Updated: Jan 1
Last week I wrote about the upcoming end of the year tradition of making New Year's resolutions. For addicts, and let's be honest, most resolutions are at least loosely related to addiction or addictive tendencies, the idea of starting off the new year with good intentions always sounds like a good idea. It makes a lot of sense. There is no better time to set down the bottle, throw away the cigarettes, empty the fridge and cupboards, and make positive lifestyle changes than the beginning of the year. Theoretically, it makes sense, but like anything else, positive changes can only occur with proper preparation. We can not wing it, grin and bear it, or hang on a prayer. We have to be emotionally and physically ready to take on the challenge of letting go of an addiction.
The preparation needs to begin now, and it needs to begin purposefully. In my last blog, I mentioned three things we can do to begin the essential preparations for our New Year's resolution of quitting our addictions. The first is the gathering and absorbing of knowledge. The second is setting positive intentions and goals. The third and final preparation is to create a plan to deal with the discomfort associated with addiction cessation. When we have properly prepared to begin our journey, we can do so with confidence rather than the trepidation most people find the day resolutions begin.
Knowledge is an interesting word. The dictionary states knowledge to be facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education. As a teacher, I can attest to the conundrum that is education. Experience, well, our experience is why most of us are here. Everyone learns differently, and we are all motivated to learn differently as well. In order to learn, we have to at least be open to the idea of accepting new information. This year's election has shown just how difficult it is for most people to accept new information if they are not ready to hear it. In terms of the knowledge we need to help us on our sober journey, the first step is undoubtedly readiness. Are we ready to receive the information necessary to successfully negotiate this journey? Are we ready to set down preconceived notions about what we think is the correct path? Are we ready to believe in things we have struggled in the past to believe in? If the answer is yes, it is time to move on to the next phase. If the answer is no, it is time to ask some difficult questions. Namely, why? Why are we not ready? Why are we stuck in our beliefs? Why do we choose to fight ourselves when we know we are on the wrong journey? Why do we believe we are undeserving of living well? The answers to these questions are the essence of a successful journey. If this is you, check out my blog on Finding our Why's before moving on.
Facts and Information
The facts a person needs to shift their perspective about something they have long believed in are personal. It requires a certain amount of patience on the part of the person seeking the facts. Try telling yourself you no longer like meat, and you are never going to eat meat again. Since meat is not an addictive substance (I could argue this but this is not the time nor place), it carries with it less anxiety for those letting it go. Nevertheless, it is still inconceivable for many people to think of never eating meat again. With that said, if a person, like myself, witnesses something or learns something new that fundamentally changes their perception of a given circumstance, the desire and ability to change becomes much easier. For me, I vividly remember seeing a video of offseason fishermen clubbing baby seals in Alaska for their fur. They clubbed them because it created less blood and therefore preserved the fur for sale. They skinned the fur and left the bodies to rot. From that day, I easily gave up meat consumption. That was twenty years ago. It wasn't difficult and I never really thought about it again. Why? Because the knowledge I gained from the video fundamentally changed my perception of killing and meat consumption. What does this have to do with quitting alcohol?
We have to find our "baby seal" in alcohol to shift our perceptions of alcohol. Unfortunately, this is the most difficult part of sobriety. It is difficult because everyone is different and everyone needs to find their own knowledge and information to shift their personal perceptions. It is not a one size fits all. It is individual and up to us to find what works for us. Thankfully, there is help and resources available to us, but we still need to do the research and work necessary to find what will help us see things differently. Since I cannot speak for all of you, I will speak from my experience and hope it resonates with you on some level.
While most of my knowledge gathering came after I began my sober journey, I am going to stick with the notion it is in our best interest to begin gathering information before we actually quit. I began reading quitlit on day one of my sobriety. The first book I picked up was "This Naked Mind" by Annie Grace. The second book I read was "We are the Luckiest" by Laura Mckowen. After those two books, I also read "Rewired" by Erica Spiegelman and "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple" by Seth Gillihan. Of the books I read during this time, "This Naked Mind" was by far the most influential in my successful sobriety.
