Every other week I’ll answer one recovery/addiction related question posed by Anxy readers, based on my experience. This isn’t meant to diagnose or provide medical advice — that responsibility lies with physicians. The author is not a licensed medical professional.
I know I need to quit drinking. Friends and family keep commenting on how much I’m drinking and — more than that — I’m just really sick of waking up with significant gaps in my memory. Here’s the thing: my grandma has been sick for awhile. We know the end is coming in the next few months, maybe sooner. I can’t fathom the idea of going to visit her in the hospital and not be able to drink when I get home–that just seems too hard. At the same time, logically I know it’s ridiculous and I should just do it now. Am I setting myself up for failure if I try to quit drinking right before I go through something terrible?
I am so sorry about your grandmother. Drunk or sober, it’s an incredibly painful situation. And I absolutely understand the desire to have booze with you as you go through it. Why wouldn’t you? If you drink the way I drank, it’s probably been your comfort for a fairly long time. I also want to commend you on the fact that you’ve recognized that you need help with this and you want to take action. That’s no small feat and I commend you for it.
I also commend you for being serious enough about sobriety that you want to make it stick–it shows real commitment. But there’s a reason that cliche “one day at a time” phrase is so popular among people in recovery: Because the idea of being sober through every tragedy for the rest of our lives is daunting as fuck. It’s a noble goal, but try thinking smaller. Can you stay sober for just today? For just this hour? For just the next couple of minutes? Before I got sober, I thought all this was hand-holding that I was somehow above… except for the fact that I wasn’t staying sober. I needed it more than I knew at the time. I was very determined in my alcoholic isolation and had forgotten what it was like to accept help and support. It was incredibly uncomfortable to allow people to help me. But I’m glad I did.
Speaking of which, regardless of when you start down the path of sobriety, you’re going to need a plan and support system for that process. I suggest looking into Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, LifeRing, and Refuge Recovery. They’re all a little different, try a couple meetings of each and see if anything feels right for you. Remember that you’re just looking for what works for right now. You’re not looking for the group that you can see yourself going to for the next 10 years. Just for today. (See how annoying I can be with those platitudes? But it’s because still, 10 years after getting sober, the idea of staying sober FOREVER is overwhelming. I really do have to think in one day at a time terms).
I would also highly recommend finding a therapist. What you are going through with your grandmother is tough, and having someone to talk through all of this will be helpful. Again, if you go just for a little while, that’s fine. Don’t be afraid to try a couple different therapists until you find one you’re comfortable with.
Getting sober is a process. I know it feels like a Very Big Forever Decision but the fact is, sometimes shit happens. If you start down the path and you end up drinking again, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of alcohol use. Just try again. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ve already taken an important step by writing this letter.
There’s one last thing I want to say. I can look at most of the shitty things I did when I was drinking without regret and say, “well, these things were awful but they got me on the road to getting sober.” But I do have regrets. The biggest one is time. Someone very close to me died in the midst of my drinking. I spent whole days with him that I can barely remember because I was drunk, hungover, or some combination of the two. It’s time I can never get back. I do regret that, very much.
I encourage you to try to be as present as possible with your grandmother. It’s nearly impossible to be present if you are drinking heavily (I mean, that’s kind of the point of drinking, right?). Start by trying to just show up and being there for your grandmother. It’s going to be painful — share the pain that you would normally soothe with alcohol with a therapist and/or a recovery support group. As soon as possible.
By the way, if you do drink, you can still go to recovery support group meetings. Many will ask you to refrain from attending while you’re actively intoxicated, but otherwise, show up and tell them what’s going on with you. That you’re scared about losing your grandmother, and that it’s hard to navigate that without drinking. I promise you, someone there will have gone through something similar. They’re there to listen, Scared, and so am I.
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