Why giving up the drugs and alcohol didn’t make you happy


By David Joel Miller.

What being a “dry drunk” means.

It’s a common problem; someone gives up the drugs and the alcohol. Time goes by and they are still miserable and their lives are a mess. They expected to quit and things would be better. They quit and things did not get better. They ask “Why?”

For most people who arrive at substance recovery the drugs and the alcohol are not the problems. For far too long they have been that person’s solution. The problem is they don’t know how to live life without drugs and alcohol.

People with a mental illness fall into the same trap. They see a doctor take a pill or complete a therapy program. They expect it to help. It may help a little, for a while, but then they feel worse and the recovery they have begins to slip away.

You may know deep down you need to give something up. Is it a drug, alcohol or is it Anger and feeling sorry for yourself? Yes others may have wronged you. But they are gone and you are still suffering. The past fills up your mind with pain and suffering, leaving no room for a happy contented present or future.

You may have lost a relationship, a job or been to jail or prison. Some people lose their children because they can’t stop drinking and drugging. Your doctor may have told you “one more drink and you will die.” None of those reasons are good enough to stop and stay stopped if life after drugs was dull, boring and unhappy.

Some people quit, they stay off the sauce for a period of time, but they are still miserable. You can see someone like this at most any A.A. meeting, you see them in churches and self-help groups. Five years or ten without drugs and they are still angry, hate themselves and others. They know they can’t drink or drug but they wish they could. In recovery language they are called dry drunks.

Anger, fear and resentments, those are the poisons that keep people sick. Hard to let go of that resentment. Who wants to admit that holding on to that grudge may make them feel “right” but it also makes them feel miserable?

A dry drunk has all the behaviors of a drunk. They don’t like life and can’t cope without something outside themselves to make them feel better. Sometimes they move from addiction to addiction, they try gambling or spending, sometimes it is sex or a new religion. What they don’t do is try to change themselves.

Recovery is more than putting the plug in the jug. It is more than taking a medication or completing a program. Recovery takes work. There is a process you need to go through to make peace with yourself and the past. Recovering people most often find they need to work on themselves a lot. Recovery is an inside job, you hear the recovered people say. Looking at yourself is painful sometimes. The pain of self-examination leads to healing. The pain of substance abuse leads to failed relationships, jails, prisons, psych hospitals and eventually death.

Therapists have a saying “never work harder than the client.” What we mean by that is that recovery is not something we can do to a client. Recovery is a process we can guide someone through but they need to do the work.

As long as you hold on to that addiction, the anger, the blame, you don’t have to begin to take the responsibility for your own recovery.

Living with an addiction requires a skill set. So does living with a mental illness. People learn those skills whether they intend to or not.

Recovery requires learning a new set of skills, getting a new tool kit. It also requires putting those tools to work; you need to get your recovery tools dirty by using them.

What new skills have you learned? Have you gotten honest with yourself? Do you write about things in your journal? Do you talk with your counselor, or sponsor? Have you stopped running from crisis to crisis and started making up longer term plans, not plans of what you will have but plans for what you will do?

Recovery is a journey. If you stick to the route you will find that the trip gets better and better.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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4 thoughts on “Why giving up the drugs and alcohol didn’t make you happy

  1. How exactly should one get their recovery tools dirty? Giving up something that is bad for one, you do expect to feel better but when you don’t you feel disheartened. What’s left is yourself and your problems. So you read all the self-help books and try and work on yourself but how do you connect the practice to the theory? All those learned responses and ways of coping are very hard to unlearn – is it about keeping a record, making new goals or just trying to get through without going backwards?

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    • Some great questions, thanks for commenting. Recovery is about more than just giving up harmful coping mechanisms. You need to replace the things in your life that were not working with new improved coping strategies. Then you need to practice these new skills until they become more natural than the old methods. In future posts I want to write more about how you make recovery work and how you make it fun. Please stay tuned for more on those topics. David.

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  2. Pingback: Getting some recovery – preventing relapse | counselorssoapbox

  3. Pingback: What is a dry Drunk – putting down without really getting clean | counselorssoapbox

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