The first step toward recovery is admitting that something needs to change. Admitting we have a problem with alcohol or drug use. Acknowledging that a life of abuse has created consequences that adversely affect our lives and those around us. Admitting we have a problem is challenging because it suggests we have a flawed character in the first place. Addiction is often referred to as a disease of denial. Our denial of substance abuse blocks our ability to accept the fact that our life has become unmanageable.
Take a look at nearly any 12-Step recovery program, and you’ll likely find “admission” to be the core theme of the very first step. Since its founding in 1938, Alcoholics Anonymous has remained steadfastly committed to its 12-Step program. Arguably, millions have recovered. That recovery started with the first step, admitting to the problem.
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable (Alcoholics Anonymous).
Admission serves to break down a pivotal barrier to recovery – denial – that a problem exists in the first place. When I participate in or facilitate group sessions of alcoholics and drug addicts, I witness first-hand the power of admission. Those who willingly admit to having a problem consistently have more extended periods of sobriety or total abstinence than those who have been forced or required to attend treatment programs due to pressure applied by parents, spouses, family, or the legal system.
Before I personally entered treatment and recovery, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t the one with the problem. I was so deep into denial that I couldn’t see the consequences or the impact of my poor decisions on those around me, even though my loved ones continuously approached me about my problem. Mentally and emotionally clouded by almost daily use and attempting to self-medicate away the actual root influences and causes of my addiction, I selfishly continued drinking alcohol to cope with the daily stressors, most of which were self-imposed. One thing was sure. Nothing was going to change until I acknowledged that something needed to change.
During a mini-getaway on our family farm in Nash County, my then-college freshman nineteen-year-old daughter courageously confronted the fact that I had been consuming alcohol nonstop nearly every day. After having enough, she took the car keys and drove back to Raleigh. Now alone, out of alcohol, and out of options, I had no choice but to reflect on her parting words, “Dad, I love you, but you have a problem. You need to deal with it. I need you in my life. I want you to be the one to walk me down the aisle someday.”
Though my wife, Lynne, had made more subtle attempts to call the problem to my attention many times before, this was my defining moment. This was my bottom. When I called Lynne to tell her Kendall was driving back to Raleigh without me, I was both hurt and humiliated. My humiliation, though hard to accept, was just the pain I needed. Four days later, and with the support of Lynne and Kendall, I checked myself into a 30-day inpatient treatment program. As the days and weeks passed, the energy I once placed into drinking turned to a time of reflection, self-assessment, and education from qualified clinicians and counselors that set me on a path toward recovery that continues today.
Recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is not a means or end in and of itself. It’s a journey toward healing and personal growth. Life may not get easier as we seek to undo the damage our use caused. However, the recovery process does as we come to better understand ourselves, our motivations, and the coping skills and tools we need to apply to maintain healthy physical and mental well-being.
Author, Roy Page is the founder of Crossings Addiction Recovery, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that equips those seeking sobriety and recovery with new life skills, support for you and your family, and a reconnection to your spiritual foundation.