Archive for February, 2012

Are we all just plain lazy?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

MP3 Audio version of blog article

Human beings are built to be naturally lazy – we have been designed to figure out how to do the least amount of work and exert the least amount of energy. That’s not a criticism. Our bodies are smart, our minds are smart, and that’s how we automatically figure out how to do the least amount of work. Please consider the following before I state my position on how this relates to sobriety:

  • Physically: We design machines and tools that do the hard work or give us leverage to accomplish more work with less effort. We do exercises to isolate muscles; otherwise our body will naturally learn to disperse the force of the weight to make it easier to move, lessening the strengthening benefit of the exercise. Our bodies naturally want to do the least amount of work to accomplish a project.
  • Mentally: If we don’t have to do homework we won’t. If we don’t have to fill out reports we won’t. We use software to simplify mathematical calculations or problematic equations. We could do it the long way on paper, but why make it harder? We avoid making decisions so we don’t have to work them out mentally in our mind. Thinking is WORK, it may be fun and rewarding work at times, but it’s still work.
  • Emotionally: We avoid conflict or problem confrontation so that we don’t have to prepare ourselves mentally or address the situation. We hide from and avoid hearing “bad news” because it strains our emotions. Conflict, confrontation, disappointment or “bad news” often requires that we do something about it, so we avoid it.

Doing the least amount of work; physically, mentally and emotionally, is nature’s way of preserving your life. It’s a natural phenomenon which is intended to keep you alive as long as possible. When I use the term “lazy” I’m not inferring that you’re a useless piece of shit. I’m sure that you work and study hard. I’m sure that you put a lot of effort and energy into your life. But I’m also sure that you try to do things the easiest way possible. I work and I work hard, but I try to work efficiently. We naturally want the highest return possible on the least amount of effort put in. Getting the most out of the least is the way we humans show how smart we are.

How does this relate to sobriety?
Think about this:

It requires more effort, time and money to continue being a drunk than to not be a drunk. It takes no energy – NOTHING – to stop doing something. How much energy, time or money does it take to NOT drink? Go ahead; I’ll give you a minute to think about this. Times up. There you go,,, it takes none. You don’t have to do anything to not drink. You can wake up in the morning, go to school or go to work, come home and be with your family, lover, kids or friends and not drink. It takes NO extra effort, it requires no energy.

I want to give my politically correct disclaimer here: “The 12 steps have been beneficial for many people. Many people enjoy the fellowship of groups and they have found comfort in following the 12 steps. And I will continue to say that if you’re serious about living sober you should investigate AA or any of the 12 step systems and decide for yourself if it is good for you and decide for yourself if you like it.”

Now with that disclaimer out of the way, let me anger some of you. I think the 12 steps are the lazy way out. “What are you talking about? Lazy? I go to meetings, I work the steps. It takes time and energy. It takes mental and emotional effort to work the steps.” Yes it does, but they’re someone else’s steps. YOU didn’t take the time to think about what YOU WANT for your own sober life. YOU didn’t spend the time and exert the mental energy to discover and decide what YOU must do to make sobriety pay you back. Thinking for yourself requires mental energy and you risk failure. Following someone else’s plan (and possibly failing), is less risky to your ego. That’s why I say it’s the lazy way out.

And consider this: Wouldn’t it be easier if there were only 6 steps? That would be less work. You could cut recovery and rehab time in half. You could spend less time in counseling, drunk driving school or doing program work. We humans naturally like things to be easier.

So if you want to fully embrace this natural human tendency to be lazy and do the thing that requires the least amount of energy, you can follow a 1 step system. Do you want to know the worlds simplest step system? There’s only 1 step. How much simpler can it get? 1 step. Are you ready? Here it is:

Step # 1 – Don’t drink.

This isn’t a system I devised, it’s nature’s system.

I’m looking at the 12 steps right now. I don’t see anywhere in any one of them where it says, “If you want to stay sober, DON’T pour that beer into your mouth.” So the single step system that I’m referring to: “Don’t drink” is the only step you need to stay sober.

“That’s preposterous Mark, you’re talking like a fool. It’s not that simple.” It is that simple. If you don’t drink you can’t get drunk. I invite you to prove me wrong. Prove to me how NOT putting alcohol into your system will get you drunk. How NOT drinking will get you arrested for drunk driving. I’m not looking for debate on philosophy or system beliefs; I’m talking about the hard physiological fact that you cannot get drunk if you do not drink alcohol.

The simplest way to stay sober is to do nothing – take no action. Don’t go to the store and buy booze, don’t go to a bar and drink, don’t call a friend and ask them to get you a bottle, don’t exert any effort or energy towards quenching your thirst for alcohol. Be lazy when it comes to getting drunk – do nothing.

I know that this all sounds radical. “It can’t be that simple.” It IS that simple, but it isn’t always easy. Many factors influence our reasons to drink: Peer pressure, stress, the desire to seek pleasure, boredom, the desire to enhance an experience, wishing to escape or avoid reality. All of those factors influence why you might drink. But they also require effort and energy to respond to those influences and impulses.

So if you want to stay sober, be lazy and don’t do anything that will facilitate getting booze into your mouth. That’s the simple part and it requires no time, energy or money. The hard part will be discovering other things to do with your time, your mind and your money. That WILL require effort and energy, but it will be well invested effort and energy.

It happens before you know it:

Monday, February 27th, 2012

(Audio version of this blog article coming soon.)

Alcohol is the perfect product. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do – it gets you drunk – and often when you least expect it. Before you know it, alcohol garbs hold of your mind. Maybe for the night, for the weekend, for a week. And when you least expect it, sometimes it becomes part of your life.

It becomes part of your life because you’re searching for that perfect feeling, but that perfect feeling is elusive. Cigarette smokers know what I’m talking about, the rush you get off that first drag of the day. Coke users know it as “chasing the dragon.” Juicers are trying to get back to that happy, fun, buzz point.That feeling is usually only caught for a few moments at a time, or at certain points in your experimentation with a substance, but then you keep using your “substance” to find that feeling again – that’s when it becomes a dependency.

During my drinking career, I normally had that “happy, fun, buzz point” every day, but it lasted for only about 15 minutes. “Well that was fun, I’ll try it again.” I would keep trying but I just couldn’t revisit that point again during a day or night of drinking. I had to wait until I slept it all off and try it again the next day. That’s how drinking turned into a dependency for me.

It has a sneaky way of sneaking up on you: There were plenty of times when I consciously said, “I’m going to get hammered.” I knew I would be getting drunk but I never knew how drunk. Thank goodness I never had to deal with me when I was out on those binges. And all too often I never planned (or even wanted) to get drunk – it just happened. I was just going to have a couple of beers. Then the next thing I know it’s 6 hours later and I’m fucked out of my gourd. I’m late for whatever I was supposed to do, my wife was mad at me when I got home, we argue and then I pass out.

