Rehab said recovery parallels the stages of grief: denial; anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That wasn’t my experience. For me, becoming comfortable in recovery was an overlapping three-phase process. First was detox, collapsing my concentric walls of denial. Second was intellectual acceptance I was an alcoholic. Finally, and much later, came true emotional acceptance. Anger, bargaining, and depression accompanied all three in bewildering combinations at every stage.
Intellectual acceptance of one’s addiction is a tectonic shift. It’s the difference between viewing drugs or alcohol as the solution and embracing the fact that they’re your most deadly problem. It’s the switch from deciding you should stop for a while until you’re strong enough to control yourself and admitting you have to quit for good. It’s reading the 1st of the 12 Steps and seeing yourself in the description of powerlessness and un-manageability. It’s accepting there’s a one-to-one correspondence between not drinking and things getting better and that drinking or drug use will always make life worse.
I entered rehab about as far from accepting my alcoholism as anyone could. But that changed when I became willing to consider I might be an alcoholic after all. How does someone as resistant as I was become willing? First, by detoxing. Hospital-forced detox cleared my brain (though it took a long time). It disabused me of my fear that I literally couldn’t survive without my quart-a-day (and quite often more) of alcohol.
Second, willingness came from being shown in a hundred ways that what I knew in my innermost self to be true was, in fact, dead wrong. As each of my erroneous preconceptions popped, my certainty deflated. The cumulative effect of being consistently and demonstrably wrong time after time opened my previously-closed mind. When it reached the point that it seemed everything I knew was wrong I became willing.
Willingness opened my eyes. It didn’t by itself make me conclude I was an alcoholic. But it was an essential pre-condition for it. Intellectual acceptance of my alcoholism came from the education I received listening to my fellow patients and the staff describe their own addictions — how they’d struggled to control their drinking and drug use by relying on willpower only to fail and keep failing and how their denial was shattered –and comparing what I heard to my own experience. It was easier for me to see others’ powerlessness over drugs and the unmanageability in their lives than it was to see it in my own, but once I saw it in others, I had no choice but to recognize that I’d thought and acted precisely the same way they did.
In other words, it was immersion in a therapeutic community that led me to intellectual acceptance. Forced sobriety and the care and support of a therapeutic community acted in concert to nudge me, over a period of a week or more, from obstinate to willing to acceptance.
Those were huge steps. But they weren’t enough to become comfortable enough with my addiction for long-term sobriety. I also had to attain emotional acceptance.