It occurred to me this morning that I haven't talked about one of the most fundamental core beliefs that come up for pretty much every single addicted person. In fact, this core belief, on some level, is one of the very definitions of addiction. It's one of the things that comes up when we first begin to ask ourselves those terrifying questions. You know the ones, "Do I drink too much?" Or, "Do I have a problem drinking?" Or worst of all, "Am I an alcoholic?" The moment these questions surface we begin to find ways to bury them. They are not questions we want to consider the answers to because if our fear is true then we know we have a potentially long road ahead of us.
We learn almost immediately that the only way to combat the uncomfortable truths we feel as they begin to needle their way into our psyche is to deny them. Interestingly enough, this is one of the stages of grief, too. And even more interesting is how this stage may actually hold the key to the level of difficulty we experience in the early stages of sobriety. You are probably asking yourself, how does the denial of truth help me have a better experience in sobriety? Well, it's not the denial part that is helpful, it's in the understanding of why we are denying the truth that may be helpful in recovery.
I don't have a problem with alcohol
First of all, if we proclaim this statement, isn't there at least some chance that we do in fact have some sort of a problem with alcohol? Most people don't proclaim they do not have a problem with something they don't have a problem with; it's unnecessary. We don't say things like, "I don't have a problem with walking." Or, "I don't have a problem with talking." Or, "I don't have a problem with breathing." There is no reason to proclaim such things because we know we don't have a problem with them. Conversely, what happens when we do something accidentally and get hurt, and we know that injury could mean we can't do something we love? For example, I love to snowboard in the winter. If I get hurt screwing around playing football and I worry that my injury may screw up my ability to snowboard the following weekend, what is the first thing I am going to tell myself? "I am okay. I can walk. I don't have a problem." Why do I say that? Because I am terrified that I am hurt, and if I am hurt then I can't go snowboarding. So I deny the possibility to make myself feel better.
I believe the same to be true with addictions. If we are worrying about whether or not we have a problem, we most likely have a problem. We make statements like, "I don't have a problem with alcohol," because we don't want to have a problem with alcohol. If we tell ourselves enough times we hope it will be true. Unfortunately, telling ourselves we don't have a problem doesn't make the problem go away. In fact, it could be argued that we actually make the problem worse by giving more energy to the problem. I don't know how many people I have heard state that the turning point in their addiction was the simple acknowledgment that there was a problem. Once we acknowledge the problem, we can then open our hearts and minds up to change. We can't change anything about ourselves if we don't think we need to change.
Alcohol is the problem
I thought about how to best state the reciprocal of the original core belief but I did not like the opposite, "I have a problem with alcohol." I don't know if that is the most beneficial belief to hold either. If I say the problem is me, then I believe it is much easier to fall back on the crutch that it's not my fault if I fail because I have a problem. I am a victim. A victim mentality is not the best mentality to hold in order to successfully negotiate the conundrum that is addiction. With that in mind, I chose to change the original core belief to; alcohol is the problem. I am sorry to be the one to break this to you, but alcohol is a problem for all of us whether we think we have a "problem" or not. Physiologically and emotionally speaking, there are no positive long term effects from the use of alcohol. Yes, I know we have all heard that wine is good for us but maybe take some time and look at who is behind and the motivation for those studies.
How does the verbiage of the new core belief help the addict? It's simple. Rather than allowing ourselves to fall on a crutch, we instead offer ourselves a choice. If my core belief is that alcohol is the problem, then every single time I think about drinking, I have given myself a choice. One, I knowingly drink the substance that alters my body and mind to such a state that I will no longer be in control of my faculties. Or two, I knowingly refuse to drink the substance because I know that it is a problem. When I choose the second option I have not only made a conscious choice to stay on my path, I have gained strength and confidence in my ability to continue making that choice. I believe the difference between the two reciprocal core beliefs is choice.
Every moment without a drink is a choice not to drink.
"May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears." - Nelson Mandela.