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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness


Recovery: from the Horse's Mouth


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 recoveringDiane Goslar 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 again. 


Given all of the difficulties encountered in Recovery (from my personal viewpoint), how do I deal with them? 

I have rules.  These include:

  • 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 gift.
  • 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 marks.
  • 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 society.


Worthwhile fighting to keep wouldn’t you say...



Diane Goslar, Patients and Carers Liaison Group, Addictions Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists


September 2013

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