It Takes Courage to Recover from Substance Abuse

It Takes Courage to Recover from Substance Abuse

The Courage to Stop being an Addict

“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push towards the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, as I want to be a better man, father, and player.”

~New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, on the eve of the 2015 American League wild-card game

A little more than a week ago, former Cy Young Award winner and All-Star CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees shocked the sports world by announcing that he had a drinking problem and was checking himself into an alcohol rehab center.

Because of a recent series of incidents, there was already an inkling that there might be some sort of personal issue. But there are two factors that made his admission so startling.

First, there was the frankness and lack of equivocation with which Sabathia delivered the news. He did not try to hide or make excuses, as has been the wont of many celebrities when their struggles with drugs and alcohol became public.

Instead, the 15-year veteran took full responsibility, saying, “Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids – and others who may have become fans of mine over the years – to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart, and be the type of person again that I can be proud of.”

Second, there was the timing of the announcement. The next day, the Yankees were scheduled to face the Houston Astros in a one-game wild-card playoff. Because of the importance of the game, the Yankees were considering using the 35-year-old Sabathia, and if they were to win, he was an important member of their pitching staff and would be instrumental in the following playoff rounds.

Bigger Than Baseball

The next day, the Yankees lost the game, and their season was over.

And you know what?

In New York, where baseball is almost a religion, and the Yankees are the world’s most famous team, no one is blaming Sabathia. The support for his very personal yet very public admission is virtually universal. Everyone in the Yankees organization, the fans, and even the media are pledging their understanding, their support, and their admiration for Sabathia’s bravery.

The team’s general manager, Brian Cashman, said it best, commenting, “I think CC’s demonstrated a great deal of courage in trying to tackle this problem. Time and place have no bearing. There is something here that needs to be taken care of, and I applaud him for stepping up and doing everything necessary to solve this problem for himself as he moves forward.”

“When someone comes to you with the issue that he came to us with and said that he needs to get help and he needs it immediately, that’s the only focus.”

The First Step

Addicts and alcoholics are almost invariably at the center of a seemingly-contradictory dichotomy.

On the one hand, many suffer from profoundly-low self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness and unworthiness are extremely common. Despite how they might outwardly appear, in their own minds and in actuality they are frequently crippled by such disorders as anxiety and clinical depression.

However, on the other hand, their depressed ego is usually the very thing that keeps them from asking for help. Many substance abusers are too far in denial to admit that there is a problem, too stubborn to ask for help, and too proud to surrender their wills and lives to the care of another.

Laying aside that stubbornness, pride, and denial in order to admit that they are powerless over their drug of choice and that their life has become unmanageable as a result is the strongest, bravest thing they may have ever done in their life.


Admitting that there is a problem destroys the façade they have created in their lives. No longer can they lie to their friends, their families, their employers, and themselves that “Everything is fine.” With that admission, they begin to take responsibility for their own actions and their own recovery.

The Continued Role of Courage

Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”

~Bruce Lee

That bravery that they showed will serve them well in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

As they recover, they will have to have the courage to spend time in self-reflection, taking an unflinching look at the effects of this disease of addiction on their mind, body and moral character. This is the exact opposite of their former behavior, when they were miserable and could not stop their use of drugs and alcohol, and others accused them of using it as a means of escape.

They will have to have the courage to begin to understand that they have a disease and will power alone won’t work to resolve their problems and repair their relationships.  This, again, is the polar opposite of the way they formally did things, when they couldn’t see their own behavior and blamed their problems on someone else.

They will need that courage when they resolve to attempt to make amends to themselves and those people their addictive, behavior harmed in the past. This is completely different than their previous mindset, when they lived at the capricious whim of their disease, consequences be damned.

Most important of all, they will need that courage when they are actively sober, instead of actively addicted, because they will be either beginning or resuming the mantle of responsible adulthood. Rather than relying on someone else – a spouse, their parents, another loved one – to clean up their messes, they will take full responsibility and learn to face the consequences of their thoughts, words, and deeds.

Quitting Isn’t for Sissies

Being actively sober also means being actively emotionally sober.

Being emotionally sober means that the person in recovery understands that addiction is a lifelong disease that can never be cured, only managed. They understand that their continued sobriety depends upon their continued efforts at staying away from old behaviors and ways of thinking. Sometimes, this will mean making hard, seemingly-selfish choices to safeguard their sobriety, serenity, and sanity.

Staying away from the people, places, and things of their formally-addicted life isn’t easy. Neither is avoiding any potential triggers that can jeopardize their progress and possibly lead to a slip or a full-blown relapse.

Recovery takes work – hard, carefully-considered dedication. Since no day of sobriety is guaranteed, every day will require a new effort, one day at a time.

In the end, it is all worth it. When the disease of addiction is arrested and kept at bay, the recovering alcoholic/addict is free to become the best person that they were meant to be. They can have healthy, happy lives and relationships without having to constantly fear that they will lose it all to the next drug-fueled blowout.

When it comes to an addict regaining the life they have always deserved, perhaps Walt Disney said it best, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

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