Why Just Quitting Isn't Enough—What It REALLY Takes To Heal From Addiction
Hi, my name is Katherine, and I am sober today.
I'm sharing my story because I believe it's critical for women to be open, unapologetic, and stand firm in their experience, both to truly recover, and to help others who are still suffering. This is the only way we can educate other women and allow them to know they aren’t alone. My addiction doesn’t make me ashamed. Nor does it hold power over me anymore. It is not my story, but it is a part of it I can use to help others. I own it. I accept it. I stand in it. It is my truth.
When I first gave up alcohol, I wasn’t living sober. I was dry but not in recovery. I was the same person, without the alcohol but with all the same problems.
I didn’t know what to expect when I got sober, but I felt like I was a stranger in my own life. It was as if I had landed on the moon. I experienced an outpouring of grief and a deep knowledge that it was finally over.
It's been three and a half years. Looking back, the fatal error I made in early recovery was keeping this life change a secret rather than asking for the support I needed. I didn’t think I needed help, and I didn’t want people judging me. So, I remained a dry alcoholic.
A dry alcoholic is someone who has given up the alcohol but remains the same in every other aspect of their life. They haven't healed the pathologies that developed as a result of their addiction or resolved the wounds they caused while struggling with it.
I recently interviewed addiction therapist and author Veronica Valli, and she brought up the topic of emotional unmanageability. It had taken me a while, but once I was active in my recovery (two years after giving up booze), I finally accepted that my life before had been unmanageable.
But it took me quite a while to examine my current emotional state. When I did, I realized I was totally out of control—maybe even more than when I drank—because I'd lost my primary coping mechanism.
Beyond anger issues, I was dealing with jealousy, resentment, shame, moodiness, and constant anxiety. My emotions literally controlled me.
Alcohol for me was a symptom of my unease with myself but not the underlying problem. Once I gave up alcohol, I lost my means of numbing my fraught emotions. I was like a volcano, ready to go at any moment.
Many more women than we realize partake in some form of addiction to change the way they feel inside—or to make themselves not feel.
I wasn't that concerned about falling back into old patterns of bingeing on alcohol—I knew that part of my life was over—but I was incredibly out of control emotionally. And when I got real with myself, I realized the reason booze and I had gotten to be such good friends was the fact that I had no other way of dealing with my life or my emotions.
When I drank, I never knew what I would do or what would happen. I kind of enjoyed the notion that I could blame something else for my actions, but eventually that caused a lot of problems. Living as a dry alcoholic came with its own cascade of emotional turmoil; I never knew when I would fly off the handle in rage. I was deeply embarrassed about my anger problems but felt incapable of controlling them.
I didn't expect all my problems to persist once I stopped drinking. Realizing getting sober wasn't a cure-all was devastating and frustrating.
Even after years of being dry, I continued to struggle greatly. I think I was proud of the fact that I was able to stop without the help of others. This fueled another addiction—one on self-reliance and my ability to white-knuckle it through the worst.
We are only as sick as our secrets, after all.
I thought I'd handle my problems on my own. It was incredibly humbling to realize I hadn’t even really yet begun to recover.
I finally accept that I struggle with my emotions and realize that most of us do. In fact, many more women than we realize partake in some form of addiction to change the way they feel inside—or to make themselves not feel. Some addictions are more culturally acceptable than others. All of them are unhealthy.
I'm still on the journey toward finding healthy coping mechanisms and balancing my emotional needs. I certainly don’t have it all figured out.
In our culture, we are often told that asking for help is a sign of weakness, expressing certain emotions is a sign of unprofessionalism, and being open about our struggles with addiction is taboo.
The longer we don’t talk about the issues affecting us, the longer they will hold power over us. We are only as sick as our secrets, after all. We need to be open, unashamed, and unafraid to step out of the darkness and be who we are. Our past doesn’t define us, but our stories can empower us and allow us to help others. That's the only way we can truly take back our lives.