How’s your sober new year going? We are about ten days into 2017. Ten days might not sound like an awful lot of time, but for an addict it might as well be 10 years.
Those first few days are often, if not usually, excruciating. There’s a lot you have to deal with. Things like social changes, routine changes – heck, even what you can watch on the TV (stupid alcohol adverts). The worst of them all is the withdrawal. Now, withdrawal is a widely discussed and generally well-known topic. Everyone knows your body starts to crave whatever addictive substance it was used to. You get the shakes, you get nauseous. Those are all physical withdrawal symptoms. Instead, I want to tell you about the one that’s worse.
Mental withdrawal. We call this the addict’s brain. Your brain will try and convince you to go back to your substance and it will have all the right reasons.
After all, it is your brain. It knows your strengths and weaknesses. It knows what will most likely tempt you to give up your hard-earned sobriety. It will appeal directly to YOU. I want to cover some of the common arguments you may face with your addict’s brain.
First on the list is the well-known “just one” argument: “Just have one drink. It’s only one. Not like you are going to get drunk from it. After that you can stop. The one drink will help ease your cravings. It will actually help your recovery.” Damn! Just look at that. It starts off with simple temptation, plays it down so you feel less guilty, THEN it makes it sound like it’s a good thing. Reading this you can see that it’s a bad argument, but when it actually happens to you is when you start doubting. Just remember that one does not just stay one. It will always lead to more. Taking that one drink undoes all the hard work you’ve put into your recovery.
Next up is the “It’s been tough, I deserve it” argument: “It’s been a tough month. My car broke down and I almost got fired at work.” This one is pretty straight forward, but notice how it almost completely gets rid of the guilt of relapsing. Basically it’s telling you that you’ve had a rough time and that you should make it easy on yourself and just relapse. The world is always going to throw bad things at you and relapsing whenever that happens is not a sustained road to recovery. Besides, relapsing always makes whatever tough thing you’ve been dealing with worse. Almost got fired from your job? Coming in hung-over the next morning sure will help with that. Right? Right?
A close relative to this is the “I’ve done well, I deserve a reward” argument: “I’ve been sober for two weeks. I deserve a drink to celebrate”. It can be quite ironic and it takes a lot of forms, but it’s essentially the same. As a reward for doing well, you deserve to stay sober. Sobriety and all its perks; that’s your reward. That drink isn’t a reward, it’s a punishment. It will take away what you’ve earned.
The last one I want to talk about is, in my opinion, the scariest of them all. It has a way more subtle approach. Here’s an example: Your friend’s birthday is coming up. Everyone’s going out to the bar to have a drink. The plan of action is to party until about 3:00 am. Since it’s your birthday, you convince yourself to go. You know you shouldn’t, because you’re early in recovery and you’re still struggling, but you tell yourself that it’s his birthday and that you need to be there. You tell yourself it’s out of your hands. So where the other arguments are telling you to go out and relapse in a very straightforward way, this method subtly sets you up for failure. It’s scary because a lot of the times you won’t even spot it. Don’t set yourself up for failure! Don’t go. Your friend will have more birthdays and other days of celebration. You can go visit the next day and have a piece of cake or something. Just because everyone is going out does not mean you should. That night out is definitely not worth losing your sobriety.
So how do you go about beating your addict’s brain? It’s difficult, I won’t lie. It’s one of the main causes of relapses. It’s really hard to win against yourself. It’s like playing a game of chess against yourself – you can’t really win. If you do, it’s because the ‘other’ you let you win. The answer? Get a second opinion! Get a sponsor or a close friend who you can trust. Whenever you think your addict’s brain might be trying something, ask that person for an opinion. This is a surefire way to get a non-biased opinion. You could also join a community (I know I say this a lot, but it really helps) and ask them when you need it.
Don’t make it hard on yourself. Use all the tools you can. Your addict’s brain is not going to play fair, so fight back in any way you can.