Just Because You Want to Drink/Use, Doesn’t Mean You Have To
The first time I heard this it stopped me in my tracks. So simple. No bullshit. No magic tricks where someone pulls something out of a hat. Just truth. Just because I want to drink or use, doesn’t mean I have to.
It made so much sense and I shamed myself for not being the one who though of it first.
So simple. So empowering.
There had been years I’d needed a drink and taken one without question, Did I have to? Sometimes it felt that way, but could I have done something different? The feeling of needing a drink was definitely the red flag, indicating I was reaching my end point with stress or pressure. Taking the drink, however, seemed the end point of my feeling in control.
There are a few aspects of 12 step programming that I’m not super stoked about, but I do like the “disease concept” of alcoholism. The way it was explained as a three-fold illness has always been interesting and true to me.
The Physical Aspect
Obviously. For some reason I break down alcohol in a different way than other people, and by brain tells me I need more.
The Mental Aspect
Even when I wasn’t drinking, I was thinking about drinking. I was scheming ways I could get and hide my drinking or ways I could manipulate the people in my life to get more. When I wasn’t thinking about drinking, I was thinking about the fact that I was not drinking.
I was believing that alcohol would provide me with the sense of comfort I so desperately needed, I didn’t know that was a lie or that I could experience longer lasting effects by walking through some hard things.
The Spiritual Aspect
I struggled very much with God when I got sober. Truth is, I struggled with worshiping anything other than alcohol — because it worked immediately. Praying didn’t give me instant anything accept anxiety, and meditation was laughable. I couldn’t sit still for five seconds to save my own life, and the constant noise in my head was loud and distracting.
If I thought about it long enough, could the thought – the need – pass?
I knew that if I thought about it and immediately drank, it would continue. One drink often leads to many in my experience, and “off to the races” comes to mind. The door opens, the gun fires, and I run. I run until I don’t know where I am or who’s sitting next to me — until nothing is familiar. Even the reflection in the mirror.
Not running is a choice; especially when the door is still opening and every so often I hear the sound of that gun and everything inside me knows what I must do. It has not always been an easy choice, and sometimes it hasn’t felt like one at all.
If I stop for a moment though, and realize that “must” is just a word — no more important than “mustn’t,” I can change the way I respond to this need. I can prepare for the sounds or voices or situations that cause that seemingly automatic response, and I can plan for them. I can choose differently.
I can choose to stay.
The longer I choose to stay, the more it becomes clear why I chose life in the first place. Because staying means so many things. It means the good times and the bad. It means acknowledging the fears that caused the running for so long.
Staying means the opportunity to reclaim ME, and work on the person, woman, wife, mother, daughter and friend I want to be. It means admitting I haven’t always been willing to claim all parts of me, and forgiving myself that.
It means showing up – every day – even when it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It means asking for help, and trusting in “unknown.” It requires nothing of me accept everything. Sometimes it’s a battle, and other times it’s second nature. It’s knowing that although happiness, contentment, and peace are not always on the menu, they are there, waiting for me.
Some days it’s a second at a time, and others fly by without one thought of the life I believed I would never escape. Staying is like that. The longer I find comfort here, the easier it seems to be, and it can feel like it might be safe to let my guard down.
I thank God for simple reminders, and the work with other women who keep me grounded in the understanding that the work I’ve done to get to this place isn’t in vain; lest I forget.
Being present in each and every moment of my life was not always an idea I was completely interested in. My life has not been easy. Truth is, I have yet to meet someone whose life has. Life is a series of trials and tribulations, failures and successes.
We could all easily find many justifiable reasons to drink. No matter how wonderful an idea it might sound or how many ways we can talk ourselves right back, wanting to drink doesn’t mean we have to.
It always baffles me when I hear someone, from a podium or otherwise, tell the room they haven’t found it necessary to pick up a drink or drug since the day they entered abstinence-based recovery.
While I can totally appreciate (and maybe even envy) those who identify with this, it is not my experience at all. I have had many situations and circumstances where every fiber of my being was screaming that a drink was absolutely necessary in order for me to get through it.
However, just because I want to drink or use, doesn’t mean I have to.
No matter what path you chose, there is another way.
If you are considering recovery and you’re looking for support, please visit our resources page to find both 12step and non-12step programs to help!
Julie Maida lives in Massachusetts with her amazing husband and three children. She has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000.
Julie is eternally grateful for all the gifts of recovery and fiercely determined to advocate for, and connect ALL women with the appropriate support and resources necessary to achieve their personal recovery goals. She writes about mothering with mental illness at juliemaida.me.