Recovery: from the Horse's
What does “Recovery” mean to you? Do you
have a fixed description of it in your mind? Perhaps for you
it’s the process after injury, the healing phase which, having
successfully come to an end, enables life to continue as before –
you’ve recovered. Well, let me tell you how I, as a
alcoholic, see Recovery.
Recovery never ends.
It’s not like most other diseases or medical problems - the problem
is never fixed. There is no cure and it is for life.
That can be severely depressing. So it’s easy to lose the
will to continue, but you press on because (and here’s the most
important bit) it is so worthwhile.
Recovery is lonely. You
have to do it yourself, no-one can do it for you. It’s quite
useless (indeed, often counter-productive) if someone tries to
enforce recovery on you. You have to be entirely
self-motivated. And the people in your social groups probably
won’t understand what you’re doing because they don’t see drinking
as a problem but, more importantly, because you won’t have told
them what you are doing as you are too embarrassed. This
means that in dealing with your demons you have to appear normal if
you want to continue to be accepted. That’s hard.
Recovery is difficult.
In my case, I still love the alcohol that I have had to give up and
miss it greatly. There are, believe me, temptations all
around us in our alcohol-fuelled society – TV, advertising, cinema,
and always in everyday speech, just to mention a few. Then
there are those well-meaning people who say “surely just one
wouldn’t hurt” … This makes you feel estranged from the
people you’re with as they happily share a bottle. All you
want to do is integrate and look the same, enjoy the same ambiance,
be part of the set.
There are also everyday things to take into
consideration such as checking to see if there is any alcohol in
food. That means looking carefully at the packaging of food
you are using, or asking whether there is any alcohol in the food
when you are eating out at friends or restaurants. And it’s
hard if you are told there is alcohol in the food because usually
you can’t eat it. For me personally the test is whether I can
taste any alcohol. If I can, then I certainly can’t eat
it. But if there is so little that I can’t taste it, then I’m
OK. The problem is that often, upon enquiring, I am told
“there is no alcohol” but when I taste the food I can detect it.
So I’ve said “I’m sorry, I’m sure there is” only then to find
out that actually alcohol has been used to flavour and enhance the
dish so I can’t eat it after all.
Recovery is socially
excluding. Alcohol really is everywhere and when you
can’t drink you feel excluded from a large part of social
activity. In my social group, as all of my friends drink
alcohol, not drinking makes me feel like an outsider. An
example of this is that it’s difficult to celebrate or commiserate
without alcohol – just try it. There is also stigma attached
(which is one reason why I don’t tell everyone about my alcohol
problem) which re-inforces the social exclusion.
Recovery needs support.
In recovery you really need support on several levels – your
family, your friends, your workplace, your GP, just to mention a
few. And this support needs to be on-going because, as I said
before, recovery never ends. It seems that it is understood
that support is essential during detox and immediately
afterwards. But then you are left to get on with it – there
is no support structure in place – and that is probably one of the
reasons that so many recovering alcoholics lapse. I feel very
strongly about this lack of much needed after-care.
Recovery is worthwhile.
Have I, so far, made sticking with Recovery appear too hard?
Well, it is hard but there is no doubt in my mind that it is
worthwhile – it’s worth the work, the organising, the
determination. For me, the most positive aspect is that I
have my mind back. I can hold my own in the world
Given all of the difficulties encountered in
Recovery (from my personal viewpoint), how do I deal with
I have rules. These
- I will never touch a bottle
or glass of alcohol either to pass it on or to serve it out.
My friends have to help themselves to a drink.
- I will not give alcohol as a
- I do not want to know where
the alcohol is kept in our house.
- When offered alcohol, I
always say (if an explanation/reason is necessary) “I can’t drink”
and never “I don’t drink”. People rarely ask why you can’t
drink – they are possibly frightened of offending or what the
answer might be.
- Perhaps my greatest aid is
that I drink non-alcoholic wine and beer which look the same as the
“real thing”. This means that my social appearance is
outwardly preserved. I’ve given up the taste and effect of
alcohol, but I can’t give up the social appearance. This does
take a lot of organising, particularly in restaurants where I have
to arrange to take along my own wine. You may think this is
unbelievably complicated and over the top, but it works for
me. Anything that makes it easier to remain sober gets full
- I only tell people who will
accept (and, hopefully, support) me of my problem. This
reduces any potential stigma and doesn’t make me stand out.
- I keep in touch with people
who have gone through the treatment process that I have at about
the same time. It’s currently difficult as the two alcohol
treatment centres I used to attend on a monthly basis for the
after-care support (begged for by the patients) have now closed
down. These regular sessions were life-savers and I’m trying
to find another treatment centre to attend on a regular basis for
this support. This is proving very hard to find.
Well, I hope that I have explained what
Recovery means to me on a day-to-day basis. Tough, but the
alternative is a non-starter, because I have recovered my life, my
intellect, my sense of fulfilment, and my feeling of worth in
Worthwhile fighting to keep wouldn’t you
Diane Goslar, Patients and Carers
Liaison Group, Addictions Faculty, Royal College of