Thursday, September 10, 2009

There's No Such Thing As An Addiction

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.
--Alcoholics Anonymous, "Big Book" 4th Edition, p. 59
The AA Approach
Let's make sure we're clear on this: my time in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been an absolutely KEY step in creating a new life for myself. Working the program after a rehab stint in January of 2005 was the first time in my then 41 years of life that I actually started to examine myself. Who am I? Who do I want to be? What's the path from one to the other? The rooms where the meetings took places were, most times, places of deep acceptance and camaraderie—after all, we all shared at least one aspect of our lives with each other and found a great deal of relief and happiness when we left that aspect behind. As a general population, AA's are the most consistently happy sub-group of the American populace that I have come across (with the possible exception of the Mormons, another notoriously non-drinking posse).

Another Approach
Then I came decided to do try something else. AA was a great preparation for coming to OI, kind of like working your way up in the minor leagues of baseball in preparation for playing in the "bigs". But the kind of empowerment I learned and chose to live from my time at OI was something wholly different. Understanding the real "magic" in the concept of Stimulus—Belief—Response, that is that in between anything we bring our attention to and then what we think and feel about that event there is a BELIEF, which only WE control, fundamentally and permanently changed the way I live.

The reason this is so powerful is that BELIEFS can be changed, by me, at any time. In the 4 ½ years since I went to that wonderful, magical property in The Berkshires, I have, for every second of my life, owned that I, and ONLY I, control everything that I think, feel, and do. What that has meant to me is that no matter what the world or anyone in it throws at me, I get to choose what I think, feel, and do about it. Every…single…moment. No one and nothing can "make" me feel anything. Even in those rare moments when I feel sad, frustrated, confused, or any other "negative" emotion, I ALWAYS know it is ME doing it. Which means I can change it any time I want.

The Experiment
And therein lies the rub that has been my own personal laboratory for the last 3 ½ years since I tested drinking again. If I choose to see alcohol as an "addiction", something I am powerless over, then I can fully embrace AA, and guess what? AA works great when I work it! But that leaves a very large crack in the belief matrix I have chosen. On one side I believe that I control everything that I think, feel, and do. On the other hand, if I accept my beloved teachings, then my drinking becomes something that I DO control, and therefore could theoretically alter my beliefs to allow me to drink like a normal person—just on occasion and with the ability to stop whenever I want.

What I have then chosen to do is to continue to experiment with this process. At times choosing to see myself as powerless over drinking, seeking the AA solution, which worked for various lengths of time, but never permanently, and at other times choosing to believe it was under my control, allowing me to drink under control at first, but each time eventually escalating into something that felt out of control and led to physical reliance again. At that point, getting off again was both difficult and physically dangerous.

I did not want to keep bouncing back and forth, but wasn't able to find a clear solution—I believed I did not have enough belief structure in place about how to handle this, it was new ground to me.

My Romantic Love Relationship With Ms. Chardonnay
Then over the course of about 10 months, comments of a strange and intriguing nature were made by two of the most wonderful people I have come across in my life. And these led directly to a new solution that I created for myself that has been working great ever since!

The first was made by a teacher while I was taking a class with my mother in October of 2008. My mother has done a lot of sadness and fear around my drinking, and in class she was asked "if Brian decided to have a life-long, deep, romantic love relationship with alcohol, could you still be happy?" Her answer was "no", but the important thing for me was that I had never thought to characterize my involvement with alcohol as a "relationship". Then, in July of 2009, I was having a conversation with my love, Mary, and, knowing that I was continuing to "struggle" with my drinking, she wrote a poem that went like this:

He lives his life with challenge
Comparing to how it was
He has gained his authenticity

He lives his life with openness
Absorbs what life brings him
He has found his real inside

He lives his life the silent way
This path others mostly judge
When he meets Ms. Chardonnay

He lives his life with this friend
To be in touch with his true me
When being fulfilled has to end

He lives his life with a loving heart
Really enjoying what wisdom brings
It brought him the love of his life

He lives his life with only one fear
That she might leave him once
While meeting Ms. Chardonnay

They sit on the porch swing silently
Their grandchildren just nearby
She holds him to her, lovingly…..

Wow! How beautiful, loving, and also cutting to the heart of the matter all at once! And it was the second time in nine months that someone dear to me had characterized my involvement with alcohol as a "relationship", specifically a romantic relationship.

