I actually wanted the title of this article to be, “Therapist Confirms People in Recovery Have Their Sh*t Together More than Most” but that seemed a little too crass. However, my sentiment remains the same. In a recent piece for The Good Men Project (and originally his own site), MFT Quentin Hafner makes the case for why those who have hit rock bottom with drugs and alcohol end up gaining a deeper life perspective than those who never have to go through the experience of getting clean and sober. He writes, “Despite our culture’s inaccurate perception that addicts or alcoholics are the moral deviants of our society, what I, and other therapists, know too, is that non-addicts can be in just as much emotional suffering and rock-bottom circumstances as their addict counterparts down the street.” He’s right, and some of those people may never find their way out of those emotional caves. But people who put down the wine and work on staying sober kind of have to understand that darkness, or they’ll end up drinking again. I can personally attest to the clarity that can arise over time when one can no longer stifle their discomfort with a buzz (alright, blackout). It’s actually quite remarkable.
What Happens When You’re Forced to Deal
In his work as a therapist, Hafner witnesses how those who aren’t diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder continue to numb emotion with a cycle of mild to moderate (and sometimes extreme) intoxication. Although they may be managing their lives on the surface (and are perhaps not even consciously suffering), they never truly get to the root of the problems or pain they do have. However, alcoholics and addicts are forced to face it all head-on when they finally (but not always voluntarily) surrender and eliminate their trusty mind-numbing agent.
Having worked as a self-described “non-addict” at a rehab himself, Hafner admires the support system and enlightenment offered by 12-step support groups—so much so that he created a similar type of group for non-addicts. His group is tailored specifically for men and aptly named “Better Dads and Better Husbands.” Hafner admitted, “Ever since that first AA meeting I attended as a graduate student, I’ve been committed to offering resources for the non-addict that mirror all of the wonderful and loving aspects of addiction support groups.” Of course, those in recovery are also welcome to attend the group, which serves as a safe space to get peer support, empathy, guidance and unconditional love in the face of all of life’s problems, not just drugs or alcohol.
In recovery circles, you often hear people sharing the common lament that they weren’t given a rule book for life. Who threw away their human instruction manual? I don’t think that feeling is unique to alcoholics. I have plenty of friends who don’t struggle one iota with booze or drugs yet often suffer from fears, struggles and a sense of inadequacy that inevitably comes with adulthood. But people who get sober usually have a lot of structured and emotional homework that helps them gain a bit of know-how and the tools for dealing with the unknown. I irrationally hate the trendy term “adulting,” but I also completely get why people wear t-shirts that advertise their rejection of doing it.
Progress You Won’t Regret
I’ve been sober just over two years and four months and sometimes I still ask myself, “Wait, why did I give up alcohol again?” I loved it and no one told me I needed to quit. Those are the moments when I have to go back and read my journal from my last few years of drinking to see the cold, hard proof of how awful my life was. But maybe I could have pumped the brakes and learned to controlled my drinking? I definitely don’t think I should test that theory. And I wouldn’t trade anything for the spiritual and emotional progress I’ve made as a human being thanks to hitting my personal bottom with alcohol. The wisdom I’ve gained through working a program for recovery—how I’ve learned to love myself (most of the time), acquired the tools to help combat obsessive thinking that doesn’t serve me and getting clarity on my priorities in life—these are all a direct result of deciding to abstain from drugs and alcohol, results I didn’t even know were coming. If it weren’t for my problem drinking, I wouldn’t have done that work—I wouldn’t have had to—so I would have just kept numbing and latching my hope onto the latest self-help book (which I would no doubt be reading while hungover with a bucket of fried chicken and a steady stream of Tylenol at my disposal).
Working it Because it Works
Maybe I would have been okay eventually without a program, but with this structure I get to enjoy so much peace, confidence and self-awareness now. I guess the only benefits to multiple blackouts in 2013 was the spiritual progress it inadvertently led to by 2016. I like working a program with all its How-Tos, suggestions and tools because it’s like a short-cut to happiness. How’s that for turning lemons into (definitely not Mike’s Hard) lemonade?