I remember the first time I was introduced to recovery and how ignorant I truly was. It was no secret that my life was unmanageable, and I was powerless over drugs and alcohol. However, I was uneducated on what the disease of alcoholism actually entailed. I assumed that alcoholics were a group of unfortunates who had to abstain from drugs and alcohol to have a successful and happy life. Little did I know, this was just the tip of the iceberg. I spent my first year in recovery, living in half measures. I managed to acquire some “sober” time dragging my white knuckles the whole way – until I eventually relapsed.
My experience with alcoholism goes much deeper than “I am powerless over drugs and alcohol.” For me, I have come to understand that I have a fundamental issue with utter selfishness that leads to irritability, restlessness, discontentment. In other words, the disease of alcoholism is not merely a matter of having an issue with substances but rather an all-encompassing spiritual malady. If left untreated, surely, I will drink or drug again. For me, it took many years of painful dry sobriety to finally extend my healing and asking for help from a therapist.
Healing the Past in Order to Fully Recover
Many alcoholics and addicts come into recovery full of resentment, fear, and emotional pain. It would be fair to say that most of us used these painful experiences to further justify and propel our addictions. I know I did. I spent the first few years of my recovery believing I was fine. I put down drugs and alcohol, so everything is fine. I was absolutely delusional. Here I was, two years void of any mood/mind-altering substance, but my life was still absolutely unmanageable. Finally, I was in enough pain that I knew I had to dive deeper, or I would surely drink again.
I decided to throw myself into trauma therapy. I was desperate for a solution from the emotional pain and unmanageability that I was when I was drinking and drugging. I didn’t know how to fix it, but I knew I had to do something. I dove in headfirst. I began talking about what my life was like, what it’s like now, my fears, anxieties, and things finally started to come full circle. As it turns out, my life mirrored what my life looked like in active addiction – but I was completely sober. Therapy graced me with awareness and tools to deal with these fundamental issues for me to truly experiences the promises of recovery.
Benefits of Counseling in Recovery
I truly believe that opening myself up to the vulnerability of counseling while also participating in AA, absolutely revolutionized my life. Recovery is an ever-evolving process that requires me to gut myself over and over again to fully receive healing. In other words, recovery doesn’t stop when you leave treatment or even when you complete your steps.
Recovery is a lifelong process that continues to extend grace, but only if you are open and willing to do the work. Here are a few of the benefits of participating in counseling in recovery:
Addressing and healing from trauma is one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences of engaging in counseling in recovery. For me, I experienced trauma at a very early age. I was five years old when I had my first encounter with trauma. I was ill-equipped, and this theme carried out for the next 20 years. I held on to my traumatic experiences for over 20 years before I ever spoke about it. My dissociation cultivated resentment, guilt, shame, fear, and ultimately lead to further trauma long into my addiction.
Individual therapy not only opened up the door for my healing but also equipped me with the necessary tools to deal with my traumatic experiences. My therapist helped me to make the connection between why I continue to act out on situations the way that I do. She also did a great job of incorporating a plan to combat the barriers my trauma had on my recovery into our sessions.
Recognizing and Coping with Triggers
For alcoholics, many psychological, environmental, and social factors can trigger us to relapse. Conflict within personal relationships and flashbacks to abusive situations are a few examples of situations that can trigger us to want to use. I was two years sober when I began to realize I was in the midst of an extremely abusive relationship, and it was no surprise I was miserable. When I experienced traumatic events before, I would cope with drugs and alcohol. This time was different. How was I supposed to cope without using drugs and alcohol to achieve total oblivion?
My therapist helped me look over the events throughout my past. We began to look at situations that had absolutely nothing to do with me, as well as situations in which I was the root cause of the problem. Through this process, I was able to relinquish guilt, shame, and self-pity while also learning how to identify and cope with potential triggers. I began to create a strong foundation in which I no longer had to be the victim.
Diagnosing Potential Co-Occurring Disorders
Throughout my experience with counseling, it became more and more evident that I was not only dealing with alcoholism but also complex PTSD, anxiety, and depression. A co-occurring disorder is a mental health issue that occurs in tangent with a substance misuse disorder. This realization has been one of the most important discoveries throughout my journey in recovery. Many alcoholics and addicts are likely to experience a co-occurring disorder such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or even borderline personality disorder.
Without addressing and treating the co-occurring disorders simultaneously, the chance of relapse increases dramatically. Therapy has been monumental in properly treating my co-occurring disorders. Through countless counseling sessions, I have been able to take an in-depth look within myself and deal with not only the painful memories of my past but potential barriers to my recovery. With time, commitment, treatment, AA, and counseling in recovery, I have been able to maintain almost four years of continuous sobriety. The more I walk through my fears and ask for help, the more rewarding my recovery and overall, my life becomes.