The Early Recovery Process
Where does one turn after hitting a physical, mental and spiritual bottom with alcohol, food, sex, drugs, gambling etc? Because the disease of addiction attacks us physically, mentally and spiritually we will also have to recover in these three areas to ensure a strong, healthy and vibrant filled life free from addiction. Recovery from any addiction comes in as many different ways, shapes and sizes as there are people on this planet. I will attempt to covey, recall and describe what my recovery process was like for me during the early days of withdrawal.
Once I “bottomed out” from alcohol, my physical, mental and spiritual recovery began. The physical process of healing begins as soon as we start to reduce or stop using the substance that has made our life unmanageable or in my case, unbearable. The initial detoxing period can be very dangerous and may result in seizures, so you may want to seek professional help before stopping “cold turkey” like I did. The word bottom is pretty self-explanatory and the next step for me thankfully was up. At first it didn’t really feel that way as I was detoxing from 15 years or about 5,475 continuous days of excessive drinking. The first few days were spent with cold sweats, hallucinations, tremors, hot flashes, bouts of blurred vision, insomnia, dizzy spells, impotence, among other ailments. I was bloated, exhausted and my kidneys hurt me round the clock. I could also feel my skin “crawling” and had to look in the mirror to see if it actually was or wasn’t. If you’ve ever detoxed, you know the feeling. After about 10 days clean and sober came the sheer physical exhaustion of years of abuse. I slept the entire weekend as my body was starting to heal and replenish itself. I was on my way and starting to feel better physically.
The strange thing about a physical allergy or addiction to alcohol is that during my first few weeks I could sometimes actually “taste” but without drinking, an ice cold Budweiser tallboy going down my throat in four large gulps, with an ending “ahhhh, thank you sir, may I have another” statement. Even after many years without a drink it can still happen, which brings me to the mental obsession part. The mental obsession in early recovery was filled with constant “drink signals” or temptations and triggers to drink alcohol, all day every day. These drink signals would even roll over into the night while I slept. I would have these “drunk dreams” where I would dream that I went out drinking and would wake up terrified and feeling hungover. The next morning was spent trying to understand how and why that could happen. They were so vivid, real and scary that it would take me a few minutes after waking to calm myself down. After my first or second one, I called my brother and asked if he had ever had such a dream. His answer was quite normal when he said, “No, never, what’s wrong with you”. I said, “I guess they are right, it proves I’m an alcoholic”. Normal drinkers, like my brother, do not have drunk dreams.
Surprisingly, I still had both the physical compulsion and mental obsession to drink during the first few days, weeks and even months of recovery. Thankfully my spiritual recovery began on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1995 because I was all alone at a “sober” New Year’s Eve dance and couldn’t find the one person I trusted in recovery. It was “Back to the Future” and it was 1978 the exact setting and replica of my first drunk when I was a 14 year old self conscientious freshman at my first high school dance. I was frozen with fear and anxiety with no one to talk to. I almost drank that night but somehow made it until midnight without taking the first drink. That night, I reached out to a total stranger in recovery and again asked for help.
This anonymous helping hand showed me the power of the spirit and the goodness and faith in human beings. He had met me for a brief moment the previous week and gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I ever felt like drinking. He said “I can help you before you pick up, not after”. He showed compassion, empathy, concern, and he also understood the power of addiction. He said his soul and spirit gets filled with joy and light every time he helps another sick and suffering individual that is struggling with addiction. This miraculous act was out of pure love and was given to me without wanting anything in return. I knew at that moment that I had to decide to go all in or else I was soon to drink again. From that moment, I began to believe in a spirit, higher power or faith that as long as I didn’t pick up, I would somehow be OK.
During my first year of recovery, my diet consisted of caffeine, cigarettes, cheeseburgers and vanilla milkshakes with the occasional slice and of course the daily bacon, egg and cheese on a roll for breakfast. Not the proper diet by any stretch but it was way better than a half bottle of vodka or a 12 pack every night. I soon started to replace bad habits with good ones. I developed positive routines including daily exercise, morning readings, patterns of prayer and the regularity of the selfless act of helping other individuals recover from the same disease I was afflicted with. Whether you believe it or not, there is a divine magic when one person helps another person without wanting anything in return except to help another human being get well.
My disease of addiction ultimately wants me dead but it will take me being drunk, alone, afraid, miserable, unemployable, broke, depressed, anxious, resentful, suicidal or worse. My recovery is a daily journey of the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing I receive after facing, embracing, confronting, challenging and conquering these addiction demons head on with the help of exercise, prayer, faith, and a plan for recovery with other human beings by my side. Together WE can accomplish anything.