“You are what you believe yourself to be.” Paul Coelho
Should you call yourself an alcoholic after you have quit drinking? If not, what then? That’s the question this week.
For me, alcohol was a part of my past. It was something I used to do. Fair enough, by the time I stopped using alcohol it had become an integral part of my life, so just stopping alcohol wasn’t enough. I had a lot of work to do in eliminating all those connections from my life. That included me thinking about myself as a drinker. That doesn’t disappear overnight. To stop thinking of yourself as a drinker you have to stop drinking, first and foremost.
Then you have to tell yourself you’re not a drinker. You have to tell yourself over and over. You need to do this because your past habitual behaviour is still trying to kick in. Your triggers are still firing, which is the first step in your old programming. When this first step fires, your initial reaction is to go to the next step and the next, following the sequence that you have always followed.
Which leads to you using alcohol and getting drunk. But you don’t drink any more so you have to tell yourself you don’t drink, you have to tell yourself that you’re not a drinker.
In the beginning you don’t believe it yourself. You’ve got all this enthusiasm for it, you’ve got the determination, the reasons to quit, but underneath it all is the click, click, whirr of the automatic programming that has been built up over years and years. This is very disconcerting. It’s like you’ve got one side of your brain pulling in one direction and the other side pulling in the opposite.
With the best will in the world, the habit is still strong in the beginning. That’s what makes habits so sticky and hard to break. So you keep telling yourself that you’re not a drinker any more, that you don’t use alcohol. The more you tell yourself you’re not a drinker, the more you believe it, the less you will have this internal conflict.
underneath it all is the click, click, whirr of the automatic programming that has been built up over years and years
What do you think is going to happen if you tell yourself you are an alcoholic, that you will always be an alcoholic, that all it takes is ONE DRINK and you’ll be right back to where you started? What do you think it will do to you to believe you have a disease that cannot be cured, that it’s a part of some fundamentally faulty genetic code that you inherited from one of your ancestors?
I used to smoke, I don’t call myself a smoker any more, or an ex-smoker, I only say I don’t smoke. I don’t eat meat. I don’t call myself an ex-meat eater or a meat eater. When I was a young boy I used to wet the bed, now I don’t. Do I still call myself a bed-wetter?
There’s an old saying that says, the sky is the limit to what you can do. But your limits are set in your mind not by the sky. You are what you believe you are. If you believe you’re an alcoholic, you are an alcoholic, even if you don’t drink alcohol. That one thought will have a knock-on effect on many other areas of your life.
“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” Dale Carnegie
If you believe you are an alcoholic, you will see alcohol as a threat, you’ll see bars and drinkers and supermarket shelves and bottles and advertising all as a big threat. You’ll see yourself as damaged, weak, limited, trapped. How will that affect the way you think about your abilities in other areas of your life?
Just as we’re manipulated into believing we’re doing the normal by drinking this poison, we’re also manipulated into believing that when we stop doing it, there’s something wrong with us, that we are the ones who can’t handle it, that we must have a bad genetic makeup, a disease of our brains.
Is that the way we look at people who stop taking any other drug? Do we look at smokers who quit smoking and say they must have a genetic abnormality, that they are quitting because they can’t handle the nicotine, that they have a disease? What about heroin users? Cocaine users? What about people who are addicted to eating junk food? When they stop eating this crap and lose the weight, do we say they can’t eat junk food any more because they have a mind disease? A gene malfunction?
We do none of that. We applaud these people for finally coming to their senses, for finally stopping doing something that everyone else knows is bad for you.
Cigarette smoking is bad for you, everyone knows that. Eating junk food is bad for you, not many would disagree. Using heroin is bad for you, not many people do it because most people know that it’s a bad thing to do if you want to live a good life.
Do we look at smokers who quit smoking and say they must have a genetic abnormality, that they are quitting because they can’t handle the nicotine?
It wasn’t always the case. We didn’t always look at heroin as bad. It used to be sold across the counter in pharmacies. Doctors used to recommend their favourite brands of cigarette? And fast food was an invention that promised a better way of life, unhooking people from the drudgery of the kitchen, giving them the freedom to eat when they wanted with little fuss and lots of great taste. Times change.
We are surrounded by people who are brainwashed into consuming this drug as if it were a normal part of our everyday lives. Every which way we turn, we are being manipulated by companies who only see us as a market, an open wallet, a number at the end of a balance sheet. Because this manipulation has been happening all our lives, it takes a long time, and usually some very uncomfortable events, for us to see it for what it is.
Most drinkers don’t see themselves as drug users. They don’t see the drug they are taking as a drug. They see it as a normal beverage. They don’t even see it as alcohol, not really. They see it as a glass of wine, a pint of beer, a shot of whiskey. We live with a big disconnect between reality and fiction.
Most drinkers don’t see themselves as drug users
If you don’t see alcohol as a drug, how can you see the benefit in someone else quitting using it? Or how can you applaud someone for stopping using a drug when you are still using that drug? We applaud people for quitting smoking or using heroin because we fundamentally see those things as bad, dangers to the person. You don’t blame the person, you blame the drug, and you accept that anyone who quits using the drug is doing a good thing in their lives.
When you don’t see the drug as a drug, you can’t blame the drug. When you don’t fundamentally see the drug as bad, despite it causing over 3.5 million deaths per year, about one death every 10 seconds, you can’t blame the drug.
When you use the drug but don’t consider yourself as a user, you can’t blame the drug. You can only blame the person. There must be something wrong with them. They are weak minded, they have a disease, they are alcoholics, they come from alcoholic families, they can’t handle the booze, ….. they are to blame.
After all, there are so many people in the world who drink alcohol and have no problem. But this is pure fantasy land. How long did it take for you to admit to yourself that you had any sort of problem with using alcohol? Years! And it’s normally when something happens that forces your eyes open, screams at you to look what the fuck is happening to you and your life.
Look at what you’re doing to yourself. You know where the blame lies. You know what is causing this to happen. Now once you understand the problem, once you understand the connection of you drinking alcohol and bad stuff happening in your life, how do you now look at your past life using alcohol? Suddenly you can see the problems that using alcohol has caused.
something happens that forces your eyes open, screams at you to look what the fuck is happening to you and your life.
When I finally opened my eyes to what what happening, I began to see the downhill trail of destruction that I had left behind me. All the lost memories, the injuries, the bad words, the foolish decisions, the cost of alcohol use in my life were many and were everywhere. My past was littered with the cost of lost opportunities.
Most alcohol users are living in denial. Most alcohol users are, by any stretch of the definition, alcoholics. Look at them. Watch the people around you and you’ll see that what I’m saying is true. Alcoholism is defined through dependence. Most drinkers, those who have been drinking for any length of time are dependent on alcohol for one reason or another.
When I finally opened my eyes to what what happening, I began to see the downhill trail of destruction that I had left behind me.
So if you don’t call yourself an alcoholic once you quit, what do you call yourself then? If it’s to do with alcohol or drinking alcohol? Nothing! You don’t have to call yourself anything.
When you stop drinking, keep telling yourself that you don’t drink alcohol any more. You don’t drink alcohol. It doesn’t take very long before the triggers for your alcohol using sequence stop being triggered.
Once that happens, you will think about your old habits less and less, you’ll have less of a disconnect in your mind between you telling yourself you don’t drink, that you’re not a drinker, and you feeling like you’re not a drinker. I guarantee you that if you consistently don’t use alcohol and consistently tell yourself you are not an alcohol drinker it will become part of who you are.
“A man is but the product of his thoughts, what he thinks, he becomes.” Gandhi
Until next time…
Onwards and Upwards!