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Motivated Sobriety


I just spent the morning reading about Maslow's theory regarding our hierarchy of needs. He postulated a person has to fulfill certain basic needs, (food, water, shelter, etc...) before they can adequately seek out higher-level needs, (learning, self-worth, creativity). In his theory, the basic needs are referred to as deficiency needs, and the higher-level needs are referred to as growth needs. I was fascinated by his theory, and I couldn't stop reading about all the different aspects that make up our hierarchy of needs. Of course, like all great minds of the past, newer generations have to flex their intellectual muscles by tearing down the intellect of those who came before them, nevermind the fact that the context has now changed and just because the older theories may not seem as relevant now, they were the highest level of thinking at the time. Maslow is no different, however, even with the negative criticism he has received, his theories have held strong and are still referred to in many different aspects of the human condition. His theories got me thinking about alcohol and our motivation to either keep drinking it or to quit drinking it altogether.

First, let's talk a little bit about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. He uses the visual of a pyramid to describe how the hierarchy works (simplepsychology.org). On the base of the pyramid are our most basic needs, foot shelter, water, etc... Once we fulfill those needs, we are then more motivated to move up the pyramid and work towards fulfilling needs such as safety, belongingness, and esteem. All of these needs fall into the category of deficiency. Without them, we are somewhat incapable of moving higher on the pyramid and toward the higher-level needs categorized as growth. The growth needs are as follows: cognitive, self-actualization, and finally transcendence. In the growth stages of our hierarchy of needs is where we find the motivation to learn more (not simply to survive), it is where our creativity is able to reach its fullest potential, and it is where we can also step outside ourselves and work towards helping others and the world in general. If this is not interesting to you, as an addict, I don't know what to say. Alarms should be sounding in your head, lights should be going off, and you should have said, "Awww, fuck!" at least once. I know I did.


Alcohol's numbing of my desire and need to find self-worth destroys any ability

I have of ever climbing the pyramid toward growth


Why is this so fascinating? It is fascinating to me because it is all based on the idea of motivation and what motivates us to live, or not to live as it is when we are bound by the constraints of addiction. If you look at the pyramid, the needs that are the most often not met for the addict are right above the most basic needs of food, water, and shelter (simplepsychology.org). Safety, belongingness, and esteem are all required to be met and fulfilled before we can obtain the ability to grow, per Maslow's theory. With this in mind, a double entendre presents itself to the emerging addict. If like me one of the needs not being met is self-worth based on extrinsic experience and information, then I am not capable of moving up the pyramid. The longer I stay deficient in this area, the harder it is to fulfill the deficiency. The double entendre occurs here; because of my inability to gain self-worth and therefore fulfill this need, I find alcohol as a way to escape the feeling associated with this need and stop trying to fulfill it all together. Alcohol's numbing of my desire and need to find self-worth destroys any ability I have of ever climbing the pyramid toward growth. I stall out and settle for less than I deserve.


It doesn't matter what aspect triggers our "need" for alcohol, once our need for self-worth, safety, belonging, love, etc... is replaced by a need for alcohol, then alcohol becomes more vital to our perceived health and well-being. The problem is, our need for alcohol can never be fulfilled and therefore we are rendered incapable of ever climbing the pyramid further and lose the opportunity to find real and true growth. We and our lives become stagnant, unmoving, and dormant until we either find a motivation stronger than our need for alcohol or we die. This is what fascinated me so much this morning. Just recently my partner and I were talking about how much things have changed since we quit drinking. It occurred to me, looking back at my drinking days, I didn't even know I was stuck. I didn't know I was stagnant. I didn't know I had settled for less than I deserved. I thought I was a productive and creative member of society when in reality I was simply just trying to survive the lowest rungs of the ladder on the pyramid toward true growth. That is what alcohol does to us; it masks the truth of our reality. It keeps us trapt in a fog of misperceived attention and forces us to continually travel in a circular trajectory toward nowhere. Do you know what makes this even worse? We go out of our way to praise alcohol for "helping" us remain immobile.


I try to avoid idioms as much as I can, but above this line, the sky is truly the limit


Now, let's look at the other side of this equation. What happens when we choose life over alcohol? What happens when we decide to find our self-worth; our safety and security; our family, community, and love? When alcohol is not numbing our hopes and desires and keeping us from finding these aspects of our lives, we become more open to them. You may ask, "Yeah, but what about before I began drinking? I was open then too, right?" Of course, but alcohol is not the only thing that prevents us from finding our true selves. It is, however, very good at ensuring we never do once we choose to go down its winding and disorienting path. Keep in mind, sometimes our negative experiences can fuel our desire to change if we let them; if we do not give up, quit, and succumb to a life that is less than we deserve. Whatever the initial reason was preventing us from feeling the motivation to grow, once alcohol got in the way, it became the problem. Fortunately, it can also become the motivation to change and grow once we experience the difference. I have never once heard someone say they regretted their decision to stop drinking. Keep that in mind.


Once we climb up from the bottom of the pyramid and onto the upper half we begin to see life in ways we did not know existed while in active addiction. This is the part nobody prepares us for. This is the part where we begin to understand what we have been missing. This is the reason sobriety can be easy. Above the deficiency line lies a world of neverending growth, prosperity, freedom, and life. I try to avoid idioms as much as I can, but above this line, the sky is truly the limit. Or maybe not. Maybe there simply is no limit and that is more the point. The reason many of us drank was we thought we were confined by neverending limits. The bottle seemed to remove those constraints, at least for a little while, and made us feel like we could breathe. In reality, it was literally squelching our ability and desire to grow.


This is where we not only understand our potential but also strive to attain our potential


Directly above the deficiency line is our cognitive need. What is cognition? It is our ability to think, reason, and remember. It is truly what makes us human. The more we use our intellect, the stronger our intellect grows. The more we learn, the more we want to learn. After cognition comes our desire to seek out and appreciate the beauty, balance, and form around us, within us, and within those around us. We want to see the beauty in our world and in those we love. Following our aesthetic needs comes our self-actualization needs. This is where we not only understand our potential but also strive to attain our potential. We push ourselves in ways we never knew possible because we did not know how far we could reach. We want and work toward being the best version of ourselves. Finally, and this is my favorite part. We work toward transcendence. This is when we feel motivated from outside our own personal values. We want to make the world a better place. We want to see others truly succeed. We want to help in ways that do not benefit us but the world as a whole. This is a whole new level beyond being of service.


Motivation is an integral part of successful and long-term sobriety. I have said this for a long time now and after learning about Maslow's theory I stand by my belief. If what motivates us to quit drinking has anything to do with drinking we are not on the right track. There is so much going on behind the scenes of our motivations to drink and consequently to quit drinking. We have to dig deeper, open ourselves up to new ideas, strive for our deepest truths, and work towards higher-level growth. We have to recognize and accept that we are worthy of stepping out of the deficiency area of the pyramid and into the growth area of the pyramid. Where we have come from is not as important as where we are going and every single one of us deserves to go as far as we not only want to go but also as far as we can conceive of going and further. The sky is not the limit, it is only the beginning.


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