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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9am. Today is the day you won’t have that glass of wine at ‘Wine O’Clock’, usually a loosely acceptable 6pm. Maybe you drank too much last night. Maybe your waistband has more of a bite to it then the expected nibble. Only you know – although you may also have the creeping dread that others might also know too after last night……. Anyhoo. Today’s the day. No more booze.
11am. Nope, still not drinking tonight. Feeling better, a few strong coffees inside you, maybe a pastry to replace the lost carbs, a nice little sugar spike to lift you up. Better still, you were really on it this morning and ate something that has actually benefited you, think eggs or porridge. Whatever, your resolve is strong.
4pm. God you’re tired/bored/fed up, or even had a great day. For good or bad, a glass of wine is in order. You need and/or deserve it and, “What the heck, you don’t have a problem with alcohol and you’re only going to have the one (thankfully a bucket sized one with your new on-trend wine glasses….)
Sounding a depressingly familiar cycle? It was mine.
So, where has your resolve gone? The fact is that, even though you don’t articulate or acknowledge the thoughts, you feel you have no choice but to drink.
All the self-justifications you come up with are designed to hide the fact that wine has started to control you. Your ‘good reasons’ for drinking are trying to protect you from a knowledge that will cause you pain. It’s not you, it’s how our brains work.
Breaking News! Even if this cycle happens every day, you can change your drinking, and simply, when you understand how.
There is always a space, a pause, between your ‘I need a drink’ hijacked thoughts and the physical act of picking up the bottle, pouring a glass and then drinking it, and in that pause is immense power.
In that pause is who we want to be, the non-drinker in control of our actions, the more engaged parent and partner, with healthier self-esteem, self-respect and a looser waistband. In that pause is US.
Pausing before taking action changes everything, instantly.
I remember on the few occasions I was able to not drink, that I used the pause. I didn’t know it then, it came as one of my insights, but it resonates completely now and it works.
The truth is that I couldn’t have stopped my drink cycle once the bottle, not even the glass was in my hand, but I could stop before I picked up the bottle.
I could, and did, for some reason and out of nowhere, take a few deep breathes, remember through the storm clouds of my addictive thinking, who I wanted to be, acknowledge the damage my drinking was causing and understand completely that it would only make everything worse. I could even, and this is probably the most powerful part, grasp a glimpse of who I really was. And I could, in that moment, in that pause, not pick up the bottle.
Yes, I always felt shaky afterwards, but shaky with relief, not desire for alcohol. I clearly remember my watery, tearful smile of truimph in the mirror, but I didn’t understand what emotional acrobatics had taken place. And, as usual, the not knowing, meant not understanding and so I couldn’t move forward and repeat the cycle. I had no insight and no awareness. I do now.
Practice Your PAUSE
The next time the thoughts of “I need a drink” come. PAUSE. Ask yourself, “Why do I need a drink?”
Before you mindlessly reach for the bottle, the glass. PAUSE. Ask yourself, “What will happen if I do drink?” and “What will happen if I don’t?”
Recognise your thoughts for what they are. Yes, they are, for now, a habit, a repeated behaviour but you have the choice to act on them or not. They have no physical expression unless you give it to them. PAUSE
Recognise that the feelings/emotions you want to avoid, will pass. You know they do. They always do. PAUSE
Then breathe slowly and deeply, still your mind, let your thoughts drift to a beach, a sunny day, your children laughing, whatever makes you happy. This will change your emotional state. Hug yourself in comfort if necessary and remember who you really are, not how repeating your habit makes you feel. PAUSE, then act.
The pause allows you to think clearly, it allows you to see the urge for what it is and the reality of what it offers. In seeing your urges for what they are, simply thoughts, they become weaker, you become stronger and you will be free x
As with any new practice, PAUSING may feel strange, but it will also feel empowering. It does work and every successful pause makes the next one easier.
Love & respect
If you would like to know how I help clients, check out my Working With Me page.
If you want to know a little more about how I overcame 27 years of alcoholism, take a look at my book, This Isn’t Me
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