol helped to remove.
It was a vicious circle. One drug was used to "recover" from the effects of another.
There were periods of terrible destruction, of sordidness, of extreme desperation and of death-wishing depression.
Crimes were committed, people deceived and any moral code I had was shot to pieces in the quest to get high.
But, for long periods within that time I functioned. I had work, I studied, I got married and had two children. The outward appearance was one of a fairly together person.
However, inside I was miserable. It was only the drugs and alcohol that kept me going, kept me "sane" and provided a protective shell, a mask of happiness.
Finally though I succumbed to the greater urge, the state of mind that I craved: to be completely obliterated from reality on a 24-hours-a-day basis.
I drank to the point of complete physical addiction, into hallucinations and DT's; I drank almost to the point of death. And I just could not stop.
It was not my choice to go into a treatment centre. I abhorred the idea. I was led there, in submission.
I didn't want to stop drinking. I didn't even really have a fear of dying, but I did feel guilty about dying. I would leave two children fatherless and a wife in severe financial dire straits.
I had nowhere else to go.
It is impossible for me to write about my experience at the treatment centre in isolation from the 12 months (to date) that followed my release.
Essentially all I achieved in that nine-week period was freedom from active alcoholism - and the beginnings of a knowledge that I was extremely damaged: I was dry and I was in fear.
That is not to belittle the experience. I had certainly long ago lost any ability to achieve a state of non-drinking by myself. I needed to be where I was. I needed to be safe.
I had made many attempts to stop drinking and using before.
I had been in another treatment centre in 1987. I had joined a group of recovering drug addicts in 1995. I had tried to do it by myself, by sheer self-will many times.
Even those few times when I did manage to stop, I always started again. But this time it is different.
It is different today because since leaving the treatment centre I slowly came to understand that simply "not drinking" was not enough.
I was still the same old me, with all the behaviours, reactions, resentments, insecurities, fears, arrogance and self-obsession that had provided me with the excuses I needed to drink in the first place.
I needed to change. The thought of that terrified me. Change into what? Some boring, suburban automaton?
Would I lose my uniqueness, my personality? Would I become one of those dull, vice-free, clean-living, respectable men that I so despised?
I didn't know. But I did know that the thought of drinking again was even more terrifying.
The change I was contemplating was major. I needed to change not just my behaviour but my very way of thinking.
How could I do it? Well, the answer to that was simply "not all at once".
Through talking to and, more importantly, listening to the experiences of other alcoholics, I discovered that change was not only possible but could actually lead to happiness.
All that was required was that I be willing to change, be open-minded and honest. I say "all" as if it was nothing, but the truth is that to meet those requirements took a leap of faith.
I was not willing to change - I was scared of change. My mind was closed, especially to anything spiritual. My life had been a tangled web of deception and lies, but I took the leap.
As a result of opening myself up to this change, a process which includes - for me - a belief and trust in God, I am beginning to find an inner strength and a compassion I didn't know was there.
I guess the most important thing I've learned this year is that I am ordinary - and that it is okay to be so.
I don't have to fight the whole world anymore. I can take pleasure in simple things now and be grateful for the relationship I have been rebuilding with my wife and my children.
Recently my father died and I lost my job. I'm now financially insecure and have no idea what the future holds. It's scary, but I didn't have to use those events as another excuse to get drunk.
I have faith that whatever happens will be the right thing, as long as I stay sober, stay honest and continue to work with other alcoholics.