ÔIf I buy this, what is likely to happen?Ő
A speaker at a conference I went to described an exercise
he does with his clients. He has his group members write down the things that
are highest priority in their lives. Invariably they write family, friends,
sometimes their jobs, etc. In all the dozens of times heŐs done this exercise,
only once did anyone list ÔalcoholŐ. And that was only in the context of
Yet, as he pointed out, every one of the people in each
group had elevated alcohol to a position very high on their list of actual
priorities. They had made it more important than many of the other things
mentioned—especially family—because they were willing to use
alcohol even if it harmed things they rationally, consciously described as more
We can spend an amazing amount of time debating theories
and looking for root causes for our difficulty with impulse control. But it is
the behavior, a variety of forms of self-destructive behavior, that is the
concern. It manifests itself in ways that go beyond drinking. Other substances,
eating disorders, cutting, sabotaging relationships; all might be traceable to
the same roots as our drinking. It will obviously be useful to look at that and
try to deal with those issues.
But the first step is to stop the behavior.
I know it seems as though nobody in your life understands
how hard it is to resist the temptation to drink. I do, and so do the other
folks here. The way I got past that temptation was that I made an absolute rule
that I wouldnŐt buy alcohol under any circumstances, that it wouldnŐt come in
to my house.
That is a rule IŐd advise anyone with a drinking problem
to adopt. So no matter how tempting it is, you JUST DONŐT BUY IT. I donŐt live
with another drinker, thank goodness, so thereŐs a corollary to this if you
happen to live with one; you donŐt accept alcohol if it is offered.
Lots of people say that itŐs the first drink thatŐs the
problem, and we all know that once we start drinking it will be very difficult
to stop—because we know that oblivion is our goal. We donŐt want the
feeling of one beer. We want the feeling of more and more alcohol going into
A teenage boy that I mentor asked me the other day, Ňso
you canŐt even drink one glass of wine?Ó
To which I replied, ŇI could, but I find that if I drink
one I want two, if I drink two I want three, if I drink three I want four, and
with each succeeding glass my ability to make rational decisions about drinking
That shut him up for a minute.
So to not drink, there are two parts and the first part is
the most important. You donŐt buy or accept alcohol under any circumstances.
The second part is dealing with the things that upset you. But you need to get
it out of your head that you will ever buy, own, have, drink, or accept
alcohol. It just isnŐt part of your life. You and I donŐt make good decisions
about drinking once we start.
It doesnŐt matter...
how upset you are about something,
how pissed you are at someone,
how much you want to show people that youŐre upset,
how overwhelmed you feel by work or school,
what a rotten day you had,
how frazzled you are about your kids or parents,
how you want to cut loose and be irresponsible.
Those are all valid feelings, impulses, and thoughts. You
just donŐt use alcohol, and you donŐt do other self-harming behaviors.
Then—then! -- you can try to deal with the things
youŐre upset about. Yes, itŐs important to be watchful for when your stress is
building, for when youŐre getting angry about things, for when you arenŐt
communicating well with someone, for when youŐre getting that overwhelmed
feeling. Perhaps it will be important to start trying to meditate a bit each
day, or spend some time reviewing the concepts at an online recovery group, or
writing in a journal, or reading a bit about emotional management. But the most
important thing is to NOT buy or drink alcohol. Period.
If you tell yourself you canŐt stand that, some might call
that a rationalization. But that implies character defects, and IMO a better
way to describe it is as an irrational or unhealthy belief. You know that
beliefs can be changed. But you donŐt have to change the belief to first change
the behavior. You can stop buying alcohol. Today. Ever. And then you can work
on the other stuff.
The less often you drink, the easier it gets to stay
sober. Perhaps you went days or weeks or months without drinking. Notice how
once you drank again, it became a fresh memory and again became something that
you turned to automatically? So consciously get rid of the behavior and it will
steadily recede back into the less immediate part of your brainŐs memory
system. No, it isnŐt gone. Events, smells, situations can trigger the desire;
thatŐs what we call an urge. But urges are time-limited and bearable.
Try asking yourself some questions.
WhatŐs the problem? What makes you feel that you have to
What are you thinking when you pick it up off the shelf
and put it in your shopping cart?
What belief do you hold in your brain about why youŐre
How do you imagine yourself using it—Ôjust oneŐ? Is
that really likely? Of course not. Play the scenario all the way to the end.
Ask this all-important question: ÔIf I buy this, what is
likely to happen?Ő
Drinking is a series of small choices, and each of us has
a tipping point in the process when weŐve actually made the decision to get
drunk. In my case I decided it was allowing alcohol into my house, so I donŐt
buy it and if it happens to end up here I just pour it out. For many the
decision is made at the grocery store; once itŐs been bought and brought home
it becomes ‰Ű÷inevitableŐ that youŐre going to drink it.
So the decision at the grocery store may be your time to
decide NOT to drink, and to focus instead on what youŐre going to do to occupy
your time that evening. Because obviously if you are thinking about drinking
that evening, it will be important to do something else with your restless
mind. Perhaps the moment of decision is when you agree to meet your friends at
a bar after work. So you donŐt do that anymore. Achieving sobriety involves
changing our beliefs, changing our lifestyle, and consciously changing our
behavior in any number of seemingly small ways.
Right now you may have resolve; perhaps due to a recent
drinking bout you may even have a hangover and probably some guilt and remorse.
But we all find that slips away pretty quickly, and we can start accepting
unhealthy beliefs again. Create and repeat new replacement beliefs and
activities every day. Do something every day to enhance your sobriety.