Wanting sobriety isn’t enough. Let’s face it.
No one wants to get sober. What we really want is to drink like normal people. We want to be able to go out on a Saturday night, have a couple of drinks with our friends, cut loose a little, and wake up the next morning not worried about what we did or where our car is.
Maybe we want to enjoy a sporting event and a few beers with the guys and not be hungover the next day.
We want to have a glass of wine with dinner to unwind from the day, spend a little time with the kids, and then later alone without the difficulties of the day playing out in our heads.
But Wanting Sobriety Isn’t Enough
You’ve tried drinking like a normal person, and it doesn’t work.
That’s how it was for me. I tried everything.
I set days I could drink, limited my available cash, switched alcohol types, and made promise after promise to myself that “tonight won’t be like last night.” It never worked, and I always woke up the next morning regretting not being able to eliminate alcohol from my life forever.
The problem isn’t that we can’t quit drinking. The problem is that wanting sobriety isn’t enough because that’s not what we want—not really.
Alcohol Becomes Our Main Focus
Instead of focusing on what we really want, we end up focusing on ways to keep doing what we are doing. We focus on how we should be able to drink like everyone else. When that doesn’t work, we focus on ways we can control it so that it appears as if we can drink like everyone else.
Then, when we attempt to stop drinking, we continue to focus on the alcohol.
- The first thing you think when you wake up is today I won’t drink alcohol.
- You spend the day at work thinking, instead of having a glass of wine with dinner, I’ll have tea.
- When you get off work, you drive past every bar, gas station, and liquor store saying, “I can’t stop there. I can’t drink tonight.”
- While preparing dinner, you resist the thought of alcohol but still open cupboards looking to see if you have a bottle hiding somewhere knowing that your typical habit is to finish the bottles off down to the last drop.
This constant yearning for something you can’t have eventually breaks you down and suddenly you are searching for your keys determined that you just can’t do it.
And you feel weak and shameful.
The Real Problem Is Misguided Focus
The problem isn’t that you are incapable of giving up alcohol. It’s that you can’t get it out of your head so that it becomes a constant aching desire to drink.
But I’d like to offer another suggestion.
What if the problem is that you use alcohol to avoid thinking about the problems that really hold you back? I just want to plant that seed in your head for a second, and if you are interested in exploring it a little more, listen to the Back Porch Chats podcast where we explore the real reasons we drink.
What Do You Really Want?
For now, let’s accept that wanting sobriety isn’t enough and instead consider what it is you REALLY want, and how that desire can lead to an easier time maintaining sobriety. Let’s turn sobriety into a secondary goal that just comes as a natural byproduct of your true desires. How can that thing that you really desire replace your need for alcohol?
I spent years avoiding thinking about what I really wanted because I thought there was no way I could have it. As a result, I dug myself deeper into alcoholism and lost the good things that I did have.
Wanting Sobriety Isn’t Enough
And What Works Instead
1. Not Knowing What You Really Want Interferes with Decision Making
Have you ever gone to the refrigerator and opened the door just to stand there not knowing what you want? It’s difficult to make a good decision when you don’t know the desired outcome, so you eat a bunch of this and that. The worst part is, you almost always eat more than you should because you never get that satisfied feeling.
On the other hand, when you know you want chocolate ice cream, you can, with certainty, open the freezer, get the ice cream, and fulfill that desire.
You may have done something similar with alcohol.
You clean your house of all alcoholic beverages, determined that this time you will get and stay sober. Before the nights over, however, you’re digging through all your hiding places looking for something, anything, that might be left over. On the other hand, if you know you want, perhaps, to be available for your children, and you focus on wanting that, you can make a decision to spend time with your children to get your mind off wanting alcohol.
2. It Increases Inner Conflict
When you know what you want and become determined to get it, you can easily remove all those thoughts and activities that stand as obstacles to reaching your goal, and you can do it with confidence.
For example, you are invited to a party with your friends on a Saturday night wanting sobriety isn’t enough.
You want to join the party.
At the same time, if you know that want you what you really want is wear smaller jeans. Do you go or do you stay home? If you go, you may become tempted to drink adding extra calories to your diet, and for an alcoholic, one drink is never enough so you can expect that it will be a lot of extra calories as well as a hangover the next day making it difficult to perform that scheduled workout. This decision would interfere with your desired outcome. Whereas, making the decision to stay home means you get to maintain sobriety, keep your calorie intake in check, and eliminate the hangover that makes working out a nearly impossible task.
Knowing what you want gives you the ability to ask, “how will this decision help me achieve my goal?” and then answer with clarity. Any option that interferes should be eliminated.
