Yesterday, I talked about how difficult it can be for us to accept the possibility that we have a negative relationship with alcohol. It does not feel good because we have traversed most of our lives enjoying it as a part of our daily and nightly activities. It was considered something that created relationships and allowed us to calm down after a hard day of work. We (falsely) relied on it as a saving grace and couldn't imagine our lives without it. Unfortunately, our false perception of the positive power of alcohol was only that, a false perception. Nevertheless, our brain has the unparalleled ability to give power to untrue things such as the belief that a poison is good for our minds and bodies.
Sobriety Myth #2 - I cannot quit drinking
Once we make that horrifyingly difficult decision to admit that we need to reevaluate our relationship with alcohol, the really difficult work begins. It is at this point when we have to face the fact that we may not be able to have alcohol in our lives, anymore. I have heard people describe this as a struggle and something to be mourned. We can all understand and relate on some level to the sentiment, but is the sentiment necessary to effectively negotiate a successful recovery and ultimate sobriety? Laura Mckowen, in her book "We are the Luckiest," wrote about an encounter she had in the early stages of her sober journey.
"It was the end of a long day of my first yoga teacher training, and we were all gathered in a circle, asking questions, discussing the day. One of the students raised his hand and said, matter-of-factly, 'I'm afraid I can't stop drinking.'
The room went silent. All eyes went to our teacher, David. Without missing a beat, he smiled, looked at him, and said, 'Of course you can. Are you drinking now?'
He smiled, and said softly, 'No.'
'...and how about right now?'
We all smiled this time.
If there ever was a perfect parable for alcohol and sobriety, that is it. Sometimes simplicity really is the best answer. I believe the reason people take on quitting alcohol with such a perception of enormous burden is because we think of it as something we loved, something that helped us, and something we cannot envision our lives without. Well, of course we will mourn something that we give that much power to. Let's look at Laura's parable a little more closely. What was the student's instructor trying to teach him? I am sure you all got it right away, which means the answer is quite simple, but why then, do we have such a difficult time enacting it?
If we approach quitting an addiction as a whole life long endeavor, how intimidating is that? Holy shit! I can't even think through next week, let alone the rest of my life. Could you make the resolution to be happy every day for the rest of your life? Of course not. So why would we think quitting something as addictive and life altering as alcohol would be any different? We cannot take on any endeavor from a life long perspective, we are just not made that way. We have to think about our actions in smaller pieces of commitment to avoid overwhelming our in the moment survival instincts. If not, we subsequently risk the potential of quitting due to unnecessarily stressing ourselves out. The instructor asked simple questions, "Are you drinking now? How about now? ...and now?" Each time the student replies no, he is proving that he can quit drinking because in that moment HE has consciously made a decision not to drink.
Sobriety Truth #2 - I can quit drinking
Rather than load up your shoulders with an enormous weight that feels unbearable and one that invites doubt and insecurity, take off some of the emotional weight that comes along with quitting drinking by greatly narrowing your acceptable success window. Rather than think of your new journey as a lifelong one, think of it as a day to day one. There is a reason why the one day at a time slogan is such a well known saying. It is a realistic way to approach something we are dreading to take on. "Are you drinking now?" The moment you stop drinking, you are potentially taking the first step toward sobriety. Each moment after is a subsequent step. You string together enough moments and then you have a day. String together enough days and you have a week, etc... Eventually, you will have years of moments compiled together where all you did was make tiny little insignificant decisions not to drink for that moment.
For those of you who have read this blog for a while, you are aware that while I think the above approach to drinking is valid and a great way to approach alcohol cessation, you know that I also struggle with the idea of struggle. I have talked a lot about the conceptual idea of whether or not quitting drinking has to be a struggle. Undoubtedly, it is for a lot of people and I am not undermining their struggle in any way. I applaud each and every person who is walking their sober path, no matter what path that may be. I am simply asking the question, do we have to struggle to successfully negotiate recovery and sobriety? I for one have not, and neither has my wife, and I believe there is something to be said for that.
And that leads me to tomorrow's myth: Quitting drinking is hard.