My journey to recovery has been a long winding road and the image of the labyrinth comes to mind; just when you think you’ve made it to the center, made it to the goal, you find yourself heading away from center once again.
I knew very early on that I had a problem with alcohol and deep in my bones I could sense that one day I would have to give up my beloved—the very thing that paradoxically made life bearable also made it so much worse and profoundly more complicated.
Around the tender age of 19 I vowed to myself that I would always try to keep my drinking in check, so that I would never have to give it up. I fought tooth and nail to do just this, ultimately failing in the end. Or I guess, more accurately, succeeding in the end. Because when I finally settled on the idea that this part of my life needed to get left behind, my life began to change in ways I could never imagine—for the better.
Throughout my journey I both unconsciously and consciously tried to find accountability in many ways to keep my love affair with alcohol from turning into a massive downward spiral. When I got pregnant at 24 I was thrilled, because I felt that having a baby would help me to sober up and to get a handle on my drinking as well as to leave behind my love affair with nicotine (blue American Spirits to be precise). I was able to achieve this feat for nine looooong months, but ultimately I went back to my old ways in no time at all. Any of you who have kids know that children only exacerbate problems, they most certainly do not alleviate them.
As I continued down the path of addiction I hit a breaking point—it felt as though everything was falling apart internally. While my life looked good “on paper” (I had a job, a husband, healthy children, a beautiful home…), mentally, emotionally, and spiritually I was a wreck. I felt as though I was trying to hold together a broken, two-ton boulder with Elmer’s glue. I could not sustain the life I was living; something had to give, and I knew exactly what that was—I needed to quit drinking as my attempts to regulate and control were not working.
But I was scared, terrified actually. I wasn’t sure I could handle life without alcohol. I was also scared that I wouldn’t be able to stay sober. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I never wanted to be seen as weak or seen as a failure. I also didn’t want anyone to know the depths of my problem or the depths of my despair, again for the same aforementioned reasons.
So I began my first quest to quit drinking as a solo adventure. I decided to commit to thirty days. I didn’t tell anyone the first few days and then ultimately told my husband mainly because I had to. He was curious about why I wasn’t drinking. I made it to thirty days, journaling every day and by the end, I was feeling quite great. I also noticed in reflecting on my journal entries that I felt better than I usually did for most of those thirty days. However, I just couldn’t wrap my head around a life without alcohol, and so I went back to it. I continued on this path—bingeing and then quitting again, often for two weeks, thirty days, sixty days, always to fall back into my old patterns.
It was a painful, vicious cycle of riding the waves of uncertainty, hanging in limbo, never fully committing. I was just dabbling in the waters and trying it on for size.
After about three years of this dabbling I reached another breaking point. Given my tendency to avoid and push away negative emotions, they caught up with me with a vengeance. I was deeply unhappy with my life, with my weight, with my inability to follow through with my dreams, and I didn’t like how I felt, both physically and emotionally.
My life revolved around drinking. I would wake up and think about it. I had to manage my life so that it was always available. I was tired of this hungry ghost ruling my life and more was never enough. I was seriously depressed because I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I could get this monkey off of my back, that I could be free. However, I knew I couldn’t just throw in the towel—I HAD to keep trying. I also knew without a doubt that this dabbling in sobriety business was not working for me. I followed many people online who have walked this path before me and I began to trust that if they could do it, then it was possible for me as well.
I signed up for Hip Sobriety School, but within a few weeks of participating in this school, I realized that I already KNEW all of this stuff. At this point, after three years of dabbling in sobriety, reading about addiction and recovery, and immersing myself in everything possible around the topic—this school was not what I needed at this point in my process.
We can endlessly fill ourselves with knowledge, but knowledge doesn’t create change. Action does. Committed action, to be precise. No more dipping my toes in the waters of sobriety, I had to dive in and completely submerge myself.
I knew what I needed—space from all of my triggers. I needed to get away from my family, from my friends, from my day to day life for a short time and I needed to declare OUT LOUD to everyone that I was giving up alcohol—FOR GOOD.
What I needed was social accountability. I needed people to know that I was serious, and that I wasn’t playing around. I checked myself into rehab.
Could I have done it without rehab? In hindsight, I probably could have (and saved myself a shit ton of money!) because ultimately what I needed was a temporary change in scenery and I needed the social accountability.
In particular, I needed accountability with those closest to me—family and friends. Because as with Hip Sobriety School, rehab didn’t have much to offer me. With all of the therapy, education, and training I had under my belt, all rehab offered was a safe space to be away from anything alcohol related, and it offered me a strong voice. A voice that declared not only to myself, but to all of those closest to me that I had a problem with alcohol and I needed to change. THAT for me was the power of rehab.
