Choosing Addiction Treatment over Going to Jail Can Be a Life Sentence
Mary is 45 years old and started her addiction treatment journey at 35 after a particularly bad night drinking that had ended in a DUI and a night in jail. Up until that point she liked drinking, but she reserved her heavy drinking and occasional drug use for parties and holidays. She never felt out of control, nor did she feel like her drinking or drug use was particularly excessive. She believed herself to be a relatively normal drinker.
Like so many people who get into legal trouble as a direct result of their substance use, Mary was given the option to go to rehab instead of risking a short stint in jail. In many courts across the country, this is called Alternatives to Incarceration. When given this option most people jump at the chance to stay out of jail. Unfortunately what Mary and all those who choose this option don’t realize is going into addiction treatment or addiction rehab can actually become a life sentence.
Prior to her DUI, Mary believed herself to be completely in control of her drinking and drug use. Certainly she would have a night here or there where she felt that she drank a bit too much; and yes there were those nights when she used poor judgment while intoxicated (i.e. drunk driving), but Mary also had plenty of nights where she drank a lot and caused no problems; and there were many nights she only had a couple drinks; and there were many nights that she didn’t drink at all. It never occurred to her that she had a drinking problem, let alone that she might be an “alcoholic”.
The night she was stopped by the police and blew a .22 on a breathalyzer was the first time she thought she might have a problem. She knew shouldn’t have been driving but felt she had no choice that night. She admits it wasn’t the first time she has driven after drinking, but she was certain it would be her last.
She complied with her sentence and attended 12 months of intensive outpatient addiction treatment. This treatment included mandatory attendance at AA meetings. As a result of having to do the treatment she lost her job, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Within a few months of attending treatment and going to meetings, she went from being certain she was in control of her drinking, to questioning if she was in control of anything in her life. She started having intense bouts of anxiety and depression. She began questioning her marriage, and if she was even a good mother to her children. Remaining abstinent was easy at first, but as each day passed she found herself thinking about drinking more and more. Her occasional thoughts of drinking began to feel like the powerful cravings she’d been warned about in treatment. Then six months into her treatment, all she could think about was drinking.
At that point, she did something she’d never done before, she ordered a bottle of vodka online and had it delivered. She felt ashamed and didn’t want her family to find out so she made sure it was delivered when no one else was home. It was quick and easy. She made herself a vodka and cranberry and drank it down. This drink felt different to her than any drink had previous to it. It felt like a warm blanket and like a visit from an old, trusted friend. It felt a little bad, but in a terribly good way. It felt like freedom. She enjoyed her first few drinks, then hid the bottle and went about her day before anyone got home.
For the few months that followed she stuck to this secret drinking routine, and no one knew; not the treatment providers, not her family, not her sponsor or peers in AA, no one. She began feeling immense guilt and shame keeping this secret from her family, but with her intense anxiety, drinking felt like the only thing she could do to feel better. She continued with bouts of secret drinking, then would stop for several weeks, then return to it. During that time she completed her outpatient treatment and got her driver’s license back. Things were going pretty well for her even with her secret bouts of relatively moderate drinking.
She continued going to AA meetings because she had made a few friends there, and she felt like this helped her to keep her drinking in check, even though she wasn’t actually abstinent. Her secret life had become a comfort to her. Then it happened, as it almost always does with secret substance use, she got caught by her husband. He had come home early unexpectedly and he saw the vodka sitting out on the counter. He became instantly concerned, and questioned her, and although she knew she wasn’t out of control, she began playing the addiction disease charade. It felt like the only way to stay out of the trouble she knew she would be in if she told the truth – that she had been drinking for a while secretly, that she liked drinking, and she wanted to keep doing it. That was the night she truly began to feel out of control.
She spent the next several days in her bedroom, locked away from the family drinking heavily. Her sponsor kept texting her, and her husband begged her to go to an inpatient treatment program. She began to believe that everything she’d learned in treatment was true, and that is when she took on the full addict identity, which according to treatment providers and 12 step members, is a life sentence.
This started a decade long cycle of periods of heavy drinking, then going into a detox and/or rehab, then periods of abstinence, then back to heavy drinking. At one point she made it to a year abstinent only to begin a two month binge that landed her in the hospital once again.
After her last stay in a very upscale rehab, Mary began looking for an alternative to AA. She wanted her old life back – before the DUI. She was now divorced, unemployed, and felt like a complete failure at everything. A friend invited her to join a private Facebook group for people seeking to leave AA, and as she scrolled through the posts, she felt hope for the first time in years.
Everything Changes Once You See Yourself as Addicted
“It’s hard to quantify in data exactly what changes when people see themselves as addicted, but it’s a general sense of defeat that creeps into their entire existence. Their spirit withers and fades as they accept their fate.” (The Freedom Mode for Addictions, p. 111)
Mary connected with me in that group and signed up to take Zoom classes with me. As we were going over Chapter 8 in The Freedom Model, The Addict/Alcoholic Identity, Mary realized this is exactly what happened to her. She never felt out of control of her drinking before entering treatment. When she got her DUI she knew that was a problem. She knew she had used poor judgment and she took responsibility for her poor choice. She also knew she would never make that choice again.
She felt very confident her drinking would not be a problem moving forward, but her counselors at treatment and her sponsor and peers in AA, told her that confidence was a symptom of the disease of alcoholism. They told her that “her best thinking got her here” meaning into treatment and AA. They told her by believing she had been in control of her drinking all along, that she was in denial. And they demanded that she take “the first step” and admit she was powerless and that her life had become unmanageable. She was told to change careers, change friends, and even stop seeing certain family members as they would be a trigger for her. And she was told that she would always crave alcohol and she couldn’t ever trust her own thinking again as it would always be trying to lead her back to drinking.
As we were going over all of this, it became clear to her that her life had not unraveled as a direct result of her DUI; her life had unraveled as a direct result of addiction treatment and 12 step meetings. Losing her license was a temporary setback, but losing her self-confidence and self-trust, and believing that she was powerless not just over alcohol but her own thoughts and desires, had become debilitating to her. She had lost a high paying job and struggled to find work. She lost a 10 year marriage and had lost custody of her children as her drinking escalated. She began to question every decision she had ever made as she wondered how long her “alcoholism” had been running her life. She realized through talking to me that she had quite literally rewritten her own history so it would fit into the addiction disease narrative. But in retrospect her drinking had never been out of control until after treatment.
She was sad that she had lost 10 years of her life believing a lie, but she quickly became grateful to have learned the truth. She allowed me to write her story here to warn others of the pitfalls of going to treatment instead of spending a few days or weeks in jail. Alternative to Incarceration Programs, IOP and 12 step meetings do not have to define the rest of your life! If you make a mistake; own it, educate yourself on the facts, and move on. It’s a lot better than creating a life sentence based on one bad night.
If you or someone you love is looking move on from addiction for good, give our team a call at 1-888-424-2626 to see how we can help!