Has that ever happened to you? You had no intention of getting wasted and the next thing you know you’re waking up looking at a ceiling, hoping that it’s a ceiling in your house. I’m sure you could rattle off a few instances of when you got drunk but you had no intention of doing so.

Rebecca Mayers, who is a substance abuse instructor and counselor at a Substance Abuse Outpatient Clinic (Denham Springs, LA), told me about her experience on a recent night when she met up with some friends at a bar. She was shocked when she consciously observed what was developing and taking place within her own mind and with her body. I asked her to write out her experience and observations. Here’s Rebecca’s story:

Mark, I had an interesting experience the other night. I was invited by my cousin to go meet with her and her friend for a drink. I’ve known her friend for over 20 years from my bartending years, so hey, why not – what’s one little drink? (Oh and yes, I have a drink at times and still teach a substance abuse education class.) It had been several months since I had drank any alcohol at all. Just not my scene anymore and alcohol had never really been my substance of choice, but I have been known to abuse the hell out of it in my day.

Anyway, by the time I got to the bar, my friends had already been there a while and they obviously had several drinks already. But I had my plan in place and made them both aware that I wasn’t staying long because I had to work the next day.

It’s a small neighborhood bar, country music blaring and the regulars doing their thing… a couple making out at the pool tables, another couple all into each other at the bar (’til his phone rings… and the “oh shit” expression crosses their faces and he gets up and walks outside to answer the call from his wife). Then the normal neighborhood regulars scattered thru out.

So now I’m chatting with my friends, watching the show and drinking my first beer. (I planned on having only one, possibly two at the most.) I am not buying and I drink slower than they do, so before I even finish my first beer I have a few more beers lined up on the bar in front of me. Then the ever popular cry of, “let’s do SHOTS” is heard. “Uhhh, no y’all go ahead, I don’t think so.” More pressure, “C’mon Bec you aren’t fun anymore, you used to party before you started teaching that class…” What else could I say but, “Yea, yer right, I suck now, got a real job and all…  too old to party…”

As I sat and watched the show around me, an interesting thing happened. By my second beer I started to consciously notice my body’s reaction to the alcohol (I must have drank too fast in the past to ever notice this before). My shoulders softly dropped and there was no more tension in my neck and all the bullshit of the day was melting away… wow that’s how quickly it happened…. hhhmmmmmm…. interesting.

I tell my friends that I’m leaving shortly and get another beer shoved at me. Fine, I’ll drink a third beer. Half way through that third beer is when it really hit me – the peace and euphoria that was washing over me. HOLY SHIT BATMAN….DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Over a period of two hours time I had drank almost three beers and was feeling all loosened up. That’s how subtly alcohol did its job – three beers in two hours – powerful stuff.

I wasn’t drunk, my motor skills were functioning properly. If I wouldn’t have been aware of what was going on with me and taken control of the situation, but instead had allowed myself to get caught up in the moment, I could easily have took those shots and chugged a few more beers. I would have reasoned out why I could stay later, not cared about work and ended up blowing some redneck in his truck by midnight (that’s an exaggeration, no cute rednecks were there).

I did not go out to get drunk or to learn anything that night, I went to be normal and catch up on old times with friends. What I did get was a way better understanding of what alcoholics must feel like with that first drink. I know this is gonna help me in group. I am aware of how quickly you can go from working your plan to the “fuck it” mindset and the “I don’t care” attitude. I think it is very important to stress this with them. I also see how the best laid plans can fly out the window in a matter of minutes, and how a beer after work ends up as a free trip to the Livingston Parish Detention Center.

Shouldn’t I have known this as a former bartender for years and as a trained addiction counselor? Yes I knew it. I’ve studied and read all about it and watched it – experiencing it with this knowledge was the new thing. I felt and lived this intoxicating sequence myself. I saw how quickly it can happen. I guess the saying “once you find the light you can’t go back to the darkness” holds true here.

Rebecca’s story is a perfect reminder to me why I can never tempt fate and have “just one little drink.”  In my sober state of mind I can see what would happen if I did. That first drink would get into my system and then my brain would lose control over my rational mind. I can hear myself thinking, “That first one tasted pretty good. I’ll just have one more to cop a little buzz.” Then the alcohol begins doing what it’s supposed to do to my brain and my next thought would be, “Hey, I like this feeling, this is nice. Maybe if I have just one more I’ll be able keep this feeling for a while? Why not, I’ll still be able to drive home.” Followed by, “Do a shot? Sure, why not? I’ve already got a buzz going. How many have I had? It doesn’t matter now. What’a ya mean you’re leaving? C’mon, let’s have one more….” At that point it’s hard to guess what the rest of the night (or afternoon) would turn out like.

It happens that fast – without planning. Then, if or when something bad happens, it’ll be the same old story,,, “Why was I so stupid? How the hell did this happen? Why didn’t I stop before that second drink?”

I’m not stupid and YOU’RE not stupid. Alcohol does exactly what it’s supposed to do: It alters your mood and your thinking. So don’t be shocked and surprised when it happens.

If you’re plan is to drink in moderation, then you must be prepared to STOP – at all costs -before you get to the tipping point. The best laid plans can go completely wrong when you add enough alcohol into the mix. If you’re like me and can’t stop drinking once started, then total abstinence is your safest plan.

Living a normal sober life:

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Audio version of blog article

I often hear the catchphrase, “The new normal.” My understanding of what is meant by this catchphrase is: The way you live now, as a sober person, without drama and chaos, is the new normal. So does this mean I am to believe that as long as I live sober there won’t be any drama or chaos in my life? I doubt that. There may be less drama and chaos and what does exist may be easier to deal with, but I still have plenty of sober dilemmas and sober drama – that’s life.

So let me ask you: “What is normal?” If you think about it, wouldn’t any behavior, at any point in time in your life be considered as normal – normal at THAT moment? We often reflect back and say to ourselves, “Well that wasn’t normal behavior.” But that revelation comes after the fact, after reflecting on your actions. But at the time, your actions and behavior seemed pretty normal to you.

I thought smoking dope all day and getting drunk every night was normal. And for a long time it was normal behavior for me. I wasn’t hiding from anything or self-medicating, I was getting buzzed because I like catching a buzz. I still believe that it’s completely normal for a person to want to change their mood and catch a buzz. Why wouldn’t you? Catching a buzz or getting drunk is intended to be a pleasurable experience. That seems pretty normal to me that a person would want to experience pleasure. But the problem comes in when the intention of experiencing pleasure turns into drunken dramas.

When I first sobered up I never imagined I would be where I’m at right now, 6-1/2 years later. And I’ll tell you without hesitation that during those first few months and years, I NEVER imagined I would learn to enjoy my sobriety. I thought it was abnormal to be bored and depressed. I thought it was abnormal to miss catching a buzz. I thought it was abnormal to be confused about what direction I should take with my sober life. I thought I was abnormal because sobriety didn’t fix all my problems. I discovered that it is normal to feel that way. I discovered that it’s normal to experience all kinds of emotions and confusion. Sobriety is a new and very different way of life, compared to what was once normal for me.

