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Obsessing about alcohol sucks.
I hate the mental obsession that comes with this addiction. I loathe the clawing in my brain, the insatiable need.
There are things I can do to kick off that mental obsession all over again. Some of them are obvious: I can drink, smoke pot, or toy with other socially acceptable drugs. If I break my sobriety, that mental obsession will come in full-force all over again.
I know that even if I stayed “good” and only had one or two drinks one night, or just smoked one joint, my brain would still latch onto that and it would only be a matter of time before I’m blacking out. That’s a conclusion I already reached a few years ago.
There are other red flags that are not so obvious. Some of these are noticeable immediately. I’ve noticed that the longer I stay sober, and the more I stay in prayer, the sooner I recognize these triggers. That’s important, because again: I hate obsessing about alcohol. It’s freakin’ miserable, and I’d rather just get drunk than sit around obsessing about getting drunk. And since I know that getting drunk could ruin my life pretty quickly, I have to stay vigilant.
4 red flags that can trigger an obsession with alcohol (for me):
See also: trying to control situations and people that I cannot control.
If I let somebody else live in my head for too long, something deep inside me starts to remind me of what would “take the edge off”. Anxiety and resentment are big triggers for me, so I do extra work and stay in a lot of prayer time to stay calm.
“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.” – The Big Book of AA, pg. 66
I can’t afford deep resentment, but there are situations and people in my life that make this feel almost impossible sometimes. I’ve been divorced for almost 4 years now, and we’re still going back to our local Chancery Court every few months for…reasons. Reasons that aren’t important to this post, but will completely consume my life if I don’t stay in prayer. It’s tough.
In the 12 step programs, this is step 10 – after you get past all of the initial resentments and confessions from steps 4 and 5. Step 10 is a daily inventory. We continued to take a personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
Ignoring My True Thoughts and Feelings
If I’m upset, I don’t pretend to not be upset. That doesn’t mean I sit around being a grouch all day, but I will often tell my husband and kids, “I’m super irritable right now, not sure why, just a heads up that I don’t really feel like chatting much.” Or whatever. When I’m PMSing and I know it for sure, I let everyone know. Not so that they will tiptoe around me or let me be a total bitch, but just to be aware that I’m working harder than normal to stay calm and positive, so they give me a little more grace. Just a little.
This applies to more than irritability, though. I push down and ignore anxiety more than anything else – avoidance is kind of part of being anxious in the first place. When I feel anxious or like I’m avoiding things because I’m anxious, I try to vocalize that or at least acknowledge it in some way. “This is making me super anxious right now, I’m going to do it but ugh.” I don’t talk to myself out loud (um, much), but I do talk to myself in my head. “I don’t want to do this, but I’m going to do it anyway because it’s important, and it’ll be fine.” Especially with phone calls or confrontations, ughhh.
This overlaps with the last bullet point, but it’s big enough for its own section. Avoidance is a huge character defect/weakness/whatever of mine, thanks to anxiety. The problem is, when I avoid something that really needs to be done, it just grows bigger and bigger in my head and takes up more space.
It might seem weird that these things can trigger a desire to drink, or cause me to start romanticizing booze, but they do. For me. It’s like my brain is grasping for something, anything, to make this gross feeling go away. Drinking was a great way to pretend like I didn’t have to do anything. I could leave all of those things for the next day. And the next. And the next. Now complete with major hangovers. Yay!
Turning to Other Bad Habits
I’ve been sober a little over 3.5 years at the time of this post (3 years, 8 months). In that time, I’ve learned quite a lot about my habits and how they affect my sobriety.
Sure, it’s better to eat a piece of cake than take a shot. If I have to choose, I know the cake won’t end with me cheating on my husband or puking in a stranger’s car at 3am. So there’s that. But it still does some damage to my emotional sobriety when it becomes a habit. I’ve been through some difficult times in sobriety, and I’ve turned to sugar, social media, junk food, whatever. I don’t smoke cigarettes and never really did beyond a few here and there, but I’ve almost picked up the habit at times.
Trouble is, when I use sugar or other unhealthy habits to deal with my stress for too long, my thoughts start leaning toward to alcohol more than ever. The cookies and french fries only work for a very, very short time. Alcohol works slightly longer by a few hours, theoretically. I start remembering how I could turn my brain off, and the junk food just doesn’t do it like alcohol did. I don’t know why this happens, exactly, I just know that it does. It’s one of the reasons I try really hard now to keep my sugar and junk food consumption down – it makes me crave alcohol more. It’s weird and annoying, but true.
My brain is trying to escape, and it knows what would really work. To keep that obsession at bay, I have to face my stressors head-on, like it or not.
Your list might look different from this (and please feel free to leave a comment, maybe others could relate). It helps me to keep these triggers in mind, because these aren’t very obvious at first. When I’m grounded in my relationship with God, most of these take care of themselves. When I’m not, it’s a minefield out there.
If I find myself harboring resentments, binge-eating Oreos at 11pm every night, or refusing to make simple phone calls, those are signs that I need to slow down and face something that I’m not wanting to face. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before that desire to drink creeps back in, and once it grabs hold, it could be weeks or months before I feel like myself again. Even if I don’t touch a drop.
Right now, I feel fantastic. No cravings, no mental obsessions, and I have serenity. It’s not always like this, but I have been feeling pretty awesome for a few months now. Maybe it has something to do with the increased prayer, more regular meetings, exercise, and better sleep. All I know is that God’s got me, and He can take care of you, too.
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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