I immediately found my "baby seal" in Annie Grace's book. She approached the idea of sobriety from a more realistic and holistic framework. She used science to explain why alcohol affects us the way it does and why we react to it the way we do. More importantly, she offered two things that forever changed my perception of and relationship with alcohol. The first was when she stated the following, "Alcohol is the only drug you have to make an excuse not to do." This not only affected me, it actually pissed me off. It angered me because by the time I read the quote in her book, my partner and I had already experienced it in our lives. The first time was when we went to a gathering with friends who all drank. Beforehand, we had already begun thinking of strategies to deal with the fact we were going to be the only people not drinking. We made it through the night by drinking soda water in lowball glasses and non-alcoholic beer with the label turned toward us. It seems like a simple thing, but it carried a lot of weight for me.
The other time was when I went to my bowling league for the first time while sober. When I arrived, I went to the bar as I always did and the bartender immediately began pouring my favorite beer. I stopped her and told her I was not drinking. She asked if I was okay. When I responded with, "I quit drinking," she and one of the waitresses shouted in unison, "No, don't be a quitter." I remember shaking my head and leaving the bar with my non-alcoholic beer and thinking, man it shouldn't be like this. Those two occurrences instigated an awareness in me about the society of alcohol I will never forget. We are expected to drink.
No, thank you.
The other thing I took from Annie Grace's book that forever changed my perception of alcohol was when she talked in more detail about the society of alcohol. She spoke to the reverence and homage we pay not only to the substance but the experience of alcohol. As a culture, we idolize alcohol. I never really paid attention to it, but once I did, there was no turning back. I began to hear the way we talk about alcohol with our friends, family, and coworkers. I witnessed the shrines we build to honor it in bars, grocery stores, and malls. I became increasingly aware of how we tout alcohol as our savior in literal terms. Everywhere I looked I saw, heard, and experienced the culture of alcohol enveloping every moment of every day of our lives. WE are enslaved by it. What's worse? WE glorify and proclaim that very fact. WE love our alcohol. The realization of this idealization of alcohol was arguably the single most important piece of information I garnered to aid in my successful and easy sobriety.
Learning From Others
Books are not the only medium from which we can actively learn. There are many blogs and podcasts out there offering an enormous amount of information from multiple perspectives. There are many movies available on the subject. One of my favorite all-time movies, alcohol-related or not, is "28 Days" with Sandra Bulluck. There are innumerable documentaries about sobriety as well. Just remember, documentaries do operate on a bias, so be sure to watch them with an open mind. I believe we can learn something from almost any point of view if we are open to the possibility. Another available resource I did not expect was other people. There are amazing communities of sober people out there who want nothing more than to offer help. Do some research though, not all sober communities are created equal. I have left several groups due to negativity and toxic content. The good ones are out there, be patient, and find the ones that work for you. When you find a group that fits your needs, be willing to engage in conversation. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. I can't tell you how much we can learn by sharing our experiences and listening to the experiences of others.
Since reading quitlit at the beginning of my journey, I have moved on to deeper and more involved reading about my emotional well being and health. I am studying CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). CBT suggests we build core beliefs over time that drive our beliefs and actions at an unconscious level. Until we recognize and understand the core beliefs driving us, we cannot effectively make positive changes. While this is a level many people may not wish to go to in their personal growth, it has been enlightening for me and I intend to keep learning on this track in the hopes of continuing my personal growth into the future. I also hope to pass on what I learn to those willing to listen along the way.
In part 2 of Sober Resolution - Knowledge, I will talk more about how we use the knowledge we gain to develop skills for living our best lives as alcohol-free individuals. I will walk you through my personal experiences and how the knowledge I gained has created a journey not only successful but easy and enjoyable too. We have three weeks before the big day. Buy some quitlit books, subscribe to some podcasts and blogs, and join some sober groups. It is time to start absorbing as much knowledge and information as we can.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about where to find more knowledge and information.
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