How Thoughts Become Friends
Maybe you don’t know this, but I’m sober. I made my decision to stop drinking without a public service announcement, bells, whistles or fanfare. I was simply forced to make a difficult decision and I did.
Since then, I’ve realized that alcoholism is only one addiction that requires a difficult decision. Replacing “alcohol” with gambling, narcotics or sex seems intuitive but replace “alcohol” with any number of phobias, fears or anxieties, and suddenly reducing any dysfunction to a thought form completely spins the bottle to where true responsibility for addiction lies.
Good Feeling Gone
Recently I was talking with a young person. We’ll call said person YP. YP had tried alcohol. Twice. Even though YP wasn’t considered, by modern law, mature enough to legally partake, YP had planned to drink and executed perfectly.
YP got caught.
Consider how many times alcohol has been the cause of “good feeling gone.” For YP it was a game of chance. And by trying alcohol, keeping it a secret and failing to believe that the evidence would catch up, YP jeopardized the opportunities YP didn’t even know could be lost. YP didn’t like the feeling that came with this entire scenario. YP didn’t like the chaos. Which was good, because it made it easy to make my point:
Drama follows alcohol.
From the moment alcohol enters your thoughts, it’s an entity. It’s a friend. Instantly you feel a camaraderie. It knows you and takes on a cute persona with an endearing name like something people call their first car. Like Cleo.
Like any relationship, the one with Cleo takes time and energy to build, foster and cultivate. It demands attention to detail and investigation of options, of the industry. It feeds on individualization and predispositions. It requires the refinement of taste and the study of appropriate glassware. The boxed variety is acceptable with penny pinchers but only aged varietals please those with sophisticated palates.
All this takes focus. The problem is, when you focus on this relationship, you’re not focusing on what you say you want. Focus on Cleo long enough, and you’ll even make excuses for the problems that come with him.
But forgetting who’s watching is the real problem.
I look at it this way. Someone’s always watching. Call that entity a spirit, deity, universe, higher power or anything you want but when I’m alone, spinning impaired stories with anxiety, fears or anger, I think of what I’m attracting. Because whoever’s watching “feels” me and sends back exactly what will resonate with how I’m feeling. If it’s generous, it’ll send something back that will amplify those feelings. Light begets light. But whether you say you want it or not, you can always choose to descend from dark to pitch black. All it takes is a long, painful trail of constant contrary thoughts: saying you want one thing but choosing behavior that leads to feelings that are in direct conflict.
Let’s be honest, no one wants to go there. At least we say we don’t. But what if “there” is what life appears to have on automatic shipment?
I’ve been there. I’ve felt the weight of my world crushing me. The baggage I’d carried with me into my dark, cramped hole prevented a single ray of light from fighting through even as I begged for a shooting star. I would go 'round and ‘round in my thoughts to justify resentment and disgust and fear. I could look back and easily piece together an intricately designed puzzle of discontent that fit snugly and was aesthetically pleasing.
But it all boiled down to one thing: when I focused on what I didn’t want, I was getting more of what I didn’t want. I needed a way to focus on what I wanted. That leads to an extremely difficult choice. And the most difficult part of that choice is admitting that you’re out of excuses. Admitting that if that shooting star glided by, you wouldn’t even see it.
A friend of mine was a good golfer. He’d always been a great athlete and his natural inclination to excel in sports had served him well. Many opportunities were opened to him because he could command his body. Until he walked to the golf tee.
None-the-less, he continued to practice. Years passed, yet his failure to cut strokes lingered like chronic halitosis. What annoyed him more than his inability to improve his golf game was his failure to diagnose the problem.
So one day he made a choice. He can’t say there was a direct correlation between his handicap and this decision nor can he explain the intuitive nature of it. But the fact remains. He decided to quit drinking.
The funny part is, he wasn’t a big drinker to start with. He’d have just a few glasses of wine here and there, especially the one that greeted him nightly when he walked in the door.
After he quit, his handicap dropped from 19 to 6 in 18 months. His intention is to be a three handicap player by this summer, a decrease he believes will be the most challenging. What can he attribute it to? He can’t say. But maybe, just maybe, it was the focus he’d gained by turning his back on Cleo.
Uncertainty vs. Possibility
I’m no genius, but after I made the decision to stop drinking, a treasure trove of reasons, really ugly reasons to support my decision flooded my cache. The mirror reflected back how awful things would have gotten with an image that wasn’t the fairest of them all. The hardest part was accepting that I had been content on that path and with the certainty that accompanied it.
In contrast, being sober felt uncertain, only because it was unfamiliar. So I changed how I felt about uncertainty and called it possibility. The more I embraced possibility the more possibility opened up for me. Eventually I figured out exactly what life is asking us to do:
Put everything you want in one hand—your deepest desires, your biggest dream, your wildest fantasy about how amazing you can feel about life. Then put alcohol in another. Or replace “alcohol” with “drugs” or “anxiety,” or any other fear or insecurity you’ve perfected that constantly shows up when you think things are going so well. Maybe too well. Put your wildest dream in one and Cleo in another.
Fill each hand. Hold them out and examine them thoroughly. The most important part to keep in mind is not “that you have yet to choose” but to this moment in life, “you’ve already chosen.” Every thought, every choice, every intersection has led to where you are at this moment—forced to make another decision.
This is your second chance. Or third or whatever. Your dreams or your BFF with the cute name. Either/or. You can’t have it any other way. The two can’t co-exist. They don’t play nice. Moderation is not how it’s advised that you drink, it’s how you choose to live. Do you want it all or do you want to be average? That’s what moderation is. Drink to moderation. Live to moderation.
One Simple Rule
Impairment doesn’t start with the first drink. It starts with the first thought of alcohol. Or replace “alcohol” with your excuse. With that first thought, your focus has been redirected. I’ve used this exercise so many times, first with alcohol, then with the myriad of negative thoughts, fears and phobias that I thought were simply part of life; simply part of me.
I had one simple rule: if it didn’t feel good, it had to go.
What You’re Missing
If you think I’m full of crap, it’s because you’re ignoring the biggest problem of all: you don’t know what you’re missing. You’ve never considered that you might dominate your golf game by going clean. How could there possibly be a correlation? How would you know? You’ve never tried sobriety—real, true sobriety—the kind where you accept the rule that you can’t have them both.
I wish when I was young I’d had a crystal ball, one that could have shown me the future based on a few decisions I would make that seemed harmless—sociably acceptable. Made me popular, even cool. A psychic ball that showed me that those decisions might have felt justified but it could show me all the stuff I didn’t know I’d be missing.
You don’t know what you’re missing. Or maybe you do. Maybe your gig is playing the martyr. That’s another game Cleo loves. You think you’re getting mileage out of it but all you’re doing is burning daylight. Maybe one day you’ll look back and wished you’d peered into that crystal ball too.
Whatever is standing between you and your great big dream is your excuse. Put your dream in one hand and your excuse in the other. Then choose.
One path holds endless possibility. The other a predictable ending. One door will open and the other will close.
When you make time for Cleo, you’re missing out on opportunity.
And you don’t even know it.
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