The Importance of Communication in Recovery
When I am treating clients the first thing I usually hear is “You’re the first person I’ve talked to about this,” and when I heard that today it made me think maybe people don’t always realise why it is so important to communicate in recovery?
When we are drinking we are used to “bottling up” our feelings (pun intended!) and often the bottle is our way of dealing with upsetting or difficult feelings or states of mind. So much so, we often use the term “self-medicating” to describe alcohol use. For me, the bottle was like my “best friend” and demanded absolute loyalty, especially when all my real friends had left, mostly due to keeping this friend!
The problem of drinking is compounded because while alcohol may provide temporary relief for our problems, it never resolves them. Yet the more we hurt, the more we drink, as if to better resolve it, which of course, it never does, tragically only making the problems worse.
But it is so hard when we are psychically hurting not to take the instant phoney “cure” of a drink because often we have been drinking so long, we’ve forgotten how to deal with emotional pain any other way. Our closet is literally bare of any tools to deal with it. This is why you need to reach out somehow and communicate, preferably before you take any “self-medication”, because obviously after you have, you will not see the purpose, but the emotional pain of the underlying cause will still be there the next day and the day after that because it has never been dealt with.
Inevitably, this pain grows over time like a snowball rolling down the hill, and growing as you pick up more problems that often are exacerbated, or added to, by the ‘self-medication’, requiring ever-greater quantities of ‘self-medication’.
If you reach out to someone, you are putting a break in that cycle, however brief, small or short. It may be a stab in the dark, as often is something you have never done before, but at least you tried.
Who can you communicate with?
Ironically, friends may not be the best person to share a concern about drinking with, particularly if you have been drinking with them, because they may try to reassure you that you don’t have a problem. However, addiction is about whether you think drinking is causing you problems. You wouldn’t be concerned about your drinking if it wasn’t causing you any problems. But who else can you turn to? And the counter-intuitive best answer is, of course, a stranger.
There are two types of strangers you should consider communication with as soon as possible if you want to control or stop drinking, and different risks associated with getting help from either: 1) Amateurs, or 2) Professionals?
Firstly, you can find support from peers who may have a similar condition and are going through the same thing. A good place to start online, particularly during lockdown or working from home, is online private or public Facebook groups. Remember that anything you communicate in a public Facebook group is obviously open to the public and can be read by anyone in or outside the group, whereas what you communicate in private Facebook groups is only available to members of the group. I run a public Facebook group called, “How to stop drinking alcohol” which you can join here, and a private Facebook group called, “Be Happy Sober” which you can join here. You can also find a list of “The Top 10 Facebook Groups To Stop Drinking” here.
Generally, Facebook groups are good places to announce intentions to quit drinking or celebrate achievements, share struggles and concerns but you should be cautious about the advice on them. Because they are peer groups, anyone can give advice which is mostly unqualified and solely based on their personal experience and therefore biased. For example, I have seen “try marijuana” suggested to cope with someone having cravings, which is possibly the last thing I would recommend. Another regular commentator in one of the biggest groups who I won’t name, gives advice on almost every post about how to quit drinking without medication, but if you look back at his posting history, he was only able to quit himself using Naltrexone. The loudest or most frequent voices are not necessarily the most reliable. Admin appoint unpaid moderators, particularly in the larger groups, who are also unqualified and biased, and don’t take responsibility for qualifying any content unless it blatantly breaches rules, such as advertising or promoting products or being outwardly rude. Therefore, problematic posts often go unchallenged except by members debating it either way based on their prejudices and scant evidence. You have been warned.
Next, a better option to communicate with peers are the free peer support groups, like SMART Recovery or the AA. You can find The Top 10 Free Peer Support Groups here, which includes women-only groups. They are all online, and many have face-to-face meetings too. The online meetings are generally held on Zoom so you can see and hear contributors participate which is much better communication than in brief written messages in Facebook groups. Again, the advice is from peers so it is still amateur although following a code of best practice.
There are a whole range of professionals you can communicate with and there are advantages and disadvantages of them all.
Firstly, there are paid support groups which are membership based and usually involving a relatively low monthly fee to access private Facebook groups with other members, blogs, weekly group webinars / videos and possibly one-to-one online meetings, which are all behind a paywall so you don’t know what you are getting before you buy. Sometimes they offer a free incentive like “14 days free” but be careful because this may involve making a monthly payment in advance, and possibly on “automatic renewal” terms unless cancelled. You want to be clear that you are not paying for effectively what you can get free elsewhere, like access to private Facebook groups or informative blogs. For example, you can find a list of free Top 10 Stop Drinking Blogs here.) Some of them offer tiered services depending on how much you pay, so tier 1 might be private Facebook groups and blogs, tier 2 might add YouTube videos, and tier 3 might offer 1:1 or group seminars.
Unfortunately, many of these paid support groups are only “professional” because they are paid, and run by unqualified “coaches” with nothing more than a day’s “Coaching Certificate” to their name. This doesn’t necessarily mean they offer bad advice because they may have significant personal or voluntary experience but be clear that they have no psychological, therapeutic or medical training to deal with any underlying issues or comorbidity.
Finally, the best professional you can communicate with is a specialist Alcohol Addiction Therapist because they will usually have at least a first degree and/or Master’s degree from a recognized University and a Post graduate diploma in therapy and belong to a Professional Association. For example, I am a registered Cognitive Behavioral (CBT) Therapist at NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, and I offer a live 1:1 online Complete Cessation CBT Course here. However, there are many different types of therapy and different professional associations if you want a therapist. You need to make sure that you understand what type of therapy the therapist practices because there are many different schools of thought and some take years of treatment. CBT is a well-tried and tested form of therapy and is goal-oriented and short-term and treatment typically takes twelve weeks. However, regardless of the form of therapy, a professional therapist is the most expensive method, and can cost from £50 to £250 per hour, and a good therapist will offer a course of treatment, not one-off sessions, to demonstrate commitment and require an initial assessment. If a therapist offers 1:1 Therapy without an initial assessment, whether paid or free, it is a bit of a red flag. The initial assessment should assess whether the therapist has the right strategy to treat the client and whether the client would be happy with that strategy, and therapist, and if both parties are happy, a plan forward agreed. Although it is expensive, this has to be weighed against the money, time and pain saved on trying every other approach first, never mind the savings from not drinking, alongside all the benefits of sobriety.
There are many different ways of communicating in recovery but what is more important than the method is that you actually try. Often it may be that the first method you choose doesn’t work, but you are not going to know that, and which one you need to try next, if you don’t try at all. There is no need for you to carry the burden alone and suffer unnecessarily. Get help now. You owe it to yourself.