From a wealth of experience, some even remembered, I would like to start an un-checklist of things to avoid.
It just so happens I am an expert on how NOT to stay sober. Here are some pitfalls that played out over and over again in my own life. Feel free to add your own.
Don’t do these things! (An un-check list)
Play the victim. Even though you are the victim of a devastatingly addictive substance, playing the victim keeps you stuck. Don’t allow your mind to continually revisit the past, especially knowing that your brain is cleverly weeding out the shitty and emphasizing the sublime, so that it can once again turn you into its shady dealer.
You are not helpless. You are not defeated. You are still alive, and you can still win this battle.
Bathe in guilt. There is an allure to guilt. Sometimes it feels like you are punishing yourself (righteously!) the way you think you should be punished. But guilt has no place in early recovery, if anywhere at all. Guilt makes you feel like drinking. It makes you drink when other people aren’t watching. It makes you feel unworthy, and that eventually translates into feeling unworthy of healing. I used to force myself to review moments of bad behavior, and believe me, it didn’t bolster my will to succeed. It made me feel hopeless and ashamed.
Betray your own cause. I used to switch sides in the battle against alcohol like the worst traitor. Instead of siding with my self, my life, my children’s lives, my God, my better angels, my best intentions, my desperate handwritten pledges to stop drinking, I would gaze across the battlefield and see what the enemy had to offer. I would then sneak across battle lines in the middle of the night, like the turncoat I was, and begin plotting to allow myself to drink. I joined the enemy in shooting down help from the outside world and from my wiser self. You can’t help but lose when you abandon your own cause.
Let your thoughts rule you. One of the most freeing things I’ve learned since nixing the Cosmos is that I am respnsible for my thoughts. It’s not life that will cause you to drink again. It’s your thoughts about life and yourself that will cause you to drink.
If I’m not watching my thoughts, I will be controlled by them. The minute I start thinking, “Why can’t I have a drink? Everybody else is,” and then wallow in that self-pity, I have set the stage for eventual drinking.
Instead, I can hear the thought, recognize it as damaging and untrue, tell myself I am way beyond this kind of thinking, and then let it go. I then immediately substitute a thought like “I am healthy and happy.” I let that thought wash over me, and repeat it until I feel healthy and happy. Believe me when I say this becomes so second nature that the thought to drink becomes more like an annoying gnat than an alluring siren’s call.
Be accommodating. This was a huge factor in keeping me trapped for so long. I didn’t want to disappoint my drinking buddies. I wanted romantic relationships to stay the same. I wanted to continue the life I had, while somehow finding the fortitude not to drink. And I didn’t want to inconvenience other people.
THIS DOES NOT WORK.
You must put yourself first, no matter what. This is counter-intuitive to everyone who has been beaten down by alcohol. We must accommodate other people so that we don’t get fired, dumped, or exposed.
I remember a friend called me in one of my earlier attempts at sobriety, and she was upset. She begged me to meet her at a bar to ‘talk.’ It was 9:30 on a school night. I said no at first, but she pleaded, saying that I was the only one who would understand. I went. Three hours later, I was drinking, she was off dancing with someone, and I eventually had to call a cab because my friend wanted to stay.
She didn’t need me. I needed me. She could have easily called someone else. And I didn’t really help her, except by listening, which could have been done over the phone. On the other hand, I had betrayed my own cause and wrecked my sobriety. Was it worth it? It never ever is. Never.
So … what’s on your “un-check” list?