(Update of a post originally published february 2017)
OK, if you don't have a lot of time, I'll cut to the chase: Stop fucking around by building your house out of straw.
M (day 1) sent me this email: Belle, I keep trying all these things to help me be sober and nothing works. I just spent $100 on vitamins. I’ve been to a one-day, quit-drinking workshop. I signed up for a French class. You see, I’ve always wanted to go to Paris and with all the money I’m not spending on booze, I could buy a plane ticket.
You can hear her thinking, and you can absolutely see what she’s saying.
It seems logical, doesn’t it.
My reply to her would be: “If you are continuously sober, then yes, whatever you’re doing is working. Keep doing it.”
But if you are NOT continuously sober —if you reset after 2 days, or 20 days, or 200 days — then what you’re doing isn’t quite enough to keep you sober. So you add more sober tools.
Argh, I’m on Day 1 again. I’m enrolled in French class. Why isn’t that enough?
French class is something you can hang in the space that booze used to occupy.
But taking a French class is not a sober tool.
Sober tools are things that help you to BE sober.
You are a little piggie, of the Three Little piggies, and you build your sober house, and wolfie repeatedly comes and blows your sober house down.
We'll note that you've built your sober house out of straw or sticks or tarps, but wolfie blows it over. Maybe not right away, maybe not tomorrow, but as soon as there’s a strong wind, or a celebration, or a death, or a runaway teenager, or Sheila in accounting pulls her shit and refuses to do the cheque run before end of day on Friday.
It doesn’t take much, when your house is built of straw. Wolfie is at the door, blowing.
Your sober house falls down.
But let’s be real, wolfie only has to barely knock on the door of your house made of straw to knock it over. To the house of wood, he’ll knock once or twice, and when that doesn’t work, he’ll add in lung full of hot air and a bit of whining. Doesn’t take long.
(And really, you built a sober house out of straw? You were wishing. You’re were hoping you could do the minimum. You knew it wasn’t going to be enough.)
To the house built out of sober stones, set careful on a sober cement foundation — yeah, that house — well, wolfie will knock on your door and when that doesn’t work, he’ll try to blow you over with convincing arguments as to why you need to Drink Right Now.
You will add in a bit more cement and wave to him through the window. He’ll look for cracks, but you’ve got double-paned glass and a bug screen.
This isn't a stone house. This is your life.
Your life is worth more than the minimum. It’s worth more than straw and tarps.
The soul of you, the essence of you, the real you that isn’t anesthetized, the real you that is empathetic and helpful and has good boundaries —THAT you deserves to be guarded in a solid stone structure.
What helps to build a wolfie-proof, stone sober house?
Advice from an architect. Talking to the girl at Home Depot about the length of the nails and what has worked on similar projects.
Pouring a cement foundation.
Going as slowly as required to NOT have to pour the foundation, dig it up, pour it again, and dig it up again. What a waste of time that is. You need a sober foundation, sure, but if you do it too quickly, or too rashly, or try to do it with inadequate cement, or do it while doing too many other things at the same time — well, you know what happens.
You can see this example clearly when I'm talking about cement.
The colour of the paint, and the carefully selected flowers, and the breeding fruit trees do not build a strong house. The French classes and spin