I have discovered that “normal” is completely subjective. Which means that what I think is normal for me may appear to be abnormal to you and vice versa. The greatest thing that I have gained through sobriety is that I have developed an open mind. I seek new knowledge. I welcome differing viewpoints. I want to better understand things that I never understood before. And I have learned to respect that YOU have your own views and opinions and that YOU have your own idea of what is normal.

As a sober person how do you now seek normal pleasure? And what is a normal sober life? I believe that’s up to you to decide. Your new normal might mean that you do things you never imagined you would; like going back to school, looking for a new job, becoming a health or fitness enthusiast. It might mean you live a more structured life and regimented daily schedule. It might mean limiting your circle of friends and your exposure to tempting situations. It might mean that you surround yourself within a sober group or organization. It might mean that you go crazy, step outside of your past life and become a sober daredevil and an adrenalin junkie. Or it might mean that you live your life as you always had, doing all the recreational, social and entertainment activities you once did – you just happen to no longer drink.

To me, living a normal life sober is a combination of continuing to do some of the recreational, social and entertainment activities I always enjoyed along with expanding my mind and my world by trying out and discovering new things. The same goes for you. Just as you will find a new normal, you will have to find new pleasures. Nothing will exactly replicate the sensation of getting drunk or getting high. There’s nothing else like it. You may find some new things that are more pleasurable, but they’ll be pleasurable in a different way. Discover on your own what will bring you feelings of pleasure. Keep in mind that pleasure, just like getting drunk, only lasts for a fixed amount of time. And seeking new pleasures may become just as life consuming as drinking was. (Certain pleasures and behaviors are considered unacceptable in a civilized society so use your common sense.) But at least your new sober pleasures won’t leave you with a hangover.

Please don’t let anyone tell you how you must live to meet their guidelines of what they think is normal. You can listen to their advice, maybe even try adhering to some of it, but determine for yourself what is normal for you.

Normal is evolutionary, just as your sobriety will be evolutionary.

Making your life manageable:

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Audio version of blog article

Step #1 of AA: “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Just because your life is a mess doesn’t mean it’s unmanageable. I know plenty of drinkers – some of them could be considered alcoholics – who are fully capable of managing their lives and finances quite well. Sobriety doesn’t guarantee that your life is going to become manageable. Who says that you have to be an alcoholic or an addict for your life to be unmanageable? Can’t you be completely sober (or never had a drink in your life), and still have your life become unmanageable? Being sober can make it easier, but making your life manageable requires personal effort – additional efforts than just abstaining from alcohol.

What do you consider as an unmanageable life? Too much debt? Sloppy house? Missing work? Arguments or fighting with your spouse? Not enough free time? Too much time spent sleeping? Overeating? For a drunk, it could mean all of those things; it could be only a few things. It could also mean that you drink out of habit or get drunk when you don’t want to.

That’s what unmanageable meant to me. I couldn’t manage how much I would drink once I started. Then while I was drunk I would say and do stupid things resulting in unwanted and unintended consequences. During all the years I was drinking I never once had my electricity turned off, got kicked out of my house or defaulted on a bill. I may have been amassing debt, but even my debt was manageable. So it was my drinking that was unmanageable. Yes, my life was becoming a mess, but it was still manageable within respectable reason. Respectable reason to me means that I paid my mortgage, paid my bills and always had food on the table.

But to go back to my earlier statement: “Sobriety doesn’t guarantee that your life is going to become manageable.” So how do you make your life manageable? (I feel this can be done even if you’re a drinker.)There are a few things that I found I can do which help make my life manageable. The two key things I do are: I stay sober and I make goal lists. Following are some points for you to consider doing if you want to make your life manageable. I’ll give you my ridiculous opinion of each of these points shortly.

Points to make your life manageable:

  • Live within your income
  • Establish a budget and stick to it
  • Make goal lists
  • Make lists of activities to perform
  • Be honest with yourself about your own limitations
  • Don’t compare your life to someone else’s
  • Eliminate unnecessary and useless drama
  • Establish boundaries for the drama that remains
  • Surround yourself with productive people
  • Seek fellowship
  • Turn to your God

I could write an entire article on each one of these points (maybe I will one day), but right now let me just cover them each briefly.

Live within your income: If you earn $100 but always spend $200 – that’s living outside of your income. Inefficient use of money causes stress and gives feelings that you’re underpaid, unsatisfied and always wanting for more. If you had more money you would have to learn to manage it if you want to maintain the lifestyle of being wealthy. So using your $100 efficiently will require that you manage your money and your life – which will reduce stress. Living within your income might mean that you forego some frivolous luxuries and stick to your needs, i.e. food, shelter, clothing, transportation. When you learn to efficiently use what you currently have, you’ll be able to enjoy and use a higher income if or when it happens.

Establish a budget: This means knowing what your required bills are and using your money efficiently to meet your commitments. Any adult that’s been living on their own for more than a year can figure out what it costs per month to live. It doesn’t matter if you live with your parents, a roommate or at a group home; you know what the bare minimum is each month. You know that there will be certain fixed expenses each month like rent/mortgage, food, utility bills, gas, auto payment, insurance, etc. Budgets can be set up for weekly, bi-weekly and monthly expenses. Part of your budget may include cigarettes, entertainment, savings and frivolous stuff. Hey it sucks to see your bills laid out on paper, to see what you absolutely MUST come up with, but when you know how much they are and you take care of them, it makes your life manageable and there’ll be less stress.

Make goal lists: Make lists of things that you want in life, things that you want out of sobriety. The list of goals is not limited to materialistic items. You can have the goal of creating harmony in your family, spending more time with your children and learning together. Furthering your own education, furthering your spirituality and peace with your God. Money is not the one and only goal in life.

Make lists of the activities you must perform: Wishing, hoping and visualizing can be beneficial, because without hopes and dreams you won’t know what you want. But it’s the tangible activities that get you to a destination. Ask yourself: How will I get there? What must be done? Who needs to do it? What are some indicators that will show me I’m reaching my goals?

Be honest about limitations: Having unrealistic and impossible goals can lead to disappointment and future cynicism. “Well that didn’t work… that was stupid… I’m no good… I’m not worthy… why even try…” You should dream BIG dreams, strive for great things, but keep reality and limitations in mind. “I want to be a Rock Star.” If you’re 38 years old, can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t play an instrument, have kids (maybe even grandkids), or other factual responsibilities from your past – you ain’t gonna be a Rock Star and you shouldn’t waste your time and other people’s lives trying. Be realistic about what you can strive for.

