When we surrender, we signal defeat. This is one of the main reasons for the dismal recovery rates from traditional alcoholism recovery methods in our society. Humans don’t want to be losers. That’s not how we are wired. Surrender feels hopeless and helpless. Surrender feels like the end.
My recovery from high-functioning alcoholism wasn’t about surrender. It was about changing teams and continuing the fight. The success of my permanent sobriety has a lot of contributing factors. Recovery is complex and individually unique. But in the end, the most important thing I did was to change my mind.
Tom Brady changed teams, and look how that worked out. For our readers who don’t follow football, Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl in February – the first six with the Patriots, and this last one with his new team, the Buccaneers. He changed teams, and kept on fighting. He is widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time, and is admired for his work-ethic and commitment to a strict personal health regimen. Of course, then he got obnoxiously drunk during the team celebration, so maybe he’s not the best example for an article about finding lasting sobriety. But he is mostly sober, and not because of an addiction issue, but because he knows a sober lifestyle is absolutely vital to his football success. And to prove the power of the sobriety team, he has almost run out of fingers on which to put championship rings.
Mindset. Transitioning out of alcoholism is all about a new mindset on a different team. See if you recognize the traditional early-sobriety mindset of recovering alcoholics. They know they have to quit drinking, and they reluctantly agree to do so. They would rather jab a spoon into their own eye sockets than slink shamefully into a damp church basement to sit on a cold metal folding chair and drink bad coffee and chain-smoke cigarettes and eat doughnuts while listening to others in the meeting whine about the unfortunate hands life has dealt them.
Sometimes they quit drinking because a spouse or friend or family member demands it. Sometimes they recognize the chaos alcohol is creating, and realize they have exhausted all other options. Sobriety is unavoidable, and they surrender to defeat.
They don’t want sobriety, but they go willingly. Willing and wanting are two completely different things.
Most people I meet in early sobriety want to learn how to be a social, moderate drinker. Most want to figure out how to stop when they’ve had enough. They want to not be deformed and deranged and out of control. Most of them want the wrong things.
To be successful in permanent sobriety, we’ve got to want it. Really, deeply, honestly want to be sober.
The required change of mindset is something those of us who have abused alcohol are particularly ill-equipped to do. Alcohol weakens our minds. It gives us an out, a soothing distraction, whenever things get mentally tough. We are so accustomed to drinking discomfort away, that we don’t have the tools to change our minds. Reluctant acceptance of our death sentence is about all we are temporarily capable of accomplishing. Are you getting the picture of why traditional recovery doesn’t work for so many? Surrender doesn’t give them hope. Defeat doesn’t replace shame with pride. So, they surrender to the surrender, and drink again.
I’m not a terribly competitive person. Still, given the choice between winning and losing, I’d rather be a winner. Winning brings joy and pride and accomplishment and motivation to keep going. When I learned about the brain chemistry impacts alcohol has on the contents of our skulls, the knowledge was transformational. I stopped feeling like the black sheep of the family. I stopped feeling weak and depraved for my addiction to alcohol. My brain reacted just as it was designed when fed a consistent diet of a highly addictive poison. I wasn’t broken. I was causing my own neurological deformity by following cultural norms, and I wanted to stop doing that.
My culture was wrong. I wasn’t a wimpy degenerate. I was on a losing team.
Are you ready for me to take this too far to drive the point home? I haven’t offended anyone with my first 600 or so words, unless you are one of the millions of Tom Brady haters I offended with my GOAT talk. Or maybe you’re a traditional recovery loyalist who gets pissed off whenever someone sites statistical estimates about old-school recovery rates. OK, so maybe I offend people on the regular, but the truth hurts and a cultural shift is going to have some collateral damage. So buckle-up buttercup. It’s time for me to go too far to prove my point.
Our founding fathers who created the greatest structure for democracy and freedom – those guys owned slaves. At the time, these brilliant minds who left us with a timeless constitution which has led to the spread of democracy to distant corners of the world also used those brilliant minds to think it was a good idea to own other human beings. Until embarrassingly recently, we didn’t let women have the right to vote. We universally agreed, as a culture, that half of our population was too stupid to help us make good decisions. Until even more recently, the mid 1960s, we thought the health benefits of cigarette smoking outweighed any health risks. That’s right, there were ridiculous, made-up health benefits associated with smoking 60 years ago just like there are for alcohol consumption today. We gave smoking credit for improved digestion, weight control, anxiety relief and relaxation. It’s true, I guess. People who die from lung cancer eat significantly less as corpses than people who don’t smoke and live into old age.
Whoa – did I just compare drinking alcohol to slavery, women’s oppression and the clear and undisputable dangers of cigarette smoking? Yes I did! Shuffling off to church basements to whisper about our internal perversion doesn’t seem to be getting anyone’s attention. There are over 15 million alcoholics in the United States alone, and the numbers aren’t getting better. Why? Because our mindset is seriously fucked up.
We look at sobriety as the last resort of the weak. We can’t see the truth hiding in plain sight – the truth that sobriety is the lynchpin of peace, success, hope, prosperity and achievement. We can’t see it even when it has won more Super Bowls than any other team (not just any other person, any other team in NFL history). We can’t see sobriety as the driving force behind the success of Hollywood superstars, sports greats, intellectual geniuses, and leaders in every segment of our society. Rock bottoms and recovery attempts get a little pub, because, after all, everybody loves a comeback story. But when someone has chosen sobriety, not as a reluctant last choice, but because they need the boulder sitting on their shoulders in order to thrive, that story simply doesn’t compute.
It computes with me. I want to be sober. I am not just accepting of an unfortunate diagnosis. I embrace my skull tennent, and want to keep it firing on all cylinders. It’s a mindset. I’ve switched to the sobriety team, and I’m playing as hard as I can. No surrender. No defeat. I’m going to keep pushing the culture toward the truth even by dredging up comparisons to our culture’s most dreadful past. We lose over three million people a year to alcohol. I think alcohol, not alcoholism, but alcohol – deserves a seat at the cultural abomination table.
And by believing that, it was much easier to change my mind and stop drinking.
One more thing about wanting an alcohol-free life and my sobriety mindset. It makes relapse far less likely than if I was a reluctant quitter. Do you think Tom Brady is tempted to go back and play for New England? He’s a winner on a winning team. Relapse feels highly unlikely with the mind of a champion.
If you are ready to change your mindset and want sobriety, please check out our SHOUT Sobriety program. We’ve got room for you on the winning team.