Jeff Daniels recently opened up about his long-term sobriety and his relapse in the early 2000s when his career began to take off, for the second time. Daniels, who is now 61, and is most recently known for his work on the HBO show The Newsroom was 50 years old at the time. Actor Jeff Daniels has been sober for the better part of 25 years — but he suffered a setback shortly after turning 50. His career had just begun taking off again and that fateful night when he started to drink again, he had just checked into a hotel. He was putting his bag on the bed, when he says he heard a voice as clear as day, say, “haven’t you punished yourself enough.” Daniels said that he knew the voice was his own and he went straight to the hotel mini-bar and proceeded to drink.
Daniels dropped out of college and moved to New York City to become an actor. But a few years later, he returned to his hometown of Chelsea, Michigan, where he got married, had three kids and tried to keep his acting career afloat. He was determined to sustain his career from the Midwest for as long as he can, which became his business plan that did work for a while. Eventually, his career dropped off and he turned to other jobs to pay the bills.
But after his kids got older, he returned to acting as he began landing in bigger roles in the early 2000s. As his career began to flourish, it took a toll on his mental health. Daniels had been sober and in recovery for 14 years when he turned to alcohol just to take some of the stress away. He convinced himself he could have a beer just to relax.
Daniels describes the internal judge, that acts like a preverbal devil, sitting on our shoulders telling us lies, in hopes that we’ll act them out. He refers to when he is on stage and about to give a big speech and that judge chimes in, saying you’re going to screw this up. As an actor, he has learned to fire this judge, ignoring its whims, so that he can perform, but he says that night, he didn’t fire the judge but listened to him, which leads him directly back a drink.
The 14 year period before Daniels’ relapse was a period of sobriety that he undertook all on his own, without seeking professional help. He just decided to quit drinking one fine day, which he actually did. This brings up an interesting point, the difference between just being able to stop drinking for a period time and sobriety.
Many alcoholics find quitting alcohol for a long time on their own like an impossible task. But there are some people who think they have the ability to stop drinking by sheer will power alone. The problem with this is that it is not entirely sustainable. At some point without a strong foundation in recovery, the internal judge will show up, and there will be no defense.
Anyone who has struggled with alcoholism knows this relaxation strategy can quickly backfire. For Daniels, it only took a few months before he sought out professional help and got sober again. He has been sober ever since, and his career has continued to blossom. Daniels received a Tony nomination for his role in Blackbird on Broadway and won an Emmy for his leading role in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.
Daniels proceeded to drink for the next three months until he decided to stop and seek professional help. Considering his entire journey, sobriety is seen as two distinct periods, when it has been just a three month period of relapsing. One was trying to do it on his own and the second time when he realized that he can’t do this on his own.
Daniels experience reveals a common misconception that many people have about sobriety, that the ultimate goal and the ultimate proof of its existence are the absence of drinking, and while this is an important piece to sobriety, it is but only the beginning. After being sober for a period of time, you begin to understand that alcohol was not your problem, alcohol was merely the manifestation of your problem and paradoxically, for a while, the solution. The absence of the drink does not necessarily equate to a recovery from alcoholism, it simply means that the drink has been removed. Many people who are not alcoholics do not understand this, and in fact, many people who are alcoholics, until they get sober, do not understand this either.
Daniels goes on to say that after relapsing, he realized that he needed professionals who knew a lot more than he did about alcoholism in order to get the help that he needed. He was aware that his way of attempting to get sober on his own did not work and that only through seeking professional help from outside, could he manage to find sobriety again. Daniels hasn’t had a drink since then, which is just over 10 years.
An interesting aspect of this story is the time frame of Daniels’ relapse. It only lasted for 3 months. The time periods in between sobriety seems to get shorter and shorter once the cycle of sobriety and relapse begins. For instance, let’s say someone drank for 10 years before they entered their first rehab. They may achieve some measure of sobriety for a few months and then they go out and drink again. That person will more than likely enter into a treatment center again within the year. This means that they went from being able to go 10 years without entering into a treatment center, to only a year without entering into a treatment center. This pattern usually continues, with the time periods in between attempts at sobriety, getting shorter and shorter until the person achieves sobriety.
If there is something that is absent, it is the sense of guilt about his relapse. Many alcoholics feel a tremendous amount of guilt for being sober for a period of time and then going back to their old ways. There is usually a feeling that they have let down their family and friends and any trust that has been built up over the years has instantly been wiped away by a single moment of weakness in relapse. This guilt is enough to drive many back into relapsing, and it could be tremendously difficult to deal with it. But relapsing is nothing to feel ashamed of, as the true measure of a man is often discovered in his failures and not his successes. If you have found yourself in this position, seeking to get sober after a relapse, don’t let guilt keep you away from seeking the professional help you need.Read More...