12 months ago, John was a self-described “raging alcoholic, the kind of guy you’d never trust, never hang around. The kind of guy you’d pretend you never knew.”
Six months ago, John found himself staring at a mirror. He’d become the guy he didn’t trust, didn’t want to be around. He became the man he wished he never knew.
Single, unemployed and lonely, John gathered all of his courage and found an AA meeting at a church near his apartment. Leaving his pride at the door, he was welcomed by a group of warm, kind and compassionate former alcoholics – many of whom admitted to co-occurring addictions – with whom John felt comfortable and safe. He felt, for the first time, as if he had a home.
“In those first couple of weeks, despite how hard it was to say goodbye to the bottle, it was euphoric,” John says passionately, recalling the freedom he felt. “Physically, it was ridiculous – I was withdrawing bad. But I felt like I had this sense of hope I didn’t have before, and I was looking forward to what everyone was talking about: that sharpened memory, the focus, the energy, the happiness. It really fueled me and gave me hope that I’d get there.”
Motivated by his new peers and confidantes, John wanted to make a complete change. He found a new job, took out a lease on a new condo, and started dating – even though his sponsor urged him not to, not yet.
“I just felt like I was on top of the world,” John says, “like I was free. Nothing could stop me.”
And nothing could – until the “dry drunk” symptoms began to manifest.
John began to feel an inexplicable, unrelenting rage, an anger he couldn’t explain or shake off. He snapped at friends, was short with colleagues at work, and could barely keep himself from punching or striking random strangers. His new relationship fell apart.
“I don’t even how to explain it now,” says John meekly. “I was an ass when I was a drunk, but after that first month of sobriety, wow. I wanted to kick the crap out of everything, everyone. It was brutal.”
The dry drunk syndrome, named by the creators of Alcoholics Anonymous, has been described as the “presence of actions and attitudes that characterized the alcoholic prior to recovery.” John says that’s probably right; he says that in his case, it’s an exaggerated version of who he was before he began his road to sobriety.
Experts say that in the first month or so after sobriety, individuals may find themselves suffering from several symptoms and emotions that seem to put them at war with their recovery. The symptoms include depression, anxiety, and fear of relapse; negativity surrounding recovery; resentment towards friends or family members who are encouraging the recovery or who remind the individual of his or her drinking or using days; romanticizing drinking or using days; and self-obsession. Some recovering addicts even replace their former addiction with something else, just to ease the pain.
But John also resents the term “dry drunk,” and admits that the term – and everything that surrounded it – was what led him to leave his support group, seeking assistance at a recovery centre instead.
“Right or wrong, I didn’t want to put the same labels on my recovery as I did on my addiction,” says John. “I wanted a way to overcome my emotions, my anger. I wanted to learn how to create a new attitude and see things differently.”
John sought solace in an in-patient recovery program, where he learned, first of all, what caused him to become so powerfully unpleasant to anyone whose path he crossed or shared. He wanted to come out of his dependency to alcohol a better person, not a more terrifying one.
“I didn’t want my kindness or humanity or goodness, whatever you want to call it, to be the price I paid to be sober,” says John. “I didn’t want to be intolerable or miserable anymore, but I couldn’t figure out why I was in the first place. It was beyond being deprived of the drug, I think – it was something deeper.”
At the recovery centre, John says his skilled and patient therapists helped him unearth a world of pain he’d forgotten ever existed, the secrets he’d buried under gallons of alcohol throughout the years. And despite John considering himself to be a “private person who doesn’t talk to anyone,” he recognized he needed to share and resolve the traumatic things from his youth and his past, if he was ever going to have a fighting chance at a full, joyful recovery.
“Look, take it from me,” he says. “You’re going to get pissed. You’re going to be uncomfortable. You’re going to hate everything and everyone around you. But you can’t let that stop you from going forward. What did my therapist tell me? You can’t go around it – you gotta go through it.
“Anger is part of the recovery process, and I’ve since learned that that’s ok. The anger part doesn’t last forever.”
After the anger, says John, now six months sober and happy – comes peace.
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If you or your family is struggling with an addiction, please give us a call at 1-866-716-2006 or read about our Cedars Discovery Program, for families struggling with addiction.