Don’t compare your life to someone else’s: Comparing your life to someone else’s is unfair to both of you. This can foster feelings of inadequacy and failure within you, and besides, you have no idea what the other person may have gone through, done or sacrificed to get to where they are. Strive to be like people you admire, strive for accomplishment, strive for nicer materialistic items, but be proud of what YOU have accomplished and learn to enjoy what you have now and enjoy the journey of reaching goals.

Eliminate unnecessary and useless drama: This may mean that you abstain from drinking and change some of your social and entertainment habits. This may also mean that you purge certain people from your life. I’ll use a metaphor here: Watch where you’re walking. Stay away from shit and you’ll be less likely to step in it and get it on you.

Establish boundaries for the drama that remains: You can’t always purge everyone and everything from your life. Maybe you have joint custody of a child and you have to deal with a shit-bag. Place boundaries on yourself, only allow yourself to be drawn in so far. I know, it isn’t easy – passions flair, emotions become enflamed – but only invest so much. Communicate to the extent that’s required and that’s it.

Surround yourself with productive people: Stay away from life suckers, leaches and bad seeds. You may have to purge people from your life and seek new friendships. You may be lonely for a while. Transitions take time. You can’t latch on to productive people and drain them; you must bring something to the relationship. If you are productive, upbeat and a person that takes action, other productive people will gravitate towards you.

Seek fellowship: This may include attending meetings and using the 12-steps, if you like them. But meetings are not the only place to seek fellowship with sober people (which is an entirely different topic in itself because everyone at a meeting isn’t sober). If you pay attention to the people in your immediate world and listen to the words they say, you can pick up on who’s a drinker and who is not. Introduce yourself to them and converse with them. Do some research. You found this site. If you like it, get involved and post comments. Get involved with other sites or events. As a side note, when you do find sober friends, please don’t spend all your time talking about “sobriety.” Engage and converse about other topics.

Turn to your God: This may sound out of character coming from me, but turn to your God or religious teachings if you feel it helps you. I say, “out of character” because many people believe that I’m a cattle raping, kitten stomping atheist. Sorry, I’m not an atheist, I don’t rape cattle and I rarely stomp on kittens (I usually only do that just around the Holidays). C’mon,,, I’m kidding about kitten stomping.

Here are my words of caution. I believe that danger arises when you rely on God or the group to manage your life for you. You can trust that your God or the group will guide you and give you the right answers, but for fact, you still do the action and interpret the guidance yourself. What if you interpret the guidance wrong? What if it all falls to shit anyway and you pray to God and God answers with, “Hey, I didn’t mean you should do that, you misinterpreted Me.” Or when certain things do fall to shit, you glumly say, “Well I guess God didn’t want it for me.” That puts your self-worth and self-esteem at risk. You begin to think, “God doesn’t feel I’m deserving…” That’s dangerous. This also implies that God is manipulating everything. Do you think God chooses who will win PowerBall? Maybe?

And then there’s the whole, “God of your choosing” statement. So if I choose God A, and you choose God B, and we both rely on our God to guide us to serve Her will, who’s God is right and who’s God is real? That means there could be thousands of Gods, and based on Judea/Christian teaching there is only ONE true God. You better choose the right God. But if you’re happy with your spirituality, your God and your religious beliefs, then I’m happy for you. I’m not telling you “not to believe,” I’m asking you to take responsibility for making your own life manageable.

I know that all of this sounds like hard work and it can be at times. The making of lists requires rational thought. Even if one of your goals is to become more spiritual or closer in your relationship with your God, that still requires rational thought. But all these points are not really that complicated. Your life can become manageable with some simple planning and some simple self-control. I know that I say “simple,” and it really is simple, but it’s not always easy.

I wish you the best of success at making your life manageable.

Are you a situational drunk?

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Audio version of this article

Regardless of whether you are currently a drinker, a former drinker or someone who struggles with relapse, I believe this article can apply to all of us. Maybe you’ll discover some insights about yourself and your own behaviors from it.

I never needed a reason or a situation to drink; I drank because I liked it and because I wanted to get drunk. However, when I reflect back I can see that I made sure that I put myself in situations where I could justify my drinking or better yet, I would devise reasons to drink at events or during certain activities – I was creating a situation to drink.

Does this sound confusing? Let me give some details and examples.

Going out clubbing or bar hopping are obvious situations where drinking is the core of the activity. But there were many other activities I would do where drinking was not a prerequisite to having fun, but I made sure that getting buzzed was a primary activity. For instance:

  • Go to a party – bring beer and dope with me and made sure that I had a buzz going before I arrived (just in case there were too many straight people there)
  • Go to a concert or show – catch a buzz on the way there and bring a small cooler so I could drink a few before the show
  • Go to a picnic – always made sure that I had a cooler filled with more than enough beer for one human to possibly consume
  • Go golfing – pack a small cooler with beer and a thermos filled with Bloody Mary
  • Go boating – pack a large cooler with beer, wine and whatever else I felt might be needed
  • Go to a football or baseball game – pack two coolers; one for food and the other filled with drinking supplies
  • Go to a relative’s or friend’s house for a holiday or casual event – bring beer and wine as a gift (surreptitiously done to ensure that I had something to drink or just in case they ran out)
  • Inviting friends over – just supply food and beverages. Make sure that I invite other drinkers and do what I can to persuade others to drink with me
  • Pull out early – (not what you’re thinking you pervert) if invited to an event where drinking won’t be popular, I would preplan an early escape or reason to leave so I can get to my drinking, or sneak off to have a couple drinks/tokes and return
  • Pass on events – similar to pulling out early, but in this case I would make up some excuse as to why I couldn’t attend because I knew drinking wouldn’t be part of the event
  • Be a passenger – this way I could drink or smoke while en route to an event (always assuring the driver that I’ll be careful and keep the beverage or pipe down)

The above are some of my own examples. I’m sure you have others that are specific to you.

Literally any holiday, event, place, happening or activity can be devised into a situation to drink. Then there are certain people who I gravitated towards, simply because I knew that we would feed each other’s thirst for drinking. Not all of them were bad people, they were just heavy drinkers, and we would validate each other’s drinking. Whether it was conscious or unintentional, my first choice was to surround myself with others who would participate with my drinking or overlook it.

Conversely, I would try to hide my drinking when I was around those who I felt wouldn’t approve of it. I may have liked those people, and they may have liked me, but we didn’t have the common desire to drink recklessly, so I purposefully spent less time with them. If I did happen to get drunk around them, I can now see that they purposefully drifted away and spent less time around me. They were doing the same situational tactic: they were creating situations to stay away from drunks (me) and devising situations to be around constructive people.

Do you do the same thing I did? Do you put yourself in situations so you can validate you’re drinking? Do you seek out people who you know will want you to drink or will tempt you? Do you risk a relapse by putting yourself in dicey situations? Are there certain places, dates, events or activities which make you feel like drinking? Are there certain people who make you feel like drinking? “Every time I get together with (name) something bad always seems to happen.” It doesn’t mean that that person is inherently bad; it just means that they’re bad for you. I’ll admit, there are people that I like who bring out the worst in me, who just make me feel like doing the wrong thing. I’m not blaming them; I’m the one doing it. So I either limit my time and closeness with them or I must avoid them or the events altogether.

