When I first dipped my toe into thinking about stopping drinking, reading quit lit and following the online sobriety community, I had a severe case of the “I’m not THAT bad” syndrome. Comparing myself to others softened my own self doubt and shame. I’m not proud of it, especially now that alcohol has humbled me in ways I never could have imagined. But with the availability of so many alcohol addiction and recovery stories in books and in blogs, we can always find someone with a bigger problem. There is always a story of someone who crashed their car, got fired, broke their leg, lost their kids, or even died. And those stories can prevent us from seeing that, in the context of our own lives, we are that bad. Exactly that bad.
I read We Are The Luckiest, and the opening anecdote turned my stomach. A mom leaving her young child sleeping in a hotel room while she goes and passes out in some random guy’s room after a wedding? I was actually disgusted that this person would do that to her kid. You hear the judgment there, right?
I’m not THAT bad…. yet
I think it’s part of our nature to compare ourselves to others, but when it comes to drinking, that’s an impulse I need to quash. I’m past the point of comparing myself to non-drinkers and “normal” drinkers. I wouldn’t be here writing in an online community if I had anything approaching a “healthy” relationship with alcohol. Scratch that, alcohol doesn’t belong in the same sentence with “healthy.” But you know who I mean when I talk about people with a healthy relationship with alcohol. The two-glass crowd. The single-cocktail crowd. The ones who stop drinking before they pass out. They have something I don’t, or I have something they don’t, and we are not the same, so no use mourning that fact.
What about other big drinkers though? The two-bottle crowd? The shot-and-a-case-of-beer folks? Are these my people? Or am I different from them too? The “I’m not THAT bad” syndrome can make us think we shouldn’t use all the resources available to us to stop drinking, because others are worse off. Maybe only they need all that daily attention to staying sober…
Hell, even the pros get this wrong. When I first began talking about my alcohol use with the psychiatrist I see for anxiety and depression, he waved off my drinking as a natural response to pandemic stress, divorce, single parenting, a big job. I had to work to focus him on the fact that my drinking was out of control any time I drank, that I couldn’t cut back or stop for any length of time, that I was blacking out, etc. I’m sure he was comparing me to all his worse cases. But there I was, the worst version of me that I had ever been, and miserable about it.
Maybe “I’m not THAT bad … but Enough is ENOUGH already!
The other way comparison hurts me is by making me feel sorry for myself when I think about how hard this is for me. “For me,” as though it’s not hard for everyone. What could possibly be harder than being a single mom during the pandemic with a Very Difficult ex, working from home while trying to keep my not-in-school kid occupied without any childcare options, totally lonely and isolated from in-person contact with anyone, a father getting sicker and more addicted by the day, deadlines everywhere, waaaaaahhhhh.
What could be harder then all of that?
Well, it might be harder to have survived childhood trauma.
It might be harder to have a kid with special needs that couldn’t be addressed.
It might be harder to be in the medical field or to be working at a grocery store, still worried about childcare while also worrying for my life.
It might be harder if I didn’t have enough money for food or health insurance.
You get the point. IT’S THE WRONG QUESTION.
Not drinking is hard. For anyone who has decided to stop. Does it really make sense for me to tell myself that I don’t need to start stopping today because MY life is too hard? I think AA talks about this idea as being “terminally unique” but the bottom line is that if all the long-timers in this online community could go AF(alcohol-free), it’s not because they have easy lives and it was a “good time” for them to quit drinking. There’s no such life, there’s no such time.
After spending a lot of time in this community, I’ve decided I’m not special. My drinking was “as bad” as anyone else’s because we all reached a point where we decided we had lost control and needed a change, needed to get alcohol out of our lives. And my life isn’t too hard to quit and stay quit right now; people here every day show me that it can be done no matter how bad the problem or how difficult the life circumstances. It’s only through exposure to a community like this that I was able to understand these things.
If they can, I can. If I can, you can. So let’s do it! Join me?
I came across a big stack of “notes to myself”, affirmations, poignant words borrowed from my internet community, quit lit, or podcasts. Most are from points in 2020 when I was trying to crack the AF(alcohol-free) thing and failing more than I succeeded. Journaling is so useful in working through sobriety, but notes like these in a prominent place (phone Lock Screen!) I think are so helpful in NORMALIZING pro-AF messages. That is maybe the most difficult thing at the front of sticking to sober. Remembering WHY a drink is a bad idea even when everyone around you seems to be fine with drinking while you try to stay diligently alcohol-free.
We are bombarded with advertising for booze, and clever dish towels and “water” bottles emblazoned with “Mommy juice” memes. It feels good to have these sticky notes. This mindless, thoughtless exposure to counter programming…just walking by a note on the wall or a magnet on the fridge that says “I am a non drinker” or an inspiring message taped to the bathroom mirror. Put the AF beverages on display like a “bar” or in a wine rack…make living alcohol-free normal. Let the normalcy get absorbed into our brains through passive exposure, in addition to the mindful work we’re doing elsewhere.
This is how you move from “I’m not THAT bad” to “Enough is ENOUGH”.
I don’t “need” these notes the way I once did, staring at whichever one spoke to me at a given time to tough out a craving or nagging thought. But it’s amazing the amount of momentum things like this can provide. I am going to start making them again, with the thoughts and messages that I relate to now. (“Tomorrow starts today” will always stick around!) and I’ll keep these so I remember what I needed at some of the hardest times.
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