Last week, I reverted back to my personal fascination with the concept of core beliefs and how they can affect our ability to succeed in life, and especially in sobriety. The reason I am so intrigued by this concept is that it has affected me greatly in my sobriety, and I can't help but think it can help others in their sobriety as well. There were two areas of my life where the way I perceived things largely diminished my ability to overcome problems in my life. The first was the way I perceived myself, and the second was the way I perceived alcohol. These are the two areas of my life I will focus on while speaking to the concept of core beliefs because they are the most relevant to the subject of sobriety. It is important to remember, however, our core beliefs and perceptions affect all aspects of our lives, not just sobriety
Three Areas of Conflict
In the framework of core beliefs, there are three areas we must first understand in order to successfully negotiate a positive change in our lives. Most of the time, when we are trying to make a change in the way we live our lives, we understand one or maybe even two of the areas associated with a problem we want to change. If we are still struggling, it is generally because we don't fully understand at least one of the three areas of conflict, yet. The three areas we must understand are cognitive, or the way we think about things; emotional, or the way we feel about things; and behavioral, or what we do as a result of the other two areas. Generally speaking, for addicts, the area of behavior is quite obvious. We drink too much. We do too many drugs. We smoke too much. We use sex as a drug. There are many behaviors and substances associated with the makeup of an addict. For the most part, once the addict recognizes their problem, the addict wants to stop a particular behavior. While this is touted as a great first step, it is not the most important.
When I first started my journey, I had several addictions I needed to come to terms with, but for the purposes of this blog, I will focus on my addiction to alcohol. It is quite easy to understand the behavioral area when talking about an addiction to alcohol. I drank too much. Trying to understand the cognitive and emotional areas can be a little more tricky. What we think and what we feel about our addictions is sometimes the entire problem of why we are using a substance like alcohol in the first place. For some of us, we don't like what we think about so we find something to drown out those thoughts. For others, we don't like how we feel so we find something to numb our unwanted feelings. It doesn't matter what we use to drown our thoughts or numb our feelings, as long as we are doing (behavioral) those things, we are going to struggle to understand the most important question of all, why?
As I said, this area is pretty easy to understand, but let's take a look at it anyway to be sure we are adequately addressing all three areas of the problem. I drank too much. Throughout my life, drinking too much has been a problem for me on some level. From my introduction to alcohol, some of you may remember my story about getting drunk at the age of twelve while babysitting, to my functionally alcoholic adult life, alcohol always played a role in how I dealt with my problems, feelings, thoughts, and the world in general. It was an easy answer to everything. If I didn't like the way a scenario played out, I drank. If I didn't like the way someone made me feel, I drank. If I didn't like a decision I made, I drank. If everything was going really well, I drank. If there was someone or something to mourn, I drank. If there was something to celebrate, I drank. If there was nothing of note happening, I drank. You get the picture. I drank for any and no reason. Drinking was the negative behavior I engaged in, and I wanted to change that behavior. Why?
I got tired of waking up in the morning feeling like death. I got tired of making incredibly poor decisions that affected more people than myself. I got tired of not remembering important events in my life. I got tired of needing alcohol all of the time. Are these adequate reasons to quit drinking? That is a question for you to answer for yourself. I, personally, don't believe they are important enough reasons to quit successfully. There are so many more aspects of an addiction we have to take into account before we can successfully walk away from the behavior associated with years of engaging in an addiction. Yes, hangovers suck. Yes, paying for bad decisions suck. Yes, losing years of my memories suck. Those are just symptoms of a much larger problem. Hangovers are not the problem. The true problem lies in why. Why was I drinking in the first place? Why did I rely on my addictions? Why do I need to escape a reality many people negotiate successfully every day?
The behavioral aspect of our addictions is simply the addiction. It is the thing we are doing that causes problems in our life. Whether it is a substance that gets in the way of our ability to live well or physical behavior that gets in the way of our ability to live well, it is something we physically do and, more importantly, it is something we choose to do. The idea of choice is where I see many people get hung up with their addictions. It does not feel good to admit that I am choosing to do something damaging to myself or others. It does not feel good to think I have more power than I thought. It does not feel good to know I could have changed my behavior at any time. It does not feel good to know I have consciously chosen to destroy my relationships, my memories, my family, my career, and my life. It doesn't feel good to say I had a choice. It doesn't feel good, but it is true.
Some of us believe that our addictions remove the choice component from our problems. I have a hard time with this because I believe this way of thinking encourages a victim mentality. Blaming my problem with alcohol on the chemical components and addictive nature removes my ability to overcome those things. Do I believe there are chemical components to my addiction? Of course, I do. But, I have to also believe I have the ability to make different choices. I have to believe I am stronger than my addiction. I have to believe I can choose to live a better life. I have to believe that the choices I make are mine. The reason I believe so strongly we can choose not to drink is that most of us do it every day at some point. We make a conscious choice not to drink in the morning. We make a conscious choice not to drink at work. We make a conscious choice not to drink while driving. We make a conscious choice not to drink when we are doing something dangerous. We make choices all the time that suggests we have the power to choose not to drink. The only difference is in duration, but how long we choose not to drink is up to us too.
Any time we act in a particular way, we make and have a choice. I believe the first step in successful sobriety is owning the choices we make. Until we do that, we cannot own our sobriety either. The next step in successfully changing our behavior revolves around the idea of understanding why we make the choices we make. This is where the cognitive and emotional components come in to play. As you will see in my blog on Thursday, these components can be much more challenging to understand and grasp than the simple behavior.