I lived in denial for over two decades. Then, I procrastinated for another ten years. Yeah, I’ll get around to it tomorrow, or next week. No worries, I got this.
Or, so I told myself.
It wasn’t until the life that I had created was tumbling out of control that I began to realize that I was in serious trouble.
My dependency on alcohol was unmanageable. My need for pornography was insatiable. My lies had caught up to me, and my body and mind rebelled.
I couldn’t ignore the physical warning signs anymore: throbbing liver, aching kidneys, sleepless nights, black-ringed hollow eyes, blotchy-red itchy skin, acid reflux, burning throat, bloating . . .
And then there were the mental and emotional side effects: lying, cheating, cognitive fog, evasiveness, quick temper, mood swings . . .
It wasn’t until I hit my ‘rock bottom’ that I found the courage to ask for help. I went to my family doctor, with a weight of anxiousness and fear hanging over me . . . What was he going to say? Was he going to chastise me, or tell me to get on with it and just stop? Was I already deep into cirrhosis?
He didn’t reprimand me. He listened and then asked questions. He suggested recovery groups and counselling and made recommendations for diet changes and exercise. He scheduled physical tests (the results came back better than I anticipated). And, he made sure I understood that my health was ultimately my responsibility. All he could do was provide supporting information and suggestions.
I sought out a counsellor and looked into 12-Step meetings and recovery centers in my area.
My first two sessions with a counsellor went something like this; “Well, now that you have admitted to your addictions, here’s what you need to do . . .” At least, that was what I heard.
I stopped going. I didn’t want to be told what to do. I’ve rebelled against this approach most of my life.
I was getting desperate, still drinking and with all the side-effects, so I checked myself into a rehab recovery center for an 18-day stay. It had a strict regimen, so the decision was to conform or leave. I chose to stick it out.
The counsellor there listened to me, but still had a specific approach for me to take – based on his personal experience of recovery and what he’d been taught to be certified as an Addictions Counsellor. I heard what he had to say, but I didn’t really listen.
12-Step meetings were a mandatory part of the program. I was uncomfortable with the format and structure.
After my 18 days ended at the center, I stayed sober and porn-free for all of 24 hours.
I sought out another counsellor. She had a similar approach and the result was the same. I stopped going. I attended a few 12-Step meetings. After each meeting I was miserable and went back to drinking.
It was in one of my darkest hours of misery that I recalled another program that had been mentioned during my stay at the rehab center. It was called Smart Recovery©. I decided to go a meeting. I was desperate and figured I had nothing to lose.
I remember my hesitation, forcing myself up the stairs into the building. My legs were trembling, and my mind was screaming at me to leave. It won’t make a difference. These people aren’t like you. No one knows what you’re going through.
I made a deal with the screaming voice in my head. I would go in and just listen and would decide after if I’d return. Just one meeting. Yeah, I could do that.
It was one of the best decisions of my life.
I resonated with the tools and approaches, which are science-based and adapted from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Both of these disciplines are widely accepted in the therapeutic community.
The program emphasized self-empowerment, taking ownership of my recovery and overall health and well-being. There were no ‘must do’s’, advice giving, or requirements for attendance. The program even talked about ‘graduating’ when I no longer felt the need to attend. I felt a kinship with the people in the room. They were from all walks of life, yet their problems and problematic behaviors were similar to mine.
I was not alone.
Another aspect that SMART emphasized was to find the resources (meetings, therapists, counsellors, doctors, support groups, etc.) that worked for an individual. Many of the attendees also attended 12-Step meetings. In SMART, there is no ‘one size fits all’ in the journey of recovery.
Around the same time, I found a counsellor that had a different approach. She didn’t tell me what to do. She listened and asked a lot of questions. She delved into my relationships at home, at the office, and others. She asked me which activities, people, and places supported my recovery, and which didn’t. She encouraged me to look at the way I was living my life, what was important to me, and what was I willing to make a priority and what I was willing to give up or change. Just like in SMART, she emphasized that I was in control of my choices I made. I was in charge of my health and recovery.
I decided to seek out different practitioners: Naturopaths, Acupuncturists, and Nutritionists. I opened myself up to alternate ways of looking at healing.
Regardless of the practitioner, modality, or meeting, one thing became clear to me. My recovery was my responsibility. I focused on being self-empowered, responsible, and accountable for myself (with a lot of help from professionals and support from others).
Over eight years later, I am in a state where I consider to be ‘beyond recovery’. My mental, emotional, and physical health is much better. I am more present, peaceful, authentic, empathetic, and less angry.
Something else I learned is that there is no ‘one way’ to recover or heal. Opening myself up to different practitioners, modalities, supplements, groups, programs, diets, exercises, and therapists worked wonders for me.
Find what works for you. And those methods can change as your recovery and healing journey evolves.
The most important step is the first one. Ask for help. The second most important step is to seek the help that works for you.
By Rick Fortier
Rick took a ‘180 degree turn’ eight years ago after a physical and mental health crisis. Now, Rick is an author, inspirational public speaker, certified NLP practitioner, SMART Recovery Facilitator, & is trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He is passionate about teaching others how to create a greater sense of peace in their lives.