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Sobriety is Hard, but Addiction is Harder
When I couldn't find an easy way to quit drinking, I did it the hard way.
Is there any easy way to beat addiction? A simple trick to putting down the bottle and never picking it up again? A way to instantly overcome a craving or lose all desire to drink once and for all?
If so, I sure haven’t found it.
My college roommate and I were both pack-a-day smokers. One day, about a year after we had graduated, I went over to his new apartment for a visit, and he showed me a book that had changed his life: Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking.
He told me that he had read the book and stopped smoking immediately. He was sure that he would never touch another cigarette, and he said that thanks to Carr’s methods, quitting was just as easy as the title claimed.
I was skeptical, but at my former roommate’s insistence, I borrowed the book and started reading it that night. I was not a fan.
Maybe I had too negative a mindset, or maybe the book simply didn’t click with my way of thinking. Either way, what I remember most about reading it was constantly rolling my eyes with each new claim.
Needless to say, the book did not get me to quit smoking. It really did work for my roommate, though. He never touched another cigarette again.
It’s been thirteen years since the day I borrowed that book. I did finally quit smoking, but it was only about two and a half years ago. In the decade between reading Carr’s guide and quitting cigarettes, I also managed to quit an even deadlier addiction to alcohol.
I’m truly proud that I was able to quit drinking and smoking, but I have to admit that neither addiction was even remotely easy for me to beat. In fact, quitting these substances proved to be two of the hardest challenges of my entire life.
My drinking and smoking habits developed around the same time, in my final two years of college. By the time I graduated, I was going through a pack of cigarettes and half a dozen beers (or more) every single day.
I tried to quit both habits again and again over the years. I struggled hard to stop, trying every method I came across. I went to AA and to a therapist. I used hypnosis and self-help books. Sometimes I’d quit one habit or the other for a few days. Sometimes I’d even last for a few weeks. No matter what, though, I always ended up relapsing.
When it came to alcohol in particular, the withdrawal symptoms were truly awful. The exact experience varied from one quit attempt to the next, but it included brain fog, night sweats, insomnia, and sometimes shakiness.
The cravings were even more unbearable. Every time that I tried to give either habit up, I’d end up getting urges all day long. I remember reading some advice that said cravings only last a few minutes, so the best strategy was to distract yourself until they went away. It made no sense to me because my cravings were essentially constant. If one of them did end, another would take its place almost immediately.
I never found a secret to make this whole process easier. There was no book that suddenly changed the way I thought about my addictions. There was no magic tool that made the cravings disappear. When I finally quit drinking for good, it was just as painful an experience as all those failed attempts. The same was true when I quit smoking a couple of years later.
The only difference was that I learned tools to help me to get through the difficulty. I spoke with other addicts, learned from their mistakes, and tried my best to learn from my own mistakes too. I practiced visualization techniques, I developed a healthier mindset, and I focused on getting through one day at a time.
I managed to get sober, and I managed to quit smoking, but it wasn’t easy.
It seems like there are a lucky few who have found a technique that let them easily overcome an addiction. Allen Carr did it. My roommate did it. I’m sure others did it too.
But the unfortunate reality is that most of the recovered addicts I know never found an easy way to quit. We had to do it the hard way. We had to fight every single day for months, if not years. We had to put in work, day after day, staying vigilant against a relapse.
However, despite all this, I’m still thankful every day that I managed to overcome both of my addictions, and that’s especially true when it comes to quitting alcohol. Getting sober was absolutely worth all the struggle, and I don’t doubt that for one second.
Because, if there’s any secret I’ve learned, it’s this: That as hard as it is to overcome an addiction, it’s even harder to keep living with one.
It was hard to be a heavy-drinking alcoholic. It might sound like giving in to my addiction would have been the easy route, but life as a drunk was by no means an easy life.
My life back then was filled with daily emotional and psychological struggles. I wallowed in depression and let my anxieties rule me. I scheduled everything around my drinking, blowing off opportunities and friendships. I ran up credit card debt, neglected my health, and became an isolated loner.
That was not an easy life, and it was getting harder every year. If I had continued to drink, I would have gotten myself ever deeper in debt as I spent thousands each year on alcohol. It would have led to worse health problems too. Is dealing with liver disease the easy option? Of course not.
Much of this could be said for my smoking habit too. Smoking hadn’t yet started to impact my life as severely as my drinking, but I had watched it end my grandmother’s. Watching her, I had seen what it was like to struggle for breath, stretching long oxygen tubes across your house; to suffer through chemo for just a few extra months of survival. Was that the easy choice? Absolutely not.
When I think about how hard it was to get sober and quit smoking, I always remind myself of these even harder alternatives. I use to talk my way into relapses by telling myself that sobriety was “too hard” for me. Back then, I was ignoring the unfortunate truth that even if sobriety was hard, it was still the easiest option I had available.
For most addicts, quitting an addictive substance will not be easy. Most will struggle to get sober. They will fight tooth and nail to overcome their addictions. They will battle for years before finding success.
But, as hard as all of this might be, it’s still easier than giving up and succumbing to addiction. It’s easier than all of the years of pain and suffering that the addiction will bring.
When I was trying to overcome addiction, I wasn’t choosing between an easy option and a hard option. I was choosing between a hard option that would get easier over time—sobriety—and a hard option that would only keep getting harder—addiction.
Sobriety was hard in the beginning, but in the long run, it led to a far easier life. If I had stuck with my addictions, I know that life would have gotten more difficult with each passing year.
Quitting drinking and stopping smoking were two of the hardest challenges of my life, and it’s always been important to me not to sugarcoat that. But, by quitting these addictions, I’ve saved myself from many struggles that would have been far harder.
Sobriety wasn’t an easy option, but it was easier than letting my addictions continue to run—and ruin—my life.
To put it simply: Sobriety is hard, but addiction is harder.