I realised today that through all the personal and professional work I am doing I have started thinking about my recovery a lot more recently. As I’ve written about before I do not believe that we should let this disease define who we are! If you had a life-threatening illness such as cancer, you wouldn’t lead with that in a conversation with a new acquaintance would you!? You might get to it at some stage in the proceedings, but it’s hardly what you open with… I don’t want to be defined by my inability to control my drinking, not being able to stop once I’ve started. Six years of sobriety have shown me that I am not lacking in willpower and strength, and that it’s just something that I honestly have no mental control over.
I can avoid bad food, I can skirt potentially hostile dinner conversation topics, I can commit myself to personal and professional endeavours, yet when it comes to saying no to another drink I am powerless in the face of its magnetism. I find it odd that something that is actually potentially deadly for some of us has such a strong pull on us! Temptation is not an overriding problem for me in general and I do watch myself around alcohol, but I’ve got the facts and awful memories so clearly mapped out that I can access the reasons I don’t drink instantaneously. I can run down the list of “why not to have a drink” without breaking my stride. And “the list” is always close at hand for easy referral should I ever think that I would be able to have just one drink.
I’m not under any illusion when it comes to this… It might be a couple of drinks the first time, but this number inevitably ends up growing and before long it’s back to the “Friday Night Binge and Blackout Special”. I’ve been down that road a couple of times. One drink is too many and 20 isn’t enough!? So in my mind I carry around my list of “Why I don’t drink…”. There are plenty of points on that list and different situations may call for me to tap into different reasons, but at the end of the day they all boil down to the same thing. If I had one drink my life would start to unravel…slowly at first, but then with increasing speed as I drank more and was sucked back into the destructive vortex of my drinking habits. So when I have a day that I think it would be nice to have a little glass of wine to take off the edge, I need to go to my list and find a reason not to. It might seem strange to some people that I need to remind myself why I don’t drink at times, but there it is. There are nights when I’d love to nestle down on the couch and sip steadily on a bottle of wine, while the strains and stresses of the week washed away. But as a recovering alcoholic this is not even a remote possibility.
Sometimes I get annoyed that I had to stop drinking, because then I’d be able to alter my mental state when things are not going well. I do get upset that I was hit with the genetic alcoholic stick! Why can’t I have a drink or two to relax my frayed nerves? Get out of my head and not worry about the things that are going on around me? But the truth is that there is no escape from reality when you make the decision to give up drinking. Of course there ways of learning to be more present, comfortable and centred, but they are a lot more challenging to master than lifting the proverbial elbow. And then when I start to think like that it’s time to go to the list and remind myself how awful it feels to be miserable and hungover after a night of binge drinking. That one normally does it, but then there’s also the increased disposable income, the health benefits, the clear conscience, the time for things I love and of course happy personal relationships. And that’s a lot to give up for a couple of hours of mental respite.
So even though I have to admit that I wouldn’t mind slipping into a fuzzy head space every now and again, it’s not worth the price I’d end up paying. There are the occasional cravings when I’m having a bad day or there’s a special celebration going on that I’d like to feel more relaxed at. But then I think about why and refilling my water-glass or having a cup of coffee doesn’t seem so bad. I love being sober and I love my life without hangovers, hazy memories, a depleted bank account and personal misunderstandings. And I’m learning to balance my life better each day so that the wonderful elements of my life are the ones that take precedence. And when the less savoury parts pop their heads up, I am always quick to honour and acknowledge them, because they are a reminder of a time past when things were not as good as they are now and how long it’s taken me to get here.
And once the moments of craving pass I lovingly fold “the list” and slip it back into its own space so that I know where to find it when I will need to look at it sometime in the future. I’m never sure when I’m going to have to take it out, but it’s always there when I do.
‘Til next time