Early recovery is like flying to Barbados


It’s not going to start when you find the right job, house, partner, lose ten pounds. This is not a rehearsal.
These precious seconds right now are your life. Are you going to make them count or are you going to fall back into your numbed state and sleepwalk through your life?

I often tell clients that in early recovery, those first few painful months when you ‘wake up’ to who you are and what you have become are like the experience of when you have to wake up at 3 am to catch a flight to Barbados because you’re going on your much-anticipated dream holiday.

For those few seconds, when the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, in the pitch black, when you are in the deepest of sleep, dreaming about a wonderful fantasy, you have to grope around trying to still that intrusive bleeping. Your mind begins an argument with itself, where for a few seconds, you consider just closing your eyes, just for a couple of minutes, to experience that warm, comfortable, seducing lure of sleep again.

Despite knowing you don’t have long to get to the airport, there is that voice telling you just to shut your eyes and go back to sleep and everything will be OK.
The pillow is so soft, the bedding so warm and comfy. The pull is intoxicating. Nothing matters more than the bliss of sleep, of unawareness.

But of course, you force your tired eyes awake and stand blearily in the shower with the excitement in your belly and the adrenaline beginning to pump through your veins. Because you know that very soon you’re going to be on a plane to Barbados and what a wonderful feeling that will be.

The first few months of recovery for an alcoholic are like the first few seconds of being awoken by the alarm clock.
Even though you know that where you’re going is the most wonderful place you’ll ever visit; even though you know that this will be the best experience you have ever had and you have been waiting so long for the time to come around; even though you know you would be devastated if you gave in and shut your eyes and woke up to realise you’d missed the plane; even though you know all of this – there is still a strong temptation to go back to sleep and block out all of those possibilities and experiences for the sake of a few extra hours of nothingness.

This is what the alcoholic experiences in early recovery. For so long we have lived half asleep, half awake, missing our lives, and now finally the opportunity has arrived for us to be fully awake, fully conscious of our experience.
But it’s very tempting to go back to sleep; this is because recovery is hard and painful at times, especially in the beginning.
Even though Barbados will be great, the getting there can sometimes be uncomfortable, painful, irritating and inconvenient. The drive to the airport, carrying bags, queuing at security, airline food, cramped seats, all of those things we would rather do without, but we put up with them because of the destination.

The destination for alcoholics is our truth, our real, authentic selves, living our lives to the fullest, being who we really are – becoming the best version of ourselves we are capable of being.
Have you opened your eyes yet?

This is an exclusive extract from my book 'Why you drink and How to stop.'