Willpower Is The Hardest Route

It’s 6 am and I am up and out in the garden with my Gorby Girl and a huge cup of green tea.  I would like to tell you I am in my daily sober zen zone, that I have stretched and meditated, and am calm and focused on the day ahead.  Except I am not.  My puppy is running around barking at frogs, I have just spilt tea on my leg (it really hurts) and I am emotionally gearing myself up for a visit from one of my gorgeous brother’s who drinks like a fish. Happy Saturday!

Now as a formerly (drunk) mother, you may think that I shall be employing some form of majestic, iron clad willpower to resist the tidal wave of booze that is coming my way this afternoon.  That I must be putting my emotionally protective soldiers in place, bayonets ready, to ward off any temptation.  Maybe planning out my strategies and the conversations I might need to employ to stay in my sober zone.  None of those are true.

I have willpower, an abundance of the stuff in fact, but I never utilize it to not drink.  I don’t need to.

We only need willpower to resist doing what we desire, the things we do want to do, not the things we truly don’t. And because of our desire, it is the hardest, least successful method of long term change.

Last week was tough for me on a number of levels.  I won’t bore you with details, but it ground me down and certain events caused me a great deal of emotional upset.  For me, drink is off the table.  It’s just not an option. There is no desire. Been there, done that, nearly killed myself, so no thanks. Cheesecake however holds center place.  I think for the last 5 days out of 7, I have bought cheesecake to comfort myself.  And on some levels it has.

We wouldn’t eat the crap, drink the booze if there was no sense of comfort gained, temporary though it only ever is.

However last night I went shopping and didn’t buy the cheesecake.  I saw it, still wanted it and an inner tussle ensued. This time though I employed my PAUSE and in that pause, before my willpower was called into action, I re-thought the ‘why’ of my ‘need’ for cheesecake I understood and acknowledged the ’emptiness’ I was trying to fill, and let the thoughts of cheesecake drift away.  Great stuff.  I left the shop contented, in peace and went home happy.

However, had I actually allowed myself to enter into the internal dialogue, the fight of should I/shouldn’t I, the self-justifications versus the recriminations, I might have been able to walk away with my willpower coming out on top (doubt it though).  But how would I have felt?  Triumphant, yes (over ignoring a cheesecake……..!), but also exhausted, probably on some inner level upset that I was missing out and definitely fearing the next time I would have to employ my weary willpower.

But by recognizing my thinking of what I expected from this over sweet, processed sugar fest, by asking myself what I actually needed emotionally, by acknowledging how I was feeling and giving myself an emotional cuddle – I have even got into the habit of putting my arms round myself wherever I am and whenever I need it – I was able to let go of my desire, my ‘cheesecake want’ and move on without even asking my willpower to join my unhappy inner party.

At the risk of repeating myself, which I will because this point is so important, we only need to use willpower against something we desire.  

Understand and acknowledge the emotional ‘why’ of your wants and desire is lessened, making choice much easier because you no longer feel you are missing out on anything.  And when you truly feel you are not missing out, desire simply drifts away and willpower becomes redundant

Initially, in tougher time, at least to start with, desire may well come back,  maybe in a different form, but the same strategy of understanding and acknowledging does work and you will build your truly comforting resilience muscle.  So much more effective than any willpower.

So, this afternoon I will have my lovely, kind, funny and no doubt very drunk brother to stay.  He will come back from the pub with my son – God help my precious boy – where he will, no doubt, have honoured our Irish heritage with a few ill thought out ditties before stumbling back here with vodka.

I will be sitting serene(ish) in my garden with my tonic water, struggling to understand his anecdotes.  My willpower though unemployed in that moment, will be fiercely called upon tomorrow morning,  as I am already weary with the knowledge that I will have to get out of bed and walk Gorby at 6am on a Sunday morning after only 4 hours sleep.

Love & respect

If you would like to know more about my journey to sobriety, check out my memoir, This Isn’t Me.

To understand how I help clients, take a look at my Working with Me page, and Practical Techniques for Recovery page.

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