The promise of a new school year has a freshness to it that rivals January. September is the real start of the new year for me. It is a freeing idea, that we can start again. We are brand new in every moment, never the same as we were in the moment before. This gives us the freedom to evolve and change. We are not stuck in our past. What is done is done. We must let go of the past to make progress on our today.
September, to me, is the most obvious universal invitation to begin again. The fall season teaches us how beautiful it can be to allow ourselves to change and let go of the things from our yesterdays that hold us back. The leaves on the trees vibrantly shift their colors before their ultimate release. It is ok to unplug, release, and then plug in again. September is a great time to restart ourselves.
My sobriety journey had many Day 1’s. New beginnings started with gusto. I had a million false starts only to fall back into old patterns and habits hours later. It is true for my clients too. When we wake up with the hangover shame sweats, we swear this is the last time. Again. We are determined at that moment to do something different today. We end up going about our day managing and tolerating our life. By days’ end the familiar craving goes from a whisper to a shout. We wrestle with our conflicted mind, for only a brief moment, before giving in to our craving. Our” just one drink”. Our repeated internal conversation “this time will be different''.
It never is and we know this. Alcohol has hijacked our brain, we don’t want to admit that, and we hold hope again for a different wake up tomorrow morning. Even after engaging in the exact same behavior the evening before. We want to quit drinking, of course we do. But when it doesn’t come easily and we realize it takes more effort, we quickly fall back on what we know. We dismiss the alarming fact that alcohol has a bigger hold on us than we want it to. The easiest cure for avoidance, is of course, to pour a drink on it.
Another day of doing nothing different would be a great failure, but we have pre-protected ourselves. We didn’t tell anyone our plan. We kept it a secret attempt, visible to no one, but us. We didn't throw the kitchen sink at our sobriety. We didn’t put a plan in place. We just half assed considered maybe trying to let it go, only to dismiss our own audacity hours later when the fog and panic of a hangover disappeared.
The only person we have disappointed is ourselves, whom we treat like no one at all. We act as if we never even intended on doing anything different. If we were the only person that knew we were not going to drink today, does it even count as a real attempt? We dismiss our own intentions. We soothe ourselves by saying it doesn’t really matter. We tell ourselves it’s not that bad.
The great stoic Epictetus in Discourses, 2.19.29-34 shares:
“I am your teacher and you are learning in my school. My aim is to bring you to completion, unhindered, free from compulsive behavior, unrestrained, without shame, free, flourishing, and happy, looking to God in things great and small - your aim is to learn and diligently practice these things. Why then don’t you complete the work, if you have the right aim and I have both the right aim and the right preparation? What is missing?...The work is quite feasible, and it is the only thing in our power…Let go of the past. We must only begin. Believe me and you will see.”
In our sober attempts we are afraid to really try because we fear we will fail. The perfectionist and people pleaser that I was, would rather destroy myself than admit I was struggling. So, like a teenage fool I would make a half hearted, lazy effort at drinking less with my ready made excuse right in my back pocket. “Who cares? It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t even trying.”
Doing this over and over again as I grew older was not so inconsequential. What’s at stake is not what it was as a teenager. My whole life was passing me by. I was a high functioning person, a drinker, and regardless of outward high performance I was dying a slow suicide on the inside.
It is hard to surrender, try again, ask for help, create accountability, and gather community to bring secrets out of the dark. These were necessary steps for my successful in ditching the drink.
What starts as the terrifying unknown is incredibly uncomfortable. This is a great sign of growth, not failure. Everyone who has had success in sobriety started this way. Most started this way over and over again.
Everyone is scared to walk into their first class on the first day of school. No one knows what to expect. It is much easier to roll in half way through the year when you know where your desk is. You know who you sit by. You know what to expect. You know how the teacher is. You know the agenda. You know how lazy can be. You’ve been there before.
There is excitement in anticipating the new, but there is comfort in familiarity and feeling like a pro at something you’ve been doing over time. We have to start at the beginning, there is no way around it. This is how we learn.
This is how you learn and practice sobriety too. At first it’s a lot of stretching and growing to meet milestones. It requires a lot of newness, to start living your life without pouring alcohol on it.
It is easy to become discouraged when the desired outcomes aren’t immediate.
You feel exhausted before you feel energized.(congratulations that’s your body healing)
You fill yourself with sugar instead of alcohol. You question if this is really better for you? (it is) You are irritated and frustrated. A drink would wash those feelings away in an instance.
Your partner doesn’t understand. They liked you better as a drinker. (not true)
To be ultimately free from this compulsive behavior, you must resist the easy answer.
The only sure defeat is to give in to the calling for a drink. Most anything of any significance will take time and effort. Sobriety is no different, and it is significant. We must be willing to put in the real effort over a long period of time to make it happen. You take your goal of sobriety from impossible to improbable to inevitable. You can do this. Stay the course.
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