I have said this several times, I know Annie Grace, author of "This Naked Mind" has said it, and I am honestly not sure where it originated but, you cannot quit drinking by not drinking. I posted this again the other day and a friend replied asking what it meant. The person was genuinely curious and wanted to know more, so I decided to write about it in more detail. First of all, what does the saying actually mean? Well, in the most basic terms, it means not drinking in and of itself is not the cure to the problems a person encounters with alcohol addiction. It means, just because you gave up ingesting the poison, doesn't mean you understand why you were doing it in the first place. It means, there is so much more to alcohol addiction than the simple act of drinking alcohol. It means you
CANNOT quit drinking alcohol by simply not drinking alcohol
I liken the idea of quitting drinking by not drinking to the grin and bear school of quitting an addiction. Grinning and bearing it means you dig your heels in and endure all the pain and suffering that comes with an uncomfortable action. It is done by sheer willpower and brute strength. I picture an old western movie where the cowboy bites on the blade of a knife while the uneducated doctor removes a bullet from the cowboy's leg. Now, I know people have done this "successfully" with addictions. I have personally known people who have done it, and I have certainly heard stories about such antics, but I have to question the legitimacy of the success. That may sound harsh, but let me explain. Genuinely, when we grin and bear something, we do so by replacing the unwanted thing or behavior with some other thing or behavior. This can be literally anything and more often than not, the thing we use to replace the unwanted thing or behavior is not much better. Let me give you an example.
Some of you have heard this story before, so I apologize for the repetition. A couple of months before I quit drinking, I gave up nicotine. Originally, I was going to quit drinking and nicotine at the same time, but once that journey began I quickly realized quitting both was unrealistic, for me. So, I stuck with giving up nicotine and found it to be much harder than I had anticipated. Since I failed at quitting drinking, and I don't like to fail at anything, I decided to dig my heels in with nicotine and grin and bear my nicotine cessation. The result? I gained twenty pounds in less than two months. Why? because I ate everything that was not nailed down in the kitchen. I replaced my nicotine addiction with food. I was struggling immensely. I was a grumpy mess and I could not find peace in anything I did. Was I successful? Yes, I was successful in the act of not using nicotine, but that was all. In everything else, I failed miserably. How? Because:
You cannot quit an addiction by not doing the addiction
To some of you this may sound a bit harsh, but is it not the truth? I remember hearing the school of thought that suggested replacing an addiction with another addiction was acceptable. The idea was the new addiction had less of a hold on you and therefore once you quit the original addiction the new addiction would be easier to quit. What a crock of shit. If you are addicted to anything you know addiction is addiction regardless of time served. There is no magical cure or a simple way out. You have to deal with your addiction in order to quit your addiction properly. What does that look like? Well, if you have been following me for any amount of time you know I subscribe to the idea that quitting an addiction can be easy. How? Quitting an addiction can be easy if you do it properly. Doing it properly means uncovering the why's surrounding your addiction. I wrote about Finding Our Why's in a blog not long ago, check it out.
The why's refer to why you drink and why you want to quit drinking. If your answers to those two questions have anything to do with alcohol, you are not on the right track. I don't mean to say you don't want to quit drinking, I just mean you are not in the right frame of mind, yet. You see, you didn't start drinking because it tasted good, because it made you feel better, because it made you feel more confident, because it allowed you to check out, or because it relaxed you. No, alcohol may have aided in all those things on a chemical level, but those are not the reasons you began drinking, continued drinking, and now have a problem with alcohol. The reason you began drinking is deeper, more complex, and not so simple. Of course, I cannot answer that question for you. You have to find your own reason, in terms of why you drink (or drank) for yourself. Here is an example. One of my whys revolved around worth, or I guess I should say, lack of self-worth. I drank because I felt I did not deserve anything better. I drank because I felt worthless.
You cannot quit drinking by not drinking
Similarly, you also have to find your own reason, in terms of why you want to quit drinking too. If your whys about quitting drinking are any of the following, you are not on the right track, yet: I'm tired of hangovers, I am sick of screwing things up, I am sick of feeling controlled, I cannot sleep, I'm tired of doing stupid shit, or I have to quit to save my relationship. These are not the whys you are looking for. Sorry for the weak Star Wars allusion. No, much like why we drink, we have to dig deeper to find the why of our desires to quit drinking too. Again, it is not to say we are not tired of all those things, it is the fact that those things do not carry the necessary emotional weight to make our quitting easier. Here is an example. I am tired of hangovers. Okay, there is definitely truth in this statement. So, I quit drinking and stop having hangovers. Now, let me remind you of a statement every single one of us has made in our past while in active addiction. "I am never going to drink again." Sound familiar? Do you remember how much you meant it when you said it? I do. Why do we so quickly forget how horrific we felt at that moment? Because time has a way of erasing our emotional resolve if our resolve is not strong enough to last the test of time. Once I stop feeling like shit, I forget how shitting it actually felt.
Why do I want to quit drinking? For me, my why revolved around growth. My partner and I asked ourselves one simple question before we embarked on our easy sober journeys. What is the one thing we can stop doing that will have the greatest beneficial effect on our lives. There was no question it was alcohol. When I first went to therapy, my therapist asked me a question that may be difficult for some to answer. For me, the answer was almost too easy. She asked, "What would you be doing if you were not engaged in your addictions?" I replied without hesitation, "I would be writing more, spending more time with my family, doing more photography, exercising more, and living better." I didn't even have to think about it. Then she asked, "What is getting in the way of you actually doing those things?" My answer, "My addictions." It's not rocket science, but you do have to know what you are missing, what you can gain, and whether or not those things are important enough to you to last the test of time.
You cannot quit drinking by not drinking.
Am I getting through to you yet? Are you thinking about your whys in terms of drinking or any other addictions? Have you come up with some ideas about your whys that have nothing to do with alcohol? What are they? Do not settle for a few inspiring thoughts. Write them down, in detail. Instead of saying, "I want to remember the time I spend with family," say "I want to remember every detail of every holiday, vacation, life moment, and bedtime story." Be specific and go into detail. The more profound our whys, the easier our sobriety will feel. I cannot stress enough the importance of this aspect of our journies. Spend some time with it. Dig deep. Ask yourself the real questions. Be honest and truthful with yourself. Remember, it is your journey and you have the greatest impact on the actual success of your journey. Give yourself permission, be powerful, and take back the control you once gave away to alcohol.
Quit drinking by not wanting to drink any longer
If you want a little help digging deeper, try my free 7-Day Sobriety Challenge.