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Drug & Alcohol Counselor/Therapist

Thinking about quitting drinking or drugs? It has been said that the truth will set you free so here are five questions to evaluate your drinking or drug use that only someone concerned about their substance use can answer. Remember--once you know something you can't "unknow" it.

  1. Is it true you can stop using any time you want?
  2. Is it true no one really gets hurt when you use?
  3. Is it true the world is really out to get you?
  4. Is it true using helps you get a grip on things when things get out of control? (Does it help you relax and think more clearly)?
  5. Is it true family and or friends avoid you when you are around them at a social function?

How did I come by these questions? These are the ones that made me think about what I was doing when I finally was confronted by some people who really cared about me and what was happening to my life.

I understand what it feels like when we finally reach that place where we can't even look at ourselves in a mirror without being frightened and angry both at ourselves and the world we live in. The wheels are falling off and we just can't seem to get a grip on anything long enough to slow it down.

So here are my answers--my real truths--regarding the 5 questions above. After these I'll suggest some things that can happen to make things a bit better.

Confronting the Truth

1. Can You Stop Using any Time You Want?

Can you really stop drinking or drugs?

For me, stopping wasn't a problem--"I've quit a thousand times" is the refrain that is heard during most NA, CA and AA meetings. It's the comeback of choice for those who are scared, angry and beginning to feel hopeless and helpless.

My truth was I really could stop any time I wanted. The bigger problem, however, was I couldn't stay 'quit'. As soon as I got feeling a little better and things started to look a bit different I'd start up again and it wouldn't be long before another crisis was born.

In essence I was just living a life built on a really shaky foundation and I began to see my use as a much greater problem. The REAL TRUTH was that I was not equipped to deal with the outcomes of the decisions I was making and my life, as I knew it, was slipping away from me--it truly was becoming unmanageable. The bigger the problem the more I used.

2. Is It True that No One Really Gets Hurt When You Use?

As a counselor in this field I became aware of the truth that somewhere between 5-10 folks, and more in many cases, are directly affected and seriously hurt by our use and our efforts to deflect or discount what people around us are saying.

  • The REAL TRUTH here is that our loved ones, our close friends, our neighbors, our close family members-brothers, sisters, cousins, grand parents and on it goes get hurt by our behavior.

When things get serious, and they always do, we will cheat, lie, scam, manipulate and use all the above people mentioned in some way and then justify how and why we did it.

Many people get hurt when we use. This doesn't make us horrible people but it does make us responsible for the decision to stop doing it once we realize what is going on.

3. Is the World Really out to Get You?

The more I lost the more I felt like a victim. Self pity was a regular staple. I never let the consideration or the connection of what I was doing--my lifestyle--and what was happening as a consequence even enter my reality.

I truly felt that nothing and no one understood me and if they didn't then they must be out to get me for some reason or another. Paranoia was a rampant everyday mindset. Why else would all this bad stuff be happening to me? I just needed a break but it never came.

The REAL TRUTH is that most of us are the authors of our own stories and if they aren't pretty then we need to look at what we are doing to contribute to it and begin to change some things. This is hard to do when when we are impaired most of the time. Even if we aren't actively using we can still be mentally and emotionally incapacitated because of the journey we have been on.

4. Does Using Really Help You Relax and Get a Grip on Things?

Using drugs or alcohol to handle feelings? A mistaken belief by many is that 'a few tokes, a couple of shots or a tab or two of this or that will help me to relax and calm down so that I can get a better grip on things'.

I don't agree that this is a viable solution at the best or worst of times. If the situation was one of unspeakable grief I could understand taking something that would dull the pain. The REAL TRUTH is when we take something--a drug of some kind to help us get through things so we can think more clearly, we are actually using to stop feeling anything or having to make some tough choices.

Fear is often a motivating factor and we don't do well feeling fear. Those of us who managed our lives by using something to alter our moods have few life skills or strategies in our 'kit bags' to help us deal with what is going on around us.