If you’re serious about living sober you need to think about this stuff. If you acknowledge and know what your downfalls and weak points are you can begin to take control of them.

Are there ways to use these same drinking situation tactics to create healthy, rewarding and constructive situations? I believe there are. Primarily it is dependent on my own behavior, who I surround myself with and where I go. Just because I want healthy situations doesn’t mean they’ll come and get me, I have to go find and create them, just like I did with my drinking situations.

You may have to change your circle of friends and change some of your social life. Notice that I said “may” have to change these things. You can still participate in activities, your hobbies and interests without drinking. You just change the situation by changing what you put in your cooler, what time you go to an event, how much money you bring with you, whom you hang around and of course – your own frame of mind about needing to drink.

Look at the circle of people you already know. Do you have certain friends that when you get around them you just feel happy, silly, playful and alive? Are there others who challenge and brighten your mind? I’m sure you know some people in your life who bring out the best in you. Seek them out, gravitate towards them, expand with them. You may have to reintroduce yourself to them, you may have to create the situation for them to get to know you better. Consider accepting some offers that you once thought would be boring when you were a drinker. Hey, they might still be boring, but you won’t know until you try.

You could go hang out in bars and clubs on a regular basis (every weekend), and not drink, but you would still be putting yourself in the environment of other people’s drunken dramas. You could still go to events, parties and social activities with your usual drinking friends, but you’ll just be creating a situation for relapse to occur. If you’re willing to risk relapse, why not be willing to risk rejection or boredom by trying some new things? Keep in mind that every new thing won’t be that great and every new person or rekindled acquaintance doesn’t have to become your new best friend.

You can create situations for sobriety, but you’ve got to put your mind to it. Sobriety can be a pretty interesting and rewarding evolution. Hey why not give it a try? What’s the worst that can happen? You can always go back to drinking.

Planning to plan to plan to live sober:

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Audio version of this blog article

Are you planning to plan to someday stop drinking? But you’re not quitting just yet because you want to make sure that everything is perfectly in order before you quit? Do you hear yourself (or hear someone else), saying things like: “I want to consult my doctor first, I’m worried about getting DT’s, I need to get some other things in order, I need to call the rehab center, blah, blah, blah…” Well guess what? That’s all bullshit. It’s just more excuses to validate – to yourself – that you want to keep drinking.

Do you think other people believe those statements? They may nod their head in agreement, they may say, “Ya that’s a good idea,” but they don’t believe you, they know you’re going to keep drinking. Talking about what you’re going to do ain’t getting it done. So if you’re not going to do something, you might as well just keep your mouth shut and don’t say anything.

I hear those excuses all the time from people. They call me to say that they need to quit drinking, they want to quit drinking, asking me for ideas on how to quit drinking, but then they often return to, “Well I want to check with my doctor first, I’m worried about withdrawals, I’m afraid of sunspots, blah fucking blah…” All someone is doing when they make those statements is they’re planning to plan to keep drinking. They sound silly when they say stuff like that. It’s an embarrassment to themselves and an insult to the person they’re talking to when they keep telling them this crap-o-la. Look, if you wanna drink I don’t give a fuck, and a lot of other people don’t give a fuck either. Thinking about not drinking ain’t gonna make you sober – only not drinking keeps you sober.

So I want to ask you to think about this: Do you (or did you), spend that same amount of time talking about and planning your drinking or planning your drinking career? No, you just went and did it. Oh sure, you might make plans for the night or for the weekend.  And if you do plan ahead for your drinking, it seems to be more about planning the supplies and what you’ll need, and not planning the actual drinking itself. People don’t say, “I need to talk with my doctor before I go out and get drunk tonight.” And a lot of us don’t plan on getting drunk, but it happens. So for the most part, when you drink, you just go do it – it just starts.

So with all that said, you can plan on quitting drinking, but in reality, all you have to do is no longer drink. Isn’t that weird? You don’t have to do anything special to quit – you don’t have to do something to stop something. You just no longer do it, starting right here and right now. What you then do is plan for what you want out of your sobriety and plan what activities you need to perform to fulfill your plan of living sober.

If you decide to quit you can use the mantra: “One day at a time,” but why not make a plan and then work your plan one day at a time? You might start with a plan for one week or for 30 days, then start planning for what you want in 6 months or a year. It’s okay to change your plans as time passes. Conditions change, your needs change and your wants will change. It’s okay to change and adapt your plans.

Without a plan you just bounce along and look for the problem-of-the-moment or the excitement-of-the-moment. Without a plan, you’re just ballooning. I like using the analogy of ballooning because it’s very visual. Have you ever filled up a balloon with air and then let it go? It flies all over the place, expending all of its contents and energy, blowing around the room with no direction. It runs out of air and just falls. It does a lot but accomplishes nothing. Don’t balloon – focus your effort towards getting the things you want.

Just because you plan something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Even if you have perfectly prepared detail of your actions, something can go awry.  Other people and conditions can throw a wrench in your machinery. But keep in mind that other people and changing conditions will always be a part of life, and without goals and a plan you start reacting to other people and conditions and THEY end up running your life.

So I’m asking that you look at this a little differently. Instead of planning to quit drinking, look at making a plan of what you want out of living sober. Look forward in your life, visualize the things that you will do, that you will have and how you will behave as a sober person.  When you do that, you’ll be planning to succeed, not planning to wait.

But hey, it’s your life, do what you want. I just hope that I get you to think a little bit.

Consistently Inconsistent:

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Audio of blog

Being consistently inconsistent is actually something you can count on. How can that be? Well, have you ever had a friend or someone you love tell you that they were going to do something and you thought, “I’m not gonna hold my breath, they’ll never do it.” What you’ve done is you’ve learned to count on their inconsistency.

If you were to follow the trail of someone over a one year period, you would know if they are consistent or inconsistent. Let me give you an example of three individuals. Two of these examples are about constant inconsistency and one is about building consistency.

Person A: This person publicly announces on FB that she has quit drinking. Then a few weeks later she posts: “time heals all wounds, but whiskey is quicker.” So now she’s out drinking again. Then she makes daily posts about all the scumbags she meets and dates. Then she talks about all the trials, tribulations and drama in her life. Then she’s whining about being “sick & tired of being sick & tired.” Followed a few weeks later by posts and quotes from scripture with pictures of Jesus. Then out of nowhere comes a post inviting friends to join her in a drinking night at given Bar. And then back to posting about boozin’ it up and wild nights. So she goes from being a drunk, to publicly announcing her sobriety, to posting religious quotes and claiming she’s found Jesus, back to drinking again – all in a one year timeframe. What do you think a perspective employer or boyfriend would think if they followed her FB trail? She’s inconsistent and you can count on it.

