A few days ago, I reviewed and recommended Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. I mentioned in that post how “easy” quitting alcohol and weed has been for me this time around. And I really meant it, I have marveled often at how painless it has been, how little angst I have suffered, and how rarely I miss my old familiar forms of mood management. I’ve also often wondered when the other shoe will drop and what it will look like. What obstacles are yet to come?
Of course, I’m only 5 months into sobriety, and I know that’s a tiny amount of time.
I’m going on a 2 week vacation this coming Monday and although I’ve felt so strong in my recovery so far, I haven’t known what to expect. In the past, as soon as vacation hit – aka I don’t have to go to work tomorrow – all restraint went out the door and I was basically a lush until vacation was over. This obviously resulted in some hazy, in-hindsight wasted vacations, and some painful and exhausting returns to normal life. I don’t want to go back to that, at all.
But this is the first major vacation I’ve taken since becoming sober. I have made my intentions to stay sober clear to everyone going on the vacation with me, and scheduled a therapy session right before I leave to make sure I have a solid plan in place (that’s this afternoon).
But yesterday, I was having a frustrating afternoon and suddenly, there it was – the urge to get drunk and check out. Really, I wanted to get a bottle and just enjoy myself while packing for the trip (thus feeling productive) and get rid of some of the stress I’ve been feeling (I have been working to reframe this feeling as excitement, which has actually worked amazingly well!).
I quickly shut that idea down, and continued on with the work out I had planned. That helped with the stress and frustration, much more than alcohol would have, although of course it took more work and wasn’t really as fun. But then as I was showering post-workout I started to think about coming back from the trip, and how I always so looked forward to coming home after being away, smoking a bowl and just relaxing in my own home. What would I have to look forward to this time? This led to thoughts of “well maybe…” maybe I could try the Cuban rum my boyfriend said I had to try (and which I had confidently told him I wouldn’t.) Maybe I could smoke in certain situations, as long as it wasn’t a habit like before. Why couldn’t I do these things?
Which brings me back to Better than Before. Rubin talks about how some people do better with moderation – cutting something out with the knowledge that you can have a little, sometimes, and others do better with abstinence – knowing that you can never have that thing and cutting out the decision of whether to have it or not. I knew I was a person who did better with abstinence. I hate the mental battle of “do it or not?” and I know the decision I will make, pretty much everytime, when it comes to mood altering substances.
I know this concept is no revelation to those who have done 12 step programs and that abstinence is at the very core of AA. I chose not to do a 12 step program, for reasons I will go into another time, but I have talked with my therapist about why moderation probably won’t work for me as a problem drinker. So it’s silly to think, 5 months into sobriety, that I have this under control and can have a drink every once in awhile or smoke on special occasions. It’s sillier still to test this out on a vacation I am so excited about and have so much invested in, because I can pretty much tell you how that will end.
I know it’s silly. But my brain still went there, and I still needed to work through these thoughts to remember why and help myself be prepared. Even writing this post has helped me delve deeper into why. If I allow myself the option of using alcohol or weed to manage my moods, it’s too easy to go there anytime I’m feeling down or stressed or angry – all times when I’m especially weak. If I cut that option out completely – don’t even entertain it – it’s not that hard for me to find other ways to feel better and relieve stress. I work out, I cuddle my dogs, I take a nap, I feel more instead of less.
And that’s definitely what I want on this vacation. I want to really be there the whole time. Yes, I want it to be relaxing, but not 2 bottles of wine and I can’t remember what I did or who I talked to relaxing. I know there will be moments when I feel stressed or frustrated or things don’t go my way. I want work through those instead of just escaping the present with a drug.
I’m the kind of person that likes more information and solid reasons for whatever I do. Just saying that abstinence is the only option is one thing, but helping me to understand why abstinence works best for me, even though some people do fine with moderation, helps me stick to it. Even if I sometimes wish I were someone who could do moderation, it’s better to understand why I’m not and accept it.