How Therapy Helped Me Understand Myself and Strengthen My Sobriety

Person with short hair wearing sweater sits on fence and looks into the distanceMy name is Louise Rowlinson, and I’m a sober blogger. I have been in recovery from alcohol addiction for about four and a half years. I want to share with you my personal story of therapy and how valuable I have found it as I continue on my journey of sobriety

I stopped drinking on September 21, 2013 after trying for many years to manage my alcohol intake. One way I attempted to manage my drinking was by moderating it, or drinking less than the public health guidelines. But I wasn’t able to manage this. Next, I had the idea that if I could “fix” my thinking about drinking I would be able to drink again, at a later date, as a strictly social drinker. 

So, after seven months without drinking alcohol, I began a course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT Helped Me Explore My Thoughts

I first learned about CBT as part of my psychology degree studies. Not only had I heard good things about its ability to help with recovery, a very experienced person was recommended to me. So I began a 20-week course of therapy.

The conversations I had with my therapist helped me discover my unhelpful thought patterns, the type of thoughts identified and worked with in CBT. These thoughts show up in our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and they can affect our ability to manage our own emotions. In other words, I learned that the self-destructive thoughts I sometimes had affected my feelings and behavior.

I had a whole set of rules in my head that I lived by. Some of the thought processes I struggled with included:

  • Catastrophizing. In my head any negative event would have the worst possible outcome.  
  • Black-and-white thinking, where my thinking became fixed.
  • Jumping to conclusions. I thought I knew what the outcome would be, always. But in reality, how could I know what was going to happen or what someone else might be thinking? 
  • Labeling myself a failure. I would tell myself I “should” or “must” do something. When I couldn’t meet my own self-imposed rules, I felt like a failure. For example, I’d tell myself “I won’t drink on a weekday.” Then, I would end up drinking on a weekday and tell myself I was a “loser” for not following through.
  • Overgeneralization, or drawing false conclusions based on one example. I realized I was feeling bad after comparing myself to others.  

I thought these “rules,” these patterns of thinking were unchangeable. Through therapy, I learned that I could change them. I also came to understand that I could not drink again. Drinking was not a helpful coping strategy. It had started out as helpful, but it had become destructive. Staying away from alcohol was one of the best ways of ensuring my negative thoughts stayed away. Although I drank to hide from the extreme feelings I had, drinking only made me think bad things about myself—for example, that I wasn’t good enough. As time has gone on, those thoughts and feelings have almost entirely gone away. This is in part due to the next therapeutic encounter I was lucky enough to have.

Continuing in Therapy

As part of a year of study for a postgraduate diploma in counseling, I had to participate in weekly therapy sessions as well as group therapy sessions. Both the knowledge and skills gained in my studies and group experience helped inform my recovery journey, but it was through my individual therapy that I achieved the most healing.

Because addiction was an important aspect of my recovery journey, I spent one day a week volunteering at a local drug and alcohol residential treatment center. I decided to seek a therapist recommendation from care providers at the center, and what a blessing that turned out to be!

The therapist I was referred to specialized in addiction, family, and trauma. This combination of specializations made her a good fit for me, as I believed that both childhood trauma and my lack of relationship with my mother had led to my difficulties with alcohol. I was keen to look at these things in a safe space, and it seemed like this person had both the knowledge and skills to help me continue in the path to recovery. And she was.

Improving Boundaries and Relationships

The experience I had in therapy was life-changing. I was finally able to understand so much about myself, including  how and why I reacted the way I did to people and events in my life. I learned that my childhood experiences were not of my making or choosing. I was also able to make the connection between my shaky attachment relationship with my mother and my lack of understanding of my emotions as a young person. Finally, I learned how my alcohol addiction had helped me hide my anxiety and distress.

The experience I had in therapy was life-changing. I was finally able to understand so much about myself, including  how and why I reacted the way I did to people and events in my life.

Therapy also helped me work on my relationship with my husband and two children. I was happy to pursue therapy and put in the work because I knew bad experiences could be passed on to my children. The last thing I wanted was for my relationship with my children to be like my relationship with my mother. I worried this might happen without therapeutic work, without my being aware of it. But therapy enabled me to see my relationships through new eyes and learn how to relate in a more insightful way. As a result, I have learned to pause and reflect before simply reacting. I have also learned to be more compassionate to myself—which increases my compassion for others.

As a child, I learned to put the needs of others before my own. Learning this helped me understand why I had chosen to become a nurse, but it also allowed me to examine the boundaries I set with others and improve my self-care practices. My fear of risking rejection had prevented me from looking after myself in a more caring way. My increased awareness helped me learn how I could take care of myself and meet my own needs.

So where would I be now in my recovery journey, without my therapy experiences? It’s hard to say, but both of the therapy processes I participated in have informed and strengthened my sobriety. They have strengthened it so much, in fact, that the thought of drinking is only a distant memory. 

Each day, I continue my sober journey, knowing that drinking has no place in my future. If you struggle to manage or moderate your drinking, think you may have a problem with alcohol, or wonder if you should invest in therapy, I encourage you to reach out for help. Because if you are asking yourself the question, you already have your answer.

Lousie Rowlinson is a UK public health nurse who lives and works in Australia as a consultation liaison nurse for Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Services. Once psychologically dependent on alcohol, she is now in the early years of recovery. More information about her work to achieve and maintain sobriety can be found on her blog, which is based on personal experience as well as the knowledge and skills she acquired as a general nurse, psychology graduate, research assistant to the Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Samaritan volunteer, and postgraduate diploma specialist community public health nurse.

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  • 2 comments
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  • HelenS

    HelenS

    April 18th, 2018 at 11:49 AM

    Where can I find a list of treatment centers?

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    April 19th, 2018 at 10:46 AM

    Thanks for your comment, Helen. If you would like to search for a treatment center located in your area, please feel free to visit https://www.goodtherapy.org/treatment-centers and enter your zip code into the search field. Once you enter your zip code, you’ll be directed to a list of treatment centers. From this list, you can click to view the treatment center’s full profile and contact information. Alternatively, you are welcome to call us for assistance finding a treatment center. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, in danger of hurting yourself or others, feeling suicidal, overwhelmed, or in crisis, it’s very important that you get immediate help! Information about what to do in a crisis is available here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

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