Now, let’s unpack your unique situation. What is your relationship to social accountability in your process of recovery? Do you have the social accountability piece in place for yourself? If not, ask yourself why. Why haven’t you told anyone? There could be many reasons including…
Lack of Clarity
As you saw in my story, I knew something had to change, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up alcohol once and for all. I wasn’t sure it was what I truly wanted. If we are not sure what we want, it can be almost impossible to do the hard work that it will take to recover ourselves. Social accountability only works if you have clarity. We have to know where we are going if we want to get there. This is why intention is so important. To get clarity and find your strong intention, check out my free course that is designed to support you in creating intentions for your recovery process. To access the course, subscribe to my mailing list!
Fear of Failure
If you do have clarity, do you believe you can do this? If we don’t believe we can do it, it makes it much more difficult to share our path with others, to get that social accountability in place. However, the paradox here is that the social accountability often makes it much more likely that we will achieve success, and this is backed by numerous studies. Also, if you fear failure, this the time where you can lean on others who have gone before you. If they can do it, then that means it is possible for you too. Consider Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute mile. Up until this time, it was believed to be an impossible feat. Once he did it, others realized it was not impossible as was once thought and countless runners since his time have been able to achieve this feat as well. Lean on those who have done it; there are countless people out there sharing their stories.
If you’re like me and tried your best to keep the depths of your problem a secret, the fear of shame can make it hard to get the social support you need. I wondered, what will people think of me? Will they think I’m weak? Will they think I’m ridiculous and try to tell me I don’t have a problem? If I fail, then what will they think of me? Also, the thought “I should be able to handle this myself” can breed shame. I knew I felt I should be able to do this myself however, It took three years to disprove this belief. There is so much shame wrapped up in addiction and recovery and this can keep us immobilized. As Brené Brown teaches us, shame grows when it is not shared. Share your shame, lean into vulnerability—it is hard, but the rewards are great.
What will social accountability provide for you?
Motivation and Encouragement
When the going gets tough, it is easy to throw our hands in the air and give up if we struggle with inner accountability and have no outer accountability in place. Having some trusted friends, family or a group that knows your intention can give you the support you need when you find yourself wavering. This is when you tell them, “I’m struggling right now, I’m really thinking about throwing in the towel.” A good accountability team or partner will help you through this tough time. We are not meant to walk this path (or any path) alone.
In Unbroken Brain, Maia Szalavitz says, “Research suggests that the supportive community that 12-step programs provide is the main active ingredient in their success, when they work.” I knew that AA was not going to be my path and it may not be your path as well and that is fine. Many people have found recovery without AA. We can find a supportive community in many places. Online recovery groups are popping up left and right, as are in person alternative recovery support communities. You also may not need a recovery specific community; I found support in places that had nothing to do with addiction and recovery. These people knew my path and supported me on it. AA is not the only way; community is all around us if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and seek it out.
The Ability to Respond Rather than React
One of the most common reasons for relapse is the “fuck-it” reaction. Things get tough and instead of reaching out for support, we say fuck-it and go back to our old ways. When we have people we are accountable to it helps to slow down this fuck-it response. When I know there is someone I might let down who knows about my journey it allows me to respond rather than react. As Stephen Covey says, “Accountability breeds response-ability”
A Good Old Dose of Healthy Shame
Shame is often the driving force behind our lack of creating a supportive team for our endeavors, however, shame can also be a motivating force when it comes to accountability. In Language of Emotions Karla McLaren teaches that “if you welcome your appropriate shame, you’ll stop yourself before you do something crazy…or before you enter into unhealthy behaviors.” Authentic shame can be a supportive friend when we deal with it appropriately, leading us to pause, which then once again gives us the ability to respond rather than react.
Social Support and Accountability Action Plan
Find your Social Accountability Partner or Team
Who can you recruit to share your intentions and desires for life in recovery? Will it be more supportive to have friends and family on board? Or do you need to look beyond family and friends for this support? You want people who can provide a listening ear and call you out on your shit. Don’t solicit someone who doesn’t want you to change or has a vested interest in your NOT changing. You want people who truly want the best for you and who are willing to push you out of your comfort zone.
Know your Expectations
Let your people know what you need from them. Be clear on what you need from them. Do you want them to call you out if they have a sense you are heading in the wrong direction? Do you want them to be a listening ear who does nothing but listen? People are quick to jump to advice-giving and I know for me this is a huge turn-off. Sometimes I just need someone to listen and sometimes I need advice. The bottom line is, you have to let people know what you need. Do you need someone to celebrate and share in your successes as you reach milestones? If that’s the case, set some attainable goals with rewards that go along with them. If you reach 30, 60 or 90 days, what can you do as a reward and how can your accountability team support or partake in this reward with you?
Ultimately, social accountability can take many forms. There is no one-size-fits-all approach with anything, and that holds true here. Figure out what YOU need. Get clarity on what you are seeking. Once you have these two things, you are in much more solid place to seek out the social support that will benefit you in your process.