By Eric Robert Hunter
The pain pulsing through the right side of my torso should have been incentive enough. But no, it wasn’t until the tear drops spilling on the linoleum floor of my kitchen in North Hollywood pooled enough to wet the back of my head that I realized I needed help. I had reached a bottom. It was not my first and it would not be my last but a bottom it was indeed. Emotionally, I was emaciated; crippled by loneliness with life threatening symptoms of untreated alcoholism. The thought of entering treatment scared my ego but motivated me enough to seek the help I desperately needed. For those financially able to even consider in-patient rehabilitation, we should consider ourselves lucky. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration in 2015 “About 6.7 percent of adults who had AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) in the past year received treatment. This includes 7.4 percent of males and 5.4 percent of females with AUD in this age group.” (www.niaaa.nih.gov, 2017) With over 15 million suffering from the “chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences” we can acknowledge that a majority of us are still suffering; still dying. I was there, so this article goes out to the ones who are still suffering.
While undergoing treatment at Broadway Treatment Center in Huntington Beach, California I participated in a group that introduced to a 5-step model dedicated to coping with anxiety, with an emphasis on worrying, by clinical psychologist Chad Lejeune, Ph.D. When I seriously thought about going to treatment, of course, the late Amy Winehouse classic “Rehab” played in my mind on repeat. I feared what people would think. What alibi would I provide to my employer for a leave of absence? What will my roommate think? How can I stop drinking forever? When is going to be the right time? I was catatonic, paralyzed with worry. I wish someone would have presented Lejeune’s model sooner. So here’s a direct application of his suggestions on reducing anxiety with regard to deciding whether or not to enter treatment for alcoholism and addiction.
In LeJeune’s book The Worry Trap: How to Free Yourself from Worry & Anxiety Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy the first step empowers one to separate themselves from the thoughts causing distress. This step is comparable to the first step in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous as it identifies the problem. When entering rehab is considered, the alcoholic questions the outcome with thoughts of “What if?” and dissects their own motives with “Why?” LeJeune calls these thoughts ruminations and notes they often delve into our past and initiate a desire to go back and change what cannot be changed.
In accordance with the second step of this model, relinquish control and let go. Clearly the idea of entering rehab evokes anxiety in most untreated alcoholics whether we’ve hit bottom or not. This is a solid indicator of our disease trying to sustain manifestation in our lives. Practicing deep breathing, meditation and simply relaxing our bodies will counteract anxiety. Now I appreciate LeJeune’s observation and critique of people trying to “overpower worry” (Tartakovsky, M.S. “5 Steps to Reduce Worrying and Anxiety). We cannot “furiously breathe away” anxiety, he says this is unrealistic. Rather accruing more anxiety, this step promotes acceptance and commitment therapy which practices “letting go of the struggle to control unwanted thoughts and feelings.” Before rehab, we are not going to feel good or secure about it. Our thoughts race and our heart pounds as we disembark from that seemingly endless car ride or flight. Step 2 suggests we breathe, because it’s totally natural.
The third step is to accept and observe the thoughts and feelings prior to taking the leap of treating alcoholism. Exercise diffusion by looking at the worry objectively as a thought not reality. The narrative of demise and social decline we construct has not happened yet, thus rendering it just an idea. Even if you’ve been to rehab before, this time can and will be different. It’s up to us to give ourselves a chance to improve, to save our lives by separating ourselves from the nightmare of loss and the fear of failure. As Margarite Tartavosky, M.S. states, “You aren’t trying to rid yourself of these thoughts but you are trying to distance yourself from them.”
In supporting the observation of thoughts and identifying them for what they are, just thoughts, step four reminds us to be mindful of the present moment. The perk of mindfulness is the utilization of all the human senses. Rather than deconstructing your credibility and character, stirring up past trauma, fears, resentments and harms done; step four emboldens one to support themselves by inventory of our willingness to change and ability to do so. Lejeune suggests being compassionate with yourself and what better form of self-love than to seriously consider saving one’s own life?
The fifth and final step of the model instructs us to recognize our values. Knowing and understanding your values is a power play on the ego. Values stand in direct conflict with the lunacy of alcoholism. We feel bad because we’ve strayed away from what we value most in life. This often leads to that ‘incomprehensible demoralization’, isolation and depression we hear discussed in the rooms. And though these miserable emotions are universal among alcoholics, LeJeune emphasizes that values are personal, individual conceptions further solidifying the importance of you deciding to go to rehab for yourself; not for society, not for your family, not for your career. Moral deficiencies and character defects are at loss when we reaffirm a solid foundation of why we are good persons.
In closing, if you’re considering entering a treatment facility for alcohol and substance abuse don’t take your doubts too seriously. Do, however, take your life seriously. There’s a certain anxiety, a specific state of worry that is shared among alcoholics and addicts alike. The work of LeJeune and other researchers offers practical step-by-step instructions on how to rationally balance any decision making process and can be applied to any anxiety inducing situation. We may be powerless over alcohol. Our lives may have become unmanageable. But you, like us, are not alone. You don’t have to end up homeless, without any social or familial support to have hit bottom. You don’t have to test positive for an STD or alcohol induced Hepatitis C. You don’t have to end up like me, crying on your kitchen floor. Your bottom is your bottom, economic or emotional; mental or physical. It’s a moment, observe it as such. It is a moment of opportunity for you, like us that have trudged this road into sobriety, to reinvent yourself and catapult your life into the 4th dimension of existence. It’s not the destination that defines us but rather the journey.
If there were ever a time to take control of our alcoholic (experiencing an inability to control our drinking) lives and surrender to the care of an accredited rehabilitation program, that time is now. And each one of us is certainly worth it.