Person B: For more than 18 months a man (a medical professional), has been calling me to whine about his family dramas associated with his regularly occurring relapses. Every 2-4 weeks I get a call from him. “I did it again Mark. I got drunk, called my ex-wife and my kids,,, now they won’t talk to me.” I have yet to receive a phone call where he says, “I’m making some progress. I’m feeling good about myself and I’m making plans for what I want out of sobriety.” Oh no – it’s always about his consistent relapses and drunken drama. He’s always depressed, and dumbfounded, and he can’t seem to figure out why his kids don’t respect him or want to spend time with him.  ”I’ve left them messages apologizing and telling them how sorry I am,, that I’ll never do it again, but they still won’t talk to me.” All I can say to this man is, “Why would they believe you? Why would they want to talk to you? You keep letting them down with your inconsistency – they count on it – and they can. You need to first be consistent for a while, like a year or so, and then maybe they’ll believe you, but the truth is they may NEVER believe you.”

“A year? I can’t wait that long. I want to get back together with them sooner, I want to be a family again.” That’s when I tell him, “Look, your desire is normal, but you want what you have not earned. What you have earned is disrespect and mistrust. By consistently staying sober and not drunk dialing them, you might earn their respect and trust back.” I finally told this guy that I should send him a CD of my answer, because it’s the same shit every time. He’s consistently inconsistent with his behavior and I’m consistent with my response. I’m not that great or brilliant, but I’m consistent.

Person C: This man had a horrible meltdown one night while out drinking. His wife had to come pick him up at a bar and it was an ugly scene. The next day she gave him a final ultimatum: “Stop drinking or I’m leaving.” He put himself into a self-imposed “lockup” at home for the next few months. He was irritable and almost unbearable, but he was working at becoming the sober husband and father that he wanted to become.

The first time he headed out with the boys he slipped and had a few beers. He didn’t get blasted drunk, but he didn’t like what he had done. So he disclosed the drinking to his wife and they discussed how they can adjust their social and entertainment lifestyle so that they would spend more time together. They worked on his sobriety as a team. Over the next one year period he applied for a lot of different jobs, worked at a few of these places, but would quit after a few weeks because he didn’t like the jobs. But he was consistent in looking for meaningful employment and consistent in growing stronger in his sobriety. He’s been sober for more than two years now. The key was that he was consistent. It wasn’t easy, but he is winning this battle and is becoming more comfortable with his sobriety. He’s proud of himself and proud of his determination to stay consistent. He has proven, over time, that he is someone you can count on.

These stories are examples of why I say that I don’t trust or believe very many people. I’m not speaking ill of humanity and all people are NOT inherent liars. But reliability and consistency are rare, yet valuable and welcomed traits. I find it works best if I don’t hold people to my expectations that they will keep their word. I can still like someone even if I don’t believe in them. When I don’t have false expectations I can get along better with someone.

Let me explain and give examples of what I mean about liking someone even when they are consistently unreliable. People say a lot of things that they’ll never actually follow through on. “I’ll take care of that,,, I’ll call you,,, I’ll call that person for you,,, I’m quitting drinking,,, I’ll pay you back when I get my next check,,, honest, I’ll never do that again,,,” If I don’t believe what they’re telling me, I’m not setting myself up for a letdown. But that also means that I will only give them so much of my time, my attention and my heart.

And the same goes for you. If you are consistently inconsistent, others who are close to you won’t have any confidence in you. They won’t take you seriously and they will learn to not believe a word you say. And then people wonder why their kids, spouse or friends don’t believe them. It’s because they are exhibiting that they’re consistently unreliable. And then it’s like the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Eventually, people drift away.

Look, I’m not lecturing you. I’ve been guilty of this behavior myself. I did it all the time during my drinking days. I figured that nobody would care if I’m inconsistent. What’s the big deal? So I wasn’t on time or didn’t do what I said I was going to do. I was busy, shit came up. Everybody gets busy… What I noticed happens is that people learned to not rely on me; they didn’t expect me to keep my word and they didn’t take me seriously – they came to accept that I was consistently inconsistent and placed no faith or trust in me.

After I sobered up I began to realize how important it is to be consistently consistent. I began understanding how disrespectful it is towards other people when I am inconsistent. As a result of being consistent, I’ve gotten much better at saying, “No, I can’t.” That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to help people or that I don’t want to get involved – it means that I don’t let people down as much as I used to  because I’m willing to say when I won’t or can’t do something. This also helps me keep myself from being drawn into someone else’s bullshit and drama.

Showing consistency is what earns respect. When other people just “know” that they can count on you, they respect you. Holding a consistent line on your actions and your values doesn’t mean that you’ll be liked, but you’ll undoubtedly be respected. As for me, I don’t give a shit if you don’t like me – but you can count on me – and that actually means that I value and respect YOU.

Consistency and reliability take time to prove. 30 days sober, 90 days sober, going to meetings a couple times a week doesn’t prove that you’re consistent. It shows that you’re sincere and that you’re taking your sobriety seriously – but only time and your actions will prove consistency.

Being consistent means making a commitment to do it every day from here on out, not just making a commitment to one day at a time.

Letting go of shit:

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Audio version of blog article

A good friend of mine asked me, “How do you let go of shit? I can’t seem to get stuff out of my mind once it’s in there or the incident is over.” He wasn’t just referring to grand failures, but to all kinds of silly little stuff, such as making a mathematical or spelling error, sending an email to the wrong person, hearing some rumor secondhand that someone said about him, forgetting to use a coupon on a purchase, etc. All of this little shit keeps piling up, clutters his mind and tarnishes his view of his world, often resurrecting old feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Any of this sound familiar?

Regardless of whether these foibles and incidences have a real negative impact on our life or not doesn’t seem to matter, what matters is that they feel real and invade our thoughts. Richard Carlson wrote a great book titled: Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff. It’s a book worth reading. I think it offers ideas and tools to use that will help bring future events, human interactions and occurrences into a softer perspective. But the question here and now is: “How do you let go of shit once it’s in there?”

Before I go off on my rambling answer, allow me to tell you what I’m going to center on. In this particular article I’m going to stay focused on smaller, incidental, daily and short-term “shit” that – for fact – does distract our mind and pulls at our attention. It can be so annoying that it draws ALL of our attention and may hold us back from enjoying our life, but it is of no important significance. These incidental items may also erupt feelings of guilt and regret within you, making them feel just as important as BIGGER issues. (Long-term “shit” is usually coupled with deeper feelings of guilt and regret and may be founded on fact. I will address that topic in a different article.)