3. It Lowers Confidence
First, when you can connect with your true desires, the ones that align with your core values, you also begin to connect with your inner self. Knowing what you need to do to be true to yourself gives you confidence because you are then making decisions that you believe in. It allows you to be you instead of the person others think you need to be. On the other hand, living outside your values increases shame because deep down, you know that you aren’t doing what you should be doing
Second, confidence leads to optimism, determination, and trust in yourself. It removes the need to feel drawn to please others which can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Furthermore, each step you take towards achieving your true desires releases dopamine (the happy hormone) which will improve your overall mood.
4. It Distracts from Your Purpose
Maybe I want this. Maybe I want that. How can you have passion for a “maybe”? Wanting sobriety isn’t enough when your desire to drink is stronger. Knowing what you want and wanting it really bad gives you more passion to achieve it. And this gives you purpose.
One of my favorite quotes on purpose is by Ayn Rand.
“[purpose] establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance of [man’s] values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind; whereas a man without purpose is lost in chaos… The man without a purpose is a man who drifts at the mercy of random feelings or unidentified urges and is capable of any evil, because he is totally out of control of his own life.”
Knowing what you really want increases your passion to learn and grow so you can achieve it. It leads to that path outside of the chaos. When you know what you really want, you will turn your focus on getting that instead of wanting to pick up (or not being able to pick up) the next bottle.
5. It Puts Your Focus in the Wrong Place
Your brain performs an incredibly difficult task. All at once, it has to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, your brain to think, and your muscles to move. During this time, it’s also taking in billions of bits of outside information, everything from the myriad of colors on the petals of a flower to the frequency in the sound of the birds singing. The craziest part is that while you may believe you have a bad memory, your brain never forgets. It stores all this information ready for you to access at a later date. It would be madness if your brain didn’t function in this way.
The Reticular Activating System
The tool it uses to keep this from happening is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS).
The RAS is a filter in your brain that lets the unimportant stuff flow through the holes, like sand in a sieve, into storage for later while keeping the bigger, more important stuff in the bowl for you to look at now.
When you focus on something like taking a vacation to the beach, your brain then helps you see images of the ocean on billboards you drive past and bathing suits when you go to the store. You might find that you crave seafood for dinner. You may even notice smells of the coast hundreds of miles inland so that you can easily see the opportunities for achieving your goal.
On the other hand, when you tell yourself that your core focus is alcohol, whether it’s to give it up or get more, your brain tunes in to all things related, leaving those things in the bowl, making it harder to get and stay sober. Anyone who has attempted to quit drinking has found themselves looking into a bowl full of things related to alcohol, whether we want it or not.
Missing the Important Stuff
Let me give you one last example. It’s not one I am proud of, but it does help explain how the RAS affects us negatively in the real world.
A few years ago I dated someone who had a problem that I knew I couldn’t live with. I wanted to keep the relationship, but I knew I couldn’t fix him. I quickly became obsessed with learning how to accept his problem, so I read books, talked to friends, and tried talking with him about it. To be honest, I did some crazy snooping to try to stay on top of his problem. That’s the embarrassing part. I became obsessed with checking his internet history, and he became obsessed with hiding it. It wasn’t healthy for him or me.
Ironically, one word kept popping up. Narcissist. It didn’t matter what I said or searched for, the word narcissist always found its way into the information. I kept dismissing it because that wasn’t what I thought the problem was. It wasn’t what I was focusing on.
Eventually, I realized that what I really wanted was a healthy relationship that included strong, trusting communication. Knowing that made it really easy for me to leave him. Unfortunately, while I was obsessing, I was so focused on saving the relationship that I could only see one thing. Keeping something I didn’t really want and excluding what I needed to see. This man was a narcissist.
If you are focused on quitting drinking, your RAS will hone in on that one thing, alcohol, interfering with your ability to see past it.
Wanting Sobriety Isn’t Enough,
But What Is?
Wanting sobriety isn’t enough, so you have to find that thing that you want more and turn your focus on that. In the end, it will help you to make better decisions, remove inner conflict, improve your mindset, work towards a purpose, and shift your RAS filter.
Where There Is Help, There Is Hope
Just wanting sobriety isn’t enough, and let’s face it. While having hope is important, hope alone isn’t going to cut it either. Sometimes, what we really need is help. If you would like help getting sober, check out the many services I offer. You can find out more about my services and coaching methods on my Work with Me Page.
Am I an Alcoholic?
To be honest, if you are asking the question, it may be time to consider learning more about what that means. Check out my free workbook to learn more.