If You’re Going Through Hell, Find the Safest Exit

By David Bohl
Posted on July 16, 2019 on the David B. Bohl website

There’s a misconception that with sobriety your life becomes amazing as you bask in the happiness of clean living and all of your problems seem easier to solve – that is if you have any problems at all! I’m exaggerating, of course, nobody believes it’s really that easy but many still believe that becoming sober or clean is like walking through some kind of a magic door that leads to paradise. For some it might. For some sobriety is a straight road to a better, happier, healthier life. For many others it isn’t.

It is often that, in sobriety, people learn about what used to underlay their drinking or using – trauma, mental-health illness, combinations of all other factors that need to be dealt with. For many of us it turns out that substance use was even a necessary evil, a coping mechanism that helped us get through life’s troubles that could otherwise destroy us completely. Some of us drank to deal with abusive situations at home, some used drugs to dull the memories of childhood traumas, some used substances to fight depression or quiet the voices of mania. Once you take the substances away, there you are, still left with your issues and all the emotional and psychological fallout from them.

This is why for a lot of us recovery – and especially early recovery – can be quite hellish, quite the opposite of what we expect. Sober and clean, we are now facing a reality with no option to hide from it and its ugliness, however that ugliness presents. Sober and clean, some of us have to deal with divorces, courts, finding housing or employment. All kinds of stressful events that would normally trigger us into using again present themselves. This is why it’s important to make recovery your Number One—for as long as it takes for your brain and your body to adapt to reality of dealing with life on life’s terms.

What does making recovery your Number One mean? It means attending your support groups, whether those are AA meetings or some other form of connecting with people like you. It means re-learning some of the basics of living such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, taking care of your busy, panicked mind in the form of meditation or even through reading self-help books. It also means talking to professionals about the issues that you might discover have been buried under the cloak of addiction. It might mean taking medication for your depression or bipolar disorder, and it might mean signing up for therapy to deal with your anxiety (cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, mindfulness based stress reduction – something that you will find beneficial for your particular issue). There might be a lot of trial and error in the beginning when trying to find out which medication is right for you and before that, which diagnosis fits. Psychology is not a perfect science, and as it is with anything that needs perfecting, getting ourselves better takes time and it’s not instantly successful.

Your main job and motivation is to under no circumstances revert to drugs or alcohol to help you cope. I’m not pontificating – I’m simply stating one truth about addiction, which is that it is a chronic disease and that it will try to get you when you’re most vulnerable – so watch out for it. I believe that dealing with whatever trouble surfaces in your sober life will be better dealt with while sober than high or hungover or in other state of disrepair (despair) related to your addiction. Sometimes it will take all your strength -mental, physical, spiritual – to get through the day when things get tough but once you get through it once, you’ll have proof that it’s possible. Then, next time you come across an obstacle, you’ll know that you’ve dealt with it in the past without the aid of alcohol or drugs. Even if your trouble is ongoing and depleting you from whatever inner resources you have, please know that there are many others like you who have succeeded and who were able to face their reality. Those are the people you will meet in meetings or therapy; those are the people you can read about in memoirs, see documentaries or movies about – let them inspire you.

There is a great quote by Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And I will add, don’t stop, don’t look at the flames and don’t look back – time and perseverance will lead you to an exit. And the next time hell comes, you’ll hopefully have the map and will be able to navigate a solid escape.

Parallel UniversesDavid B. Bohl, author of the memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, is an independent addiction consultant who fully understands the challenges faced by so many who seek to escape from, or drown their pain through, external means. His story offers hope to those struggling with the reality of everyday life in today’s increasingly stressful world.

You can visit his website here: David B. Bohl.

Through his private practice substance use disorder consulting business, Beacon Confidential LLC, David provides independent professional consultation, strategic planning, motivation and engagement, care coordination, recovery management and monitoring, and advocacy services to individuals, families, and organizations struggling with substance use issues and disorders.


7 Responses

  1. Oren says:

    Good one, David. As usual, you are succinct, and stay relevant in your communication, whether written or spoken. I agree completely with your message that abstinence will always increase the probability of successfully resolving our coexisting problems, whether they were caused by, or perhaps were causes of our addictions. It is heartening to have another practical article that focuses on the realistic problems we may face, and on the realistic resources we can use in recovery.

    • Thank you Oren. I’m grateful for your support and delighted you found value in it. I think AA Agnostica does a great job sharing these resources.

    • Chris C says:

      Thank you for your post. I can relate to what I take to be your point.

      I have often said at meetings that my life was on fire when I quit drinking. Indeed, that fire had everything to do with why I quit. Had things continued to chug along relatively smoothly, as they had for years, I’d never have stopped. The pain of going on as I was had to exceed the pain of going on in a new way in order for me to make the change.

      But I digress … once sober I had to put out the fire. Then I had to clean up the mess where possible, accept the losses where necessary, and find ways to “live life on life’s terms.” None of it came easy. There was no magic transformation. I’ve never been able to relate to the pink cloud crowd.

      YMMV, but my experience has been that sobriety is no cake walk. Still … worth it in the way that most hard won efforts are worth it. My life and the lives of those whose lives are tangled up in mine are immeasurably better now than they were when I was drinking.

  2. Denise says:

    Thank you for this article. I was one of those whose early recovery was a giant slice of hell, delivered without anaesthesia, while many around me were floating on pink clouds. There wasn’t even a name for some of the problems I was addressing, let alone treatment. I will always be grateful to those who helped me in those dark times, even though our resources were so limited.

  3. Lance B. says:

    Thanks, David. What I’m going to take from your article is the need for the Christian members of our groups to associate with those other alcoholics who have similar enough beliefs to be most helpful. The people who find comfort in a group of mostly alcoholics who meet for bible and big book study at a local church can be encouraged to use that resource even if it is not an AA group. And staying secular in all of our registered AA groups is best though it is probably OK for people who truly believe a supernatural being saved their bacon to find common ground with others in our traditional meetings. I do wish they’d make contact and then go someplace to cozy up away from me and the meeting I’m attending though.

    You, of course, list several other suggestions for each person making recovery number one.

  4. Bob F. says:


    Very nicely said and very true. Thank you.

    For many years, I could not understand why, despite conscientiously working my Program, I had not realized the AA Big Books’ ‘Promises’. Finally, I understood the reality of what the Promises clearly state: “Sometimes quickly” [ my addition here – most times] slowly.”

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