Using for me was about employing a coping strategy that I knew would work even though the outcomes of employing that strategy created other problems that I was ill equipped to handle. In other words I just traded one thing for another. I was further behind then when I started out.

5. Do Family and/or Friends Avoid You at Social Functions?

This one was more difficult to deal with than any of the others. When this happened, and it happened a great deal near the end of my run, I truly felt abandoned and disconnected from those whom I cared about the most.

I was embarrassing to be around and those closest to me didn't know how to respond to me any more. Instead they just stayed away from attending any public event I might be at so they wouldn't have to deal with whatever was to come.

I became unpredictable and for those who have kids you might understand how and why they became frightened as well.

Responding to Unpleasant Truth with Life-Change

The good news is there are strategies to consider that can be very helpful in changing all of this for the better - but one thing has to happen first. There has to be a clear, unconditional commitment made to pursue a clean and/or sober lifestyle.

This means that the substance user needs to be ready to make a change happen. He may not know how to do this but we can help with that. This decision cannot be made out of fear of losing the remainder of things but rather a recognition that some things might be gained back that are meaningful but currently not available.

The REAL TRUTH is fear is a poor motivator to ensure long term change. I suggest the following 30 day approach to many clients. Does it work for everyone--no it doesn't. Does it work for many-yes it does. You can be one of the many.

A 30 Day Approach

  1. You enlist the help of a close and trusted friend. Most good friends will help if they know their help is given and received as support. This asking for help is often the first step for many substance users in that it can begin the process of re-connecting with those who were important.
  2. You agree to abstain from using anything not prescribed for 30 days during which time you do whatever you need to do to get through the struggles and the tough times that confront you.
  3. Your friend agrees to observe you over those 30 days and at the end he/she is to share with you what they saw and heard from you. For example you might have been agitated at the start but less so a the end of the time.
  4. At the beginning of the trial run you write a number on a piece of paper from 1 to 10 that represents where on the scale you feel you need to be to say that the quality of your life has improved. You also write a number down that represents where you see yourself now (when you start the process) and put the date beside it. 1 indicates the lowest point and 10 represents the highest point--the best it could possibly be. Then put the slip of paper in your wallet.
  5. At the end of 30 days you write a number on a separate piece of paper (even though you remember the original number) that represents where you are at that time--30 days later-- and then compare the two. Don't be disappointed by an increase of only one or two numbers. If your new number goes up a notch then that's improvement and that's what you want.
  6. Ask yourself what you did that was different and may have contributed to increasing the number. Then continue to do what worked for you. Also ask yourself what else could you do to raise the number another notch? If your number at the end of 30 days goes down then that tells you what you tried to do didn't work and other strategies need to be considered.

Either way you win because this exercise is about developing plans that will help you deal with your issues day to day. Of course we hope that what we are doing will move our number up not down. But knowing what doesn't work is also very important because it stops you from putting energy and time into a strategy that isn't moving you closer to where you want to be--stop doing what doesn't work.

KEY POINT: Don't be concerned about how much the number changes and how fast it is changing, rather try to understand why it changed. If you like how things are going and if it feels better than it did before you were abstinent, then you can agree to do another 30 day trial. Ask your friend for their continued support and repeat the process.

As for the other 4 items on that 5 item list a couple of them will begin to take care of themselves as a consequence of not using. The others can and will be dealt with in time.

First there is a need to re-establish an element of trust and that doesn't happen overnight. Can trust be re-established? With the right approach I believe it is possible to re-build far more than you have now--that's for sure.

Please send any questions or comments to me at ChooseHelp.com. Enjoy what I hope will be the beginning of a new way of living with Peace, Prosperity and Happiness!

--- Jim

About the author James Cloughley:
My experience would include the lessons taught by over 20 years of active use, leading to 23 years of sobriety and what I consider to be a state of quality living. I learned many things in a practical sense from attending A/A, C/A and N/A. Sometimes the best education can come from the most unlikely sources. I graduated from College and completed the Addiction Studies Program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I also completed a variety of courses concerning mental health issues and gambling addiction, family systems and relationships.
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Page last updated Mar 07, 2016

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