A Letter to a Friend in Rehab, pt. 1

Dear Friend, 

Your husband caught me up on what’s going on in your life and I asked him if I could write you a letter of encouragement, or two. ;)

You may not be aware, but I have been sober for just about a year. So, I am somewhat familiar with the journey you’re now beginning. Though I cut back substantially in 2017, drinking smaller amounts and less often, moderation just wasn’t for me. Whatever enjoyment I used to take from beer was gone and the whole thing was just too much work.

Weirdly, moderation felt as if I was not-drinking so that I could continue to drink.  

For me, the delivery system was beer. I live what is probably the craft brew mecca of the entire world, and a drinking problem is really easy to hide here in Portland under the guise of being a craft-beer “enthusiast.”

There’s beer everywhere. Barbershops offer a free beer with a haircut. There are multiple taps at the laundromat, really - I’m not joking! Companies give their employees free beer on Friday afternoons and apartments come with growler fill stations. Alcohol is even expected at church, and I’m not talking about at communion but bombers of IPA at church meetings.

This last part was what hooked me. Knowing that copious amounts of beer and wine will be consumed at each and every meeting, the anticipation of potential conflict is greatly minimized. So, even though I lived here for a number of years before alcohol started taxing my life in obvious ways I think that if I had taken the time to stop and reflect I could have realized that alcohol was not a benign substance and that I was heading down a destructive path.

In the early days of my tenure at Intown there was a LOT of conflict and I dealt with it by isolating and drinking. And once that became habituated the thought of stopping was very aversive and strongly resisted. I couldn’t imagine living in a place like Portland and NOT drinking. Wouldn’t that be like living in Italy and avoiding carbs and red wine?!

So, instead of listening to the voice inside my head that occasionally said, “this isn’t going anywhere good”, or listening to my wife who suspected a problem earlier than I did, I used the fear of never being able to drink again to avoid trying to stop drinking at all. 

After five or six years here however, the evidence started to mount and I started to believe - at least in my rational brain - that my time as a drinker was limited. Beer was narrowing my ambition and foreclosing on my happiness and I knew that I didn’t want that to still be true 5 years later. But an addicted brain can often only see today and it leverages now well-trained neural pathways to do its bidding. So, I kept trudging along even when it was clear to me that my “craft beer hobby” was compromising my parenting, my professional life, and worst of all - my marriage.

Maybe you’ve felt that too, and it helped you take the extraordinarily-courageous step of going to rehab. So, what will life be like when you return home and what can you expect in your marriage? Since I only get to see you guys in person every few years I’m not really qualified to make too many predictions. But I do know this, given the fact that your drinking progressed to the point where you felt that you needed a few months in rehab to start your recovery process, you’re going to be returning to some big wounds in your marriage that may take a long time to heal.

Here’s the good news though, I’ve known your husband for over 30 years and he’s resilient and he’s loyal. He’ll be there when you get out, and with a lot of work, patience, and grace your marriage can actually be a whole lot better than it was before - perhaps something far more beautiful than it ever would have been without this season of struggle!

“Struggle” will almost certainly be a familiar word in the coming weeks and months. But, life itself is a struggle, now you’re just going to be present for it. You will have to feel things you haven’t felt in a long time and minimizing these feelings with a glass of wine before dinner will seem like the most rational thought you’ve ever had. Sometimes these thoughts may be totally-overwhelming and if you allow yourself to start projecting this struggle onto everyday of the rest of your life then your sobriety probably won’t last too long.

That is why if I were starting out on my journey of sobriety today I would want to hear over and over and over from trusted friends that it does get better, and it does get easier.

I gotta get to work so I’ll have to tease out that last thought in a future letter. But, I won’t leave you hanging too long; I will write you again soon - I promise!

Until then, be brave! I’m proud of you.