“It’s been one of the greatest challenges that ever came along in my life, it was one of the more difficult things to do.”
From an astronaut who stepped on to the moon in 1969, this description from Buzz Aldrin about the challenge of giving up alcohol is very telling. In the grips of alcohol addiction, it often feels impossible to see a way out – even if you’ve already achieved incredible things in your life.
Now almost 40 years sober, Buzz credits alcohol support as key to his sobriety. “I think recovery organisations are essential. I still participate in that because I enjoy the sharing that takes place and the friendship.”
“There’s a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser,” King said. “People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room? And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.”
Stephen King’s insight refers to denial as part of alcohol addiction. Denial often affects alcoholics in the grips of their addiction but it can also extend to family members and close friends. The addictive patterns and behaviours in alcoholism can be tolerated for years by loved ones. Abnormal drinking can go unchallenged because it just seems familiar. The wider culture or community may also play a part in denial – if everyone around drinks excessively, then giving up alcohol can be hard to contemplate.
For some, the denial around alcohol addiction will lift when the consequences escalate. There may be a serious accident, job loss, family fallout or relationship breakdown, for example. This can lead to greater alcohol awareness and change. For others, drinking will continue until a life-threatening illness, problems with the police or major psychological problems set in.
Whatever stage alcoholism gets to, there is help available for alcohol addicts and for their families too. UKAT alcohol rehabs offer family components as part of their therapeutic model, to educate family members about alcoholism and support the whole family to make a change.
“I was a massive, binge-drinking, party girl. I didn’t do the kind of two glasses of wine at night whilst listening to The Archers because I’m just not like that. I think either you get absolutely off your face and behave disgracefully with alcohol or you don’t bother. So I stopped drinking for that very reason – I was not planning to do that once I had children.”
Jo’s realisation that she would never be a moderate drinker proved helpful to her in giving up alcohol. This honesty about her relationship with alcohol allowed her to accept alcohol abstinence as a way of life.
This ‘all or nothing’ attitude to alcohol is common with binge drinkers. It’s about drinking excessively for the effect alcohol gives. Often binge drinkers describe it as drinking to get drunk. They see little or no point in having small amounts of alcohol.
In alcohol treatment programmes, the early stages of the recovery process include developing an honest awareness about alcohol use. This is usually a very client-led process, supported by addiction professionals, peers and family members. With increased awareness about alcohol and its effects, it then becomes easier to move forward positively in alcohol recovery.
“It was the life. I was in the theatre, the revolution. I fancied myself as Oliver Reed. Part of it is hereditary: my father died of alcoholism. I took it a step further, I drank and I used drugs. I liked the feeling of not being cognizant of what was going on around me.”
Samuel L Jackson still managed to work whilst drinking and using drugs heavily – but he has said publicly that alcohol and drugs did affect the quality of his work.
Addiction also had a big effect on his relationships, including with his wife and daughter. “I was not affectionate, I was not associative and I was kind of crazy – in a way that I regret and I’ve apologised to both.”
In the end, Jackson went to rehab for his addiction to alcohol and drugs. Two weeks after leaving rehab, Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever went into production, in which he starred. This was a breakthrough in his acting career.
“I still cannot believe that my life is what it is because I should have died in Wales, drunk or something like that,” Hopkins said.
For all his award-winning success as an actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins still expresses deep gratitude for this recovery from alcoholism. Giving up alcohol meant a life of greater opportunities for him. This type of awareness can be helpful in sustaining long-term alcohol recovery.
“To be sober is the most important thing in my life and everything else is a bonus. And if it isn’t life-threatening, it really is trivial.”
Eric Clapton’s perspective on life and problems shifted through giving up alcohol. He describes a freedom from worrying about the unimportant events in life. Alcohol rehab programmes, addiction counsellors and recovery support networks can help to create this change in thinking.
“My dad John [a factory worker] always used to say ‘none or enough’ and that was a bit of a family motto. And I have realised, since having a kid, that the greatest gift you can give a child is a teetotal parent because you haven’t got the terrible tension in the house at about 10.50pm when Dad comes home… and that’s something everyone I knew was brought up with. That feeling of, ‘I hope Dad is going to be in a good mood when he gets in’.”
Frank Skinner has also talked about ‘second-hand drinking’ – where children and partners of alcoholics are harmed by living with a dependent drinker. In this sense, giving up alcohol not only helps people who get addicted, but it can also have lifelong benefits for the people who love them too.
“When I was drinking I was not really talking to people. There is no real communication. It is banter and drinking, no more. But I have real humour today. I have real laughter. I have real pain. But I also have real friendships. I don’t think they were real friendships before.”
Now over 20 years sober, Tony Adams describes the positive change in his relationships, as a result of giving up alcohol. He also refers to a greater ability to feel his emotions. These two experiences in alcohol recovery are often linked – the more emotional well-being and maturity there is, the more possible it is to relate to other people.
If you’re inspired to take the first step in your alcohol recovery, please get in touch today with UKAT. Your enquiry is confidential. We offer inpatient and outpatient alcohol treatment across the country.