By Robert Grobbelaar
I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits all solution for getting sober. We’re all so different and are in different circumstances and what worked for me may not work for another. It only makes sense that each of us will have to find a path that suits our lives. If you ask me how I did it I am still a little baffled and feel so utterly blessed! I do however think that some principles were key to me getting clean and sober, and they could possibly resonate with others. So here it goes! I drank for 20 years. I am a person who gets bored with something very quickly but it took me 20 years to move on from alcohol – probably because it was also a way to soothe the boredom of my existence. It started socially and ended in a permanent, lethal prison. I won’t bore you with the details. What’s more important and exciting than anything alcohol ever gave me, was how I quit and the how my life has changed since then.
Addressing the cause
There are various reasons each of us start or keep drinking. Too many to get into in one blog post. Low self-worth is a common thread in addicts and alcoholics but not always. I always thought I knew the reasons and was exceptionally good at diagnosing myself… while intoxicated, or hung over. That only served as further torture as I couldn’t quit despite ‘knowing’ the causes or reasons I drank. As it turned out, what I needed, or what I eventually got (through extensive rehab) was some extended sober time to work through these issues in a sober state of mind.
Things I previously dismissed as ever affecting me became clear players in my path to self-destruction. Learning that, and facing up to these issues was tough and fucking liberating. I learned that I am not just a helpless alcoholic – I was hurt in my life, I felt unworthy most of the time, I needed love – sometimes from the wrong people… and I covered it all up with booze (and drugs in my case). It’s not a case of looking for excuses of why I drank, but rather being honest, becoming vulnerable, admitting I am human and am affected, and then growing from there.
In my opinion, if I was going to go into sobriety with a bad attitude, thinking that sobriety is torture, I would rather drink. Why torture myself for something that will probably not last anyway? And I mean that with all sincerity. And so I did. It nearly killed me, but I drank until I was ready for change – gasping for it really! I knew my chances of having a lasting recovery would be better when I was totally prepared to leave my all-consuming crutch behind and blaze into a new existence. To do this I felt that I had to be excited about what I was embarking on or at least happy about making the change. I needed to be brave (whilst you may think that bravery is a quality that only others possess, you may surprise yourself, and when you do, the badge of bravery outshines any other badge you thought you had while drinking… by far!).
Many people are baffled by me now: how can I be so content or happy while being the only sober one at a party or event where everyone drinks! I love those moments… because I am fucking awesome – that’s why! I learned a lot about perspective on my journey to sobriety and it still blows me away today! This paragraph is entitled perspective because it is how I viewed myself through this journey. I think if I saw myself as a deprived victim, full of shame, my chances would have been slim. Instead I saw myself as a fighter, as someone bigger than my crutches or my past. I am proud to share what I have overcome and it feels right! So if you want to take the journey, if you are ready for change…. Get some perspective!
Learning that I can only be responsible for myself
Need I say more? I don’t know why but this one little concept hit me like a ton of bricks and has been my salvation over and over. It is a thing of absolute beauty to me! Toward the end of my drinking life I wasn’t really responsible for many others. My family could all support themselves and my team at work ticked over like a clock. Still there was something in my mind that made me FEEL responsible for others, and made me FEEL like I had to behave a certain way as prescribed by society. Something in this phrase just lifted a weight from me immediately and gave me the space to consider myself and what is truly important to me. It gave me the space to look after myself first AND ONLY! The end. Not myself first but then this-one and that-one and so-on. NO – Just me – Just look after me.
It sounds terribly selfish but sometimes we need to be. I embraced this with great enthusiasm: I sold everything I owned or ever worked for, packed a bag and went travelling until I had nothing left – and I don’t regret it at all. I am now poorer than ever but happier than ever. I am only responsible for me. And, I told others in my life about this realization and encouraged them to do the same if my decisions were going to affect them. It has changed me – really!
For those of you with families to look after, I cannot comment on how, but I do believe there is a way. For those of you who love a little drama, or are rescuers or fixers by nature – this may be hard as you will always want to take other people’s issues on board. Again, I can’t comment on how, but I do believe there is a way. You have to find the answers yourselves. The solution is inside you!
Leaning on a support network
This one does not follow the previous topic by chance. As much as I can only be responsible for myself, I would never have done it without my support structure! I have been so blessed to have family members and friends that stuck with me through everything and have been so generous with their support.
When I first came out of treatment I found support in a new friendship that forged into a very close bond. I didn’t do this with the intention of it being a means of support, but I later realized that is what it was. We took up a hobby (OK truth be told MANY hobbies) together and in trying new things and spending time together it was just a natural distraction from my old patterns. We mosaiced for weeks on end listening to 80’s music and sharing stories. We explored new places around town and drank bucket loads of coffee. I think what made this relationship so successful is that she is a little ray of sunshine that allowed me to be who I am entirely, whilst I was really discovering who I am at the same time.
The important thing here is that she was or IS someone with a positive outlook which rubbed off on me. Everything was a laugh a minute and nothing got us down. She reinforced and added to my PERSPECTIVE and nothing seemed impossible. My family offered me refuge and financial support allowing me to start afresh with something that I am passionate about – no expectations, no expiry, no strings – just love and support. It is… a dream. It is honestly something I can never repay even if I tried for the rest of my life.
I know that not everyone will have the privilege of these people in their lives. I am sharing MY story and others will have to forge theirs. There is support out there – sometimes in the most unexpected places. Reach out and make changes.
Taking this rewarding journey didn’t come without sacrifice, and not every day is spent skipping through fields of daisies. That’s life. That’s ok. Even if I am down I believe 100% that it is all part of my journey to something, no, someONE better. Even if I don’t have a cent to my name I have something more valuable now – true self-worth.
This happened over time and I think my support structure played a HUGE role in me learning to love the authentic me and actually celebrating who I am – warts and all – without a drink, sober, honest, real! I’m actually not a bad guy but I don’t need THINGS to confirm that. I don’t need others to validate it either. Every day I am becoming a better version of myself and that excites the crap out of me – simple as that. It is a slow process and I will never be finished becoming, but I am basking in the glory of the journey.
Taking my time
Speaking of slow processes. I took my time. When I came out of treatment I planned to take a break for 3 months and then jump back into full time employment where I left off. It didn’t work out that way. I tried hard for a while, and then, instead of fighting to return to an old life, I changed my ambitions as I myself was changing. Again, I have the privilege of a support structure to allow me the space to do this, but I could have rejected their offers of support and fought my way into a mediocre job that brought me no joy, if I thought that is what was important.
Instead, nothing – NOTHING, was more important than my recovery, my happiness, my freedom! Not freedom to go buy the latest phone or go on holiday, but freedom from a substance. Freedom from the need to escape myself every minute of the day. I decided to sacrifice more of the old me in exchange for something new. This took me some time and in fact it is still happening today. What about tomorrow? – I don’t know. Do I care? Not really, I’m too busy enjoying right now!
My list is probably longer than this, and on each of the topics I could share paragraphs more. It’s a simple and complicated process. It’s difficult and easy. It requires sacrifice of some things but gives others in abundance. It is a journey I feel grateful to be on. I hardly ever think about drinking or using anymore. I may do it again someday, but for now, my life has moved beyond all that. I am awake. I am conscious, I am growing, I am me…. And I am loving every minute.