By Mike Knowles
I met Simon, Alon and the team at Hope in April 2014. As I arrived with Paul after the drive from the airport in Bangkok, I wondered what I had got myself into as I entered the gates at Hope to this somewhat crazy orange, faux half-timbered house with a plane in the front lawn and the Eiffel tower in the back. Since then, I’ve remained sober, and have continued my recovery confronting issues that I couldn’t see while drinking or in the immediate aftermath.
Outwardly I was Happily Married & Successful – Inwardly I was an Alcoholic
In the first group sessions, I described myself as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Outwardly, I was Dr. Jekyll – educated, happily married with two adult children, and a successful career as a management consultant. Socially, I was a moderate drinker, almost a teetotaller. Inwardly, however, my Mr. Hyde is an alcoholic. Fear and shame meant I worked very hard to keep these two sides of me separate, at least, to the outside world. For many years, I believed this situation was okay, and it was relatively easy to keep these two sides of my life and behaviours apart. However, I had been trying to deal with Mr. Hyde for the last ten years, including several visits to rehab, and it had become exhausting and increasingly difficult to maintain this separation. Mr. Hyde was gradually taking over more of my thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
I had Never Challenged or been Forced to Look too Hard at Why Mr. Hyde Existed
I had initially thought that all I needed to do to address Mr. Hyde was to stop drinking – problem solved. And this worked for a while as I had been sober for periods of up to a year and a half. I attributed my relapses to either not having followed my ‘recovery plan(s)’, or to stress and stressful situations at work – wouldn’t anyone drink under these circumstances. Because I clung to my Dr. Jekyll persona, I had never challenged or been forced to look too hard at why Mr. Hyde existed and why I drank alcoholically. To me, drinking was just a bad habit that had gotten a bit out of control. When I got to Hope, I gradually accepted that I needed to be open to anything, including challenging some of my long held beliefs to deal with Mr. Hyde as I couldn’t blame my last relapse on anything.
I still Wanted to Control and Set Limits on What I Would Do in ‘Recovery’
I can’t say this was easy or something that happened immediately. I still wanted to control and set limits on what I would do in ‘recovery’. For example, I was very uncomfortable and reluctant to admit I was an alcoholic and to attend AA meetings. I justified this reluctance in part because the only ‘answer’ I seemed to get from AA meetings was “to just keep coming back” – I wanted a different, more complicated answer. I did, however, take Simon’s advice to look for one idea I could use rather than being dismissive and critical of everything. At one AA meeting in Pattaya, a long sober member mentioned that he used the Serenity Prayer to help him maintain his sobriety, and I thought ‘okay, that is something I could use’, and so I continued to attend AA after leaving Hope as part of maintaining my recovery.
I Discovered the ‘Real’ Mr. Hyde – and the Underlying Issues that Led to my Relapses
As life has thrown up new challenges, I have realised that Mr. Hyde has not disappeared simply because I stopped drinking. Mr. Hyde is still there, particularly when I am stressed, which is usually made worse by my impatience, intolerance, and high expectations, mostly of myself. This, I think, is the ‘real’ Mr. Hyde. It has been these underlying issues that have led me to relapse in the past and have the potential to lead to a relapse in the future. With some help, I’ve become more aware of my thought patterns and try to use a couple of techniques to help reduce their negative impacts. These are:
These are the Techniques that Help me Reduce the Negative Impacts of my Thought Patterns
Acceptance – I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak, and dislike rules, constraints or outcomes that don’t fit my view of the way things should be. Using the Serenity Prayer, I’m trying harder to accept the things I can’t change, focusing on the things I can, and being a bit wiser about the two.
Faith – having high standards and expectations, mostly of myself, I also get frustrated or resentful when things don’t turn out how I want them. While I’m beginning to realise that some expectations may be unrealistic, I also try to have faith that, if I’m doing the ‘right things’, things will eventually turn out okay. While the outcomes are not always what I expect, life is easier and less stressful than worrying too much and getting overly stressed about things that aren’t in my control.
Awareness – left unchecked my brain loves to dwell on my mistakes, regrets, slights and potential future catastrophes and ‘worst-case’ scenarios. I had always thought of myself as an optimistic and ‘glass half full’ kind of person. I don’t know if it is age or years of drinking that has gradually re-wired my brain, but I must continually be aware of these negative thoughts and thought patterns. I can’t eliminate them, but I try very hard to remind myself that they are just thoughts not reality.
Being a Bit Kinder to Myself and Giving Myself a Break Makes Relapse less likely
While these seem simple, I find them hard to do consistently. I try to keep aware of my Mr. Hyde thoughts and use these approaches to keep Mr. Hyde in check. Whether I can completely eliminate the unhelpful parts of my persona, I don’t know, but I do know that being a bit kinder to myself and giving myself a break makes life a lot easier and a relapse less likely.
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