10 Things I Learned When I Overcame Alcoholism, Got Divorced, And Lost My Job — All Amid A Pandemic

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We all have those life lists: things we wish would happen that never do: winning the lottery, experiencing love at first sight, taking the perfect family vacation, and then there are the life situations we all hope to avoid: alcoholism, divorce, getting fired from a job, etc. We shudder at the thought of them and hope we can make it through life keeping these dreaded events on our list of Nevers.

The past couple of years has introduced us all to some Nevers that seemed highly improbable — if not impossible — just a few years ago. The Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives and our world in ways we never thought possible.  

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In addition to the pandemic challenges we have all faced — or perhaps spurred on partly because of them — I have faced a plethora of Nevers over the last year that could have destroyed me. At times they came near to doing so.

In the course of eight months, I admitted my alcoholism and sought professional treatment; lost my marriage, and was unexpectedly fired from a job I had held for seven years — all during a devastating pandemic.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned on how to survive when your worst Nevers become a reality.

1. It begins with accepting reality.

In the therapeutic community, they refer to this as “Radical Acceptance”: not judging the situation that is before you but simply being honest enough to see it for what it is and accepting it as true. For me, this began last May when, after years of lying to myself and to others, I finally broke free from denial and admitted a truth that I never thought would apply to me: I am an alcoholic.

I have an inability to control my drinking once it starts, and over time it was leading to more and more dire consequences for myself and my family. Before I lost my job, my home, or my family, I decided to admit the truth and check into rehab.

As I sat on my cheap plastic mattress in the small, dark room I shared with another alcoholic, I had a hard time comprehending how I was in this position. I never thought I would be here. But this was reality.

2. Live one day at a time.

Any project can become overwhelming to the point of paralysis when taken in its entirety but when broken down into steps, it becomes attainable. Similarly, any major life crisis is overwhelming and can paralyze: how can I achieve a lifetime without drinking alcohol?

An important concept I learned is to live one day at a time. Don’t focus on the rest of your life being sober. Stay sober today. Don’t wonder how you will find love again down the road when your marriage has collapsed. Do what you have to do to make it through today.

Life and its Nevers are much more manageable one day at a time.

3. You won’t get anywhere until you are honest.

You need to begin to be honest with others to be able to handle the hard Nevers of life.

While social media allows us to easily present the best aspects of our lives while hiding the ugly parts, the hard things need to be dealt with in honest, real, nitty-gritty relationships where we are free to share what is really going on and what we are struggling with. Of course, this need for relationships means that:

4. You cannot do it alone.

What I learned in rehab and through attending AA in the months that followed is a lesson that I’m glad I learned when I did.

One of the signature symptoms of alcoholism (and other mental illnesses, as well) is isolation: removing oneself from life-giving social connections in order to feed an ever-growing addiction or other problem. A catch-22 of isolation is that it makes it difficult to ask for help.

With growing substance abuse and a shrinking social circle, help seems like a lighthouse that is miles away in a hurricane tempest, even when such help is desperately wanted and needed. But realizing that one needs help and being willing to reach out for help is a critical step in handling desperate situations.

Otherwise, even if you accept the truth of the situation, you will not have the help that you need to move forward.

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5. There is help out there if you are willing to ask for it…

Despite the feeling of hopelessness and isolation, rehab and AA taught me that there is always help available, but only when we are willing to ask for it — not once but over and over again.

It is through this process of attending meetings multiple times a week and talking openly about my struggles with others that I have been able to string together nearly a year of sobriety, even though the storms have followed my early recovery. 

6. …but help from others only goes so far without humility.

One of the hardest things I have had to learn in both recovery and in surviving my onslaught of Nevers is to have the humility to listen to others.

Even if I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye or have a similar life situation to another person, asking others for help and being honest with them has shown me that there is something I can learn from anyone.

This requires great humility and the willingness to listen, but when we listen, we can both learn from others and find the beauty in each individual person and their unique experience.

7. Relying on others and asking for help is applicable throughout life.

This principle of relying on others for strength rather than doing it all on my own is what has carried me through the rest of the Nevers I have encountered in the last several months. I would hate to face any one of these situations on its own: piled on top of each other in the span of months as they have been would have destroyed me if I had not learned to ask for help when I did.

Instead, because I learned to share my struggles and let others know about what was going on inside me, I have been able to find perspective, hope, and encouragement in some of the bleakest moments of my life.

8. You never arrive.

Recovery — whether from an addiction or a traumatic Never event — is not a course to be passed.

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You do not graduate and receive your “Recovered” diploma.

The scars that come from these life events remain with you throughout your life, and these principles need to be practiced on a consistent basis to maintain a healthy perspective. But in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, “Your wounds are where the light shines through.”

9. You maintain your strength by giving it away.

Asking for help from others and sharing about yourself honestly is all well and good, but to keep the momentum going it is necessary to also give back to others.

Like a blocked river that will become stagnant and overflow its banks, continuously seeking help without having the outlet of also offering it back to others is not sustainable.

To keep the process going, I had to also learn to give back to others and help those in need to whatever extent I was able. This is the beauty of having to face your own worst Nevers: someday, you’ll be able to offer a hand to someone who’s going through their own.

The wounds you have experienced and dealt with in your life become the avenues through which you can shine a light into others’ darkest moments.

10. There will always be another Never.

Just as you never “arrive” after a difficult time, you can always be certain that there will be another Never to come. This is not to be fearful or pessimistic but to “radically accept” the reality of what it means to be human.

While you can always expect further difficulties in life, I have found great comfort in the fact that — with the tools I have learned in recovery and by relying on others for help — I know that I will be able to face them and make it through.

In many ways, following these lessons that I have learned over the course of months in recovery and dealing with my onslaught of Nevers has felt like swimming counter-culturally: asking for help; expressing vulnerability; speaking honestly and openly about my feelings and my struggles.

Today, this feels like taking the road that is less traveled. But believe me, when it comes to facing the Nevers of life, taking that road will make all the difference.

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Alex Alexander is a contributor to YourTango.

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