One of the best things I’ve heard lately about changing habits is a simple process of weighing A against B. The SMART recovery program has a worksheet they call Cost Benefit Analysis or CBA. But who is going to sit down and write out cost vs benefit when faced with an immediate urge or craving to pick up a drink? No one, that’s who.
But still, the concept of taking a moment to be honest with ourselves about what something is doing for us and the price we are paying later (AA calls it “thinking through the drink”) is profoundly valuable. The beauty of A and B is how flexible it is. You can apply it to wonderful NEW HABITS as well.
A is whatever immediate reward or pleasure something gives you.
B is how that feels later, what it gives you in the long haul.
- Yes, that drink (or two or three, who are we kidding?) can bring a sudden hit of relaxation—but ethanol is a poison that diminishes the balance and healthy functioning of every cell, every organ, every system. Your sense of overall well-being just keeps dropping. And dropping.
- Yes, alcohol can offer a short reprieve from anxiety, but it’s a neurotoxin so our entire nervous system ends up damaged and more frazzled.
- Yes, alcohol can briefly give depression a little lift, but it IS a depressant so it drops us lower than when we started.
- Yes, alcohol can help us feel more social—but I love the quote “I don’t drink because I like to know when I’m having a good time.” And let’s face it, those party-hearty hangovers can include soul-sick embarrassment or humiliation at what we said or did. IF we can remember.
Every one of us is capable of racing through the A and B of drinking alcohol. It doesn’t take that long if we bother to do it. We wouldn’t be here if the B had not grown far bigger than the A. For many of us, the A became so tiny that we could barely feel it anymore. What we did feel was enslaved, hating ourselves the moment we purchased alcohol or said “Yes” to a drink.
Now let’s look at another other side of that A and B balance. So many of the things that truly give us pleasure, leave us relaxed, reduce anxiety, lift depression, and help us to feel more at ease socially start out with a very tiny A and a very large B. And we have to be prepared for that reality whenever we embark on a healthy new habit. Including therapy. As many therapists will say: You have to be willing to feel worse for a while on your way to feeling much, MUCH better.
In the beginning, it’s going to take real effort and commitment to move through a lackluster (or grueling) A to earn the reward of the B. Tapping can be very helpful. Not so fun doing it. Who can get really jazzed up for 10 minutes of breathing exercises for stress reduction? I don’t even enjoy breathing deeply. It feels uncomfortable, like useless labor. How about aerobic exercise? Until you give your brain the time to start LOVING the endorphin high of the B, the hard work of that A can be a real bitch.
Once in a while we might try something where the A never grows more appealing. I don’t run. I ran every morning for a few years in my 20’s and H.A.T.E.D. every minute of it. But walking? I can do that all day, especially in nature. Even in a boring setting, podcasts and audio books can get me out the door and that’s all it takes. Getting out the door. Now the innate joy of moving my body takes over.
So many of the things that nourish our mind, emotional state, and body will have to start with pure determination. It may take a push for a while, but eventually the B really goes into high gear. We LOVE the way we feel afterward. And then a real miracle happens, we start to get hooked on the A. Our brain actually looks forward to that effortful THING, whatever it is, that gives us such a magnificent LIFT. The kind of subtle high that can last all day long and into the night. Yes, it slowly diminishes in intensity over time but it never crashes, and we can create that lift all over again.
Life itself is a miracle, a constant opportunity to expand and grow. Let’s focus on the A and B of every choice we’re making this year. Keep it simple and practice. Practice, practice, practice. That’s how anything is accomplished—practice. This is especially important work for those of us who grew up conditioned to believe that indulging every momentary whim was “self care.” People like me.
We are already sharing the A and B of our work to be alcohol free. Let’s share more of the A and B of any healthy new habits we are taking on. It will be fun to hear about the changes as they unfold.
The world needs people with clear heads and open hearts more than ever before.
We’ve got this!
More by Maggy :
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