Are you a drama queen? Replaying the day’s dramas, calling friends to “talk about it,” ruminating over every comment and personal foible? I know I was the king of drama queens for a long period of my life. The drunker I got, the bigger everything looked (yes, even that). I became so accustomed to drama and problems that when they slowly began to disappear after I sobered up, I believed something was wrong and that my life had turned flat. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of MAJOR problems to deal with when I initially sobered up, but slowly the major problems disappeared as I accepted my factual conditions and then worked on them. It didn’t take long and I had plenty of new sober problems in my life. But genuine problems are much easier to handle now that I don’t drink – but I still ruminate over little shit. And when I do, I catch myself before the little shit debilitates me form enjoying my life and feeling okay about myself.

It’s the little shit that can jeopardize my sobriety – if I allow it to. I am well aware of this and I remind myself (or ask myself): “Will drinking make this go away? Will drinking make this any better?” My answer is always, “NO.” It never worked in the past, so what makes me think it will work in the present or the future? (Insert your drug of choice for the word: drinking.)

Here’s another one. Are you a member of the “Problem-of-the-moment” club? Have you ever been so preoccupied thinking about something someone said to you, or had some problem stewing away in your mind, and you just couldn’t get rid of it? Then your phone rings and you’re thrust into a new problem. Suddenly the old problem is virtually wiped from your mind and you’re fixated on this new issue. That’s what I call “problem-of-the-moment” club. Problem-of-the-moment can be very nerve-wracking and wear you out emotionally. It can sabotage the accomplishment and doing of meaningful things because you let the problem-of-the-moment draw you in to useless, time wasting drama.

It might be that you feel empty without drama. It might also be that you feel something is wrong with you if you don’t fret, worry and ruminate over problems. That might be your personality. But does that behavior get in the way of you enjoying your life and yourself? If you find that you can’t shake the little shit off, but you would like to, read on.

So, let’s set the stage: As I said earlier, small shit isn’t just failures. It could be anything from misinterpreting something someone said to you or said about you, a random occurrence of bad luck (i.e.; flat tire, dent in the car door, lost keys or money), something you said (that you wish you wouldn’t have), a public embarrassment, whatever. But regardless of what it is, it keeps rolling around in your mind and you keep replaying it in your memory. Some little, incidental event enters your thoughts and suddenly it’s bringing up feelings of guilt, inadequacy, anger, remorse, etc. This small annoyance becomes all consuming and distracts you from what you should be thinking about or should be doing.

So what can you do about it? Here’s what I do. It’s nothing profound or groundbreaking. It doesn’t always work perfectly for me, but it gives me a strategy to implement.

I acknowledge that something is wearing on me or distracting me. I then begin asking myself a lot of questions:

  • “Is this really that important?”
  • “Is this going to make a difference in my life? How? When?”
  • “Do I need to address this RIGHT NOW?”
  • “Do I need to address this with someone in particular?”
  • “What might be the outcome if I do address this with that person?”
  • “Is there something that I can do about this situation without involving anyone else?”
  • “Do I actually have any control over the situation?
  • “Am I giving this situation too much power over me?”

If this little annoyance continues to bother me, I’ll consciously think about it and decide if I CAN do something to address it. If it’s just some small, annoying, pedantic thing, I will consciously talk to myself: “Mark, get over it. It’s not a big deal and you have more important things to work on.” I will then begin doing some task that requires my concentration. It can be a simple task, but I do my best to get deeply involved in the task. Typically it will be either something that I’ve been putting off or something that is of genuine value and importance. In this instance, I’m actually employing the “problem-of-the-moment” strategy to draw my focus towards something productive.

Whether these foibles and incidences have a real negative impact or not doesn’t seem to matter, what matters is that they feel real and invade our thoughts. It takes a conscious effort to let go of shit. I believe that the best things you can do are:

  • Think about what the real issue is
  • Weigh its merits
  • Consciously become immersed in some activity

If something bothers you, ask yourself: “What am I going to do about it?” I understand that this is often easier said than done. But what alternative do you have? You can sit, stew and ruminate, or let shit go and do something productive.

In closing I will steal from (and modify) the Serenity Prayer:

I will take personal responsibility to change the things that I can. I will accept that there are things that I cannot change. I will expand my knowledge so that I learn to know the difference. I will accept that other people do have control over certain things that affect my life. I will show mercy and pity towards any motherfucker that gets in my way while I’m changing the things that I can. I will refuse to lose. Serenity now.

Allow yourself some sinful pleasures:

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Why not? Life is not intended to be all suffering, struggling, and sacrifice. Unless you’re hoping to be canonized by the Church or striving for martyrdom, have a little fun in life. There can, and should be, pleasantries while muddling through the unpleasant. Just because you no longer drink or do drugs doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and allow yourself a few sinful pleasures.

That brings up the question: “Who determines what your sinful pleasures are?” Your religion, your government, your partner, your peers, your group, your sponsor, your family? Who’s rules are you willing to follow – and why do you follow them – or who are you allowing to judge you?

I’ll agree that some people don’t make very good judgments and they are better off following the directives of someone else, but sinful pleasures are still subjective. Subjective meaning: To one person a certain activity is appalling but to another person it’s no big deal.

I find it interesting that (to some), having a drink or taking a pull off a joint is considered reprehensible or that you are a failure if you do so – but it’s okay to guzzle gallons of caffeine and smoke a carton of Marlboros during break. There is nothing more annoying than listening to a reformed prostitute lecture on the evils of sex.

Some examples of sinful pleasures that others consider reprehensible include:

  • Having an occasional glass of wine or a cocktail with dinner
  • Smoking a cigarette
  • Eating a piece of cake
  • Making love with the lights on
  • Masturbating
  • Buying a lottery ticket
  • Eating meat on Friday
  • Dancing
  • Going to a bowling alley
  • Add your own to this list

Let me ask you: “Is thinking about sinful pleasure a sin?” The I.R.S. doesn’t think so. I can contemplate lying on my taxes, but I am guilty of no sin (crime), if I report my income honestly. I am only guilty of sin (crime), if I take action on it and lie on my taxes.

Many people feel that Friedrich Nietzsche was a nutcase, but he ask a good question in The Genealogy of Morals.

Are you guilty of a sin simply by thinking about it?

My belief is that it’s not a sin unless you take action on it and do it. We all have normal emotions. Haven’t you ever wanted to kick someone’s ass because they did something hurtful to you? Haven’t you ever wanted to take something that wasn’t yours? Haven’t you ever envied someone or felt aroused looking at someone? Haven’t you ever felt vindicated when you were proven to be right in a situation? Haven’t you ever wished that the dickhead in the Porsche that just passed you gets a speeding ticket? Sinful thoughts are normal, it’s whether you take action or not is what matters.

So, back to your sinful pleasures. Even when engaging in a pleasure to excess – if you’re harming no one but yourself – is it sinful? I believe that it’s okay to have a few sinful pleasures in your life. Sinful pleasures don’t have to be destructive, unsafe or unhealthy pleasures. These might include sleeping in late one day a week, watching a certain TV show, reading a certain genre of book, smoking a couple cigarettes, eating a certain snack or food, sitting around and being lazy, getting a manicure or massage, etc. Sinful pleasures only become a problem if they adversely harm another person or if they become an all encompassing obsession in your life.

Deciding what sinful pleasures you want to enjoy will ultimately make you responsible for them. It’s important to ask yourself questions before engaging in sinful pleasures:

  • Who might this harm?
  • Who might this hurt?
  • What will the consequences be?
  • Am I willing to accept the consequences?
  • Is it worth the risk?
  • Is it appropriate – for ME?
  • Am I doing it for ME or to please someone else?
  • If I’m doing it for someone else will this benefit me?

Sinful pleasures are something that you give to yourself. I believe that they should be used as rewards – a gift when fulfillments of responsibilities and self-control have been exhibited. But even a few sinful pleasures can get out of control and may need to be reigned back in again.

There is no need to rob yourself of all the fun that life has to offer just because you don’t drink. But choose your vices wisely. Take others into consideration. Will your pleasure harm someone else or strain the relationship between you? When in doubt, don’t. Personal responsibility is tough. Making decisions on your own behalf and in your own self-interest can be complicated. Sometimes it IS easier to follow the guidelines and rules handed down by someone else. Choice is difficult.

Am I creating more confusion by posing this discussion on sinful pleasures? Maybe. My job in life isn’t to tell you what you should do – that’s your job. My desire is to get you to think and learn to make the best out of your own life.

Do you have a problem or does someone else have a problem?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Here’s the long version of this question:

Do YOU have a problem with your drinking or does SOMEONE ELSE have a problem with your drinking?

This question and topic might surprise you. “Aren’t you supposed to be the Sobriety Coach and don’t you write on sobriety?” Yes, I do coach and write on sobriety, but I’m not anti-alcohol. Drink if you want to. Get drunk every day if you want to – it’s your life. But there will be consequences. If you’re willing to accept the consequences (especially the unintended one’s), that’s up to you.

Even living sober will have consequences, some good, some not so good. Is sobriety your problem or someone else’s? Do you burden others with your sober lifestyle? Is your way of sobriety working for you, but not working or being done the way someone else wants you to work it?

Let’s look at the question of problem drinking first.

I am approached by a lot of people who ask, “My husband, wife, son (insert whoever) has a drinking problem. How can I get them to control it?” I then begin asking a variety of questions, but it eventually comes down to, “Do they feel they have a problem or do you feel they have a problem? Maybe they just like to drink and they like how they are. Could it be that they’re not living up to a standard or a way of life that you expect of them?”

Now if someone else’s drinking is creating problems for you, then talk with them about it if you feel you should. But a word of caution on this. Just because you talk with someone doesn’t mean they’ll change or heed your advice. They’ll most likely be defensive – why wouldn’t they be? How would you feel if someone said to you, “You know, you’re a real fuck-up, but I love you and that’s why you should listen to me and do what I tell you to do.” Approaching someone about what you feel is their drinking problem can be terminal to a relationship. Be prepared for anything to happen.

If you are the drinker who is approached, please do your best to remain calm and listen to what the person has to say. They may see things that you don’t, but it doesn’t mean that they are right. If you are approached by more than one person, or it seems that the people who approach you are sober themselves or are important people in your life – and there’s a common theme – then maybe they DO see something you don’t. Maybe you should heed their suggestion to stop drinking if you want to keep them in your life.

Drinking partners rarely say, “You’ve got a problem.” So any confrontation will come from outside of your drinking circle. And just because you drink (even get drunk once in a while), doesn’t mean you have a drinking problem. It’s only a problem if you notice recurring events result every time you drink. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Hangovers
  • Drinking related illnesses or injuries
  • Remorse
  • Drinking debt
  • Arguing when drinking
  • Detachment from people who don’t drink
  • Embarrassment
  • Strained relationships
  • Legal problems

As I like to say, “If you think you have a drinking problem, you probably do.” You don’t need to fill out a survey or questionnaire to figure out if you have a drinking problem. If YOU don’t like what happens in your life when you’re drinking, then don’t drink.

Now let’s look at the problem of sobriety. I’ll use my own life as an example.

I learned very early in my sobriety that it’s not my job to preach the good word or try to influence others to join my sober world. (This may sound incongruent because here I am writing about sobriety, but this is the appropriate place to do it. And you’ll notice that I’m not trying to get you to join my club, admit that you have a problem or bully you into my way of thinking. I wish to inspire you to ask questions and think on your own.) The more I pushed sobriety, the farther people backed away from me. “I got sober, why doesn’t everyone else?” My newfound, overzealous sobriety was draining me of friends.

30 days into my sobriety I began attending AA meetings hoping to find answers to my sober dilemmas. I discovered a lot during the following 9 months. I discovered some very helpful ideas and principles on self-reflection. However I also discovered that I was insulating myself into a cloistered world where “normies don’t understand us” and nonmembers are considered as outsiders. I attempted to spread step #12 – I was rebuffed and shunned by anyone outside of the private club.

I continued to attend. As I listened to others, I discovered that I must take personal responsibility for my own sobriety and not rely on anything but my own strength. That is when I began to write down my own thoughts and share my own interpretations of sobriety – but ONLY with those who are interested. I am fortunate to now be in a position where I can share what I have learned about living sober. I have not attended an AA meeting in over 5-1/2 years, I’m going on 6-1/2 years sober at this writing.

Fervent AA members often tell me things like: “You’re destined to fail. You’re not happy. You’re just white knuckling it. It won’t work. You need to work the steps. You need a higher power. You’re just kidding yourself. You’re going to fail. Etc…” My standard response is: “Why do you want to undermine my sobriety? I don’t want to harm your sobriety. Aren’t we both after the same goal, to live sober?”

I understand that my way of living sober is a problem for certain people, but that’s THEIR problem, not mine. I won’t even engage in debate. There’s nothing to be gained by trying to persuade for or against any program or system. I am not made better by getting you to agree with me or getting you to change your mind. I have found that my laidback attitude and approach to sobriety is beneficial to me and to my relationships with other people – even drinkers. I make sure that my sobriety is not a problem to them – my sobriety is my problem and no one else’s.

So, how do I cohesively wrap this up? I believe that you should ask a lot of questions of yourself (in no particular sequence or order of importance):

  • Do I think I have a drinking problem?
  • Does someone else think I have a drinking problem?
  • Does my drinking create problems for me or for others?
  • Do I drink to appease someone else?
  • Do I stay sober to appease someone else?
  • What do I expect from others with these appeasements?
  • Does my style of sobriety create problems for me or for others?
  • Do others have a problem with my style of sobriety?
  • Are any of my concerns legitimate?
  • Is there validity to the problems people may claim I have?
  • How can I make the best out of my own situation?
  • What can I do that I can be proud of?

Drink if you want to. Become a member of a group if you want to. Do your own thing if you want to. But please remember that there will be consequences to every action and every inaction.