That's when it hit me! Before, the biggest issue I had in my life was around relationships. I had never asked a woman out on a date and was terribly shy and fearful when it came to dating. Since then, dating and relationships have become the MOST empowered part of my life, with a tremendous set of beliefs in place to support being comfortable and full of joy in this entire process! And that includes…BREAKING UP with someone!

So all of a sudden I had this really great revelation: both of these highly intelligent and insightful people described my "relationship" with booze, what if I decided to actually LOOK AT IT THAT WAY? What would that mean?

The Breakup
Well first it would mean that since I have a very clear "wants list" for someone I want to be in a romantic relationship with, and chardonnay doesn't fit that wants list, it would mean that it was time to break up! So that's exactly what I decided to do. Break up with wine.

So I put myself in a really soft and loving and grateful space within myself (just as I would do with any breakup) and spoke words that were meaningful and true (also what I would do in any breakup): "this has been a wonderful relationship and I truly thank you for everything you have given me…but now I'm clear that you don't fit what I'm looking for in a long-term relationship, so I'm going to let you go…know that I will always be grateful for what you have given me and I genuinely wish the best for you in your search…"

Funny, it never felt weird to do or say that. It REALLY felt like I was breaking up, and one thing I have found from my experience with breaking up in other romantic relationships is that I only do it if I have decided that it's done—that I'm not going to want that person back as a love interest, even if I want her as a friend.

CODA
So what has been the outcome of my "breakup"? Well it's been a little over 6 weeks since I've had a drink. There are significant differences I've noticed this time around compared to the times I've quit using AA. First, I don't have to embrace the un-empowered belief of "I'm powerless over alcohol". I can and DO totally embrace that, in fact, the ONLY ONE with control over the first drink is ME.

The only thing I have to DECIDE, in order not to start drinking again, is to REFUSE the FIRST drink! I've found that this approach feels riskier at times, because I allow myself to consider having a drink whenever I feel that desire—something I never really did when doing AA. It would have been considered too dangerous or it meant that in some way I was not doing my program in a solid way. But hand-in-hand with the riskier feel and the way I can allow myself to think about how wonderful it would feel to have those first couple of drinks, this new set of beliefs also gives me the time to think the process all the way through to the usual end result of 1) not being able to stop, 2) spending lots of money on this, 3) gaining weight since drinking degrades any healthy eating that I do, and 4) not doing the other things I claim to want in my life, such as making movies or starting a business. And that extra time between wanting the drink and having the drink where I can be clear the decision is MINE and doesn't belong to my "addiction" has made all the difference. Each and every time that I have considered it, I have CHOSEN to pass. So I get all the benefits of not drinking while still holding onto my beliefs about me being in charge of all my own thoughts, feelings, and actions. What an amazing place to be in!

My hope is that anyone reading this who has substance or process issues (that they want to change) could use this as a tool for quitting. Find some part of your life where you have highly empowered beliefs in place and transfer those beliefs over to your "addiction" and see what happens. Don't censor yourself! There's no need to feel silly about anything you might do in this regard. If it pays you the rewards I have gotten, go ahead and accept and love yourself for smoking pot! Or treat Vodka as you would a challenging employee! Whatever works, work it and have fun with it!

I would love to hear not only your thoughts about this, but anyone who has used other methods than twelve-step programs to successfully let go of unwanted behaviors, I would love to hear your remedies as well.

Have a wonderful, loving, empowered week!

Brian

1 comment:

  1. Awesome Brian! I'm so happy you've shared your perspective and experience with alcohol. I was particularly interested in finding out how Option and AA go together for you, so thank you. What you have said here is really important stuff to me and for the world!

    I think that "addiction" is very widespread--the general population is addicted to thinking along the lines of: "I'll be happy or happier when...(I have such and such or my life is...)". We are programed from a young age to believe we must do certain things and buy our way to happiness. However, the deep desire we all have (to return to our natural state of bliss) can never be reached by external means. I think we have every power over this type of thinking: it is simply about becoming aware, being accepting and changing it if and when we want to; moment by moment.

    I too like to see it as a relationship versus addiction, it's more empowering and non-judgmental. This way when you notice yourself "relating" with a particular thought, emotion, behavior or substance you can ask yourself: how is this working out for me?

    Thanks again Brian!

    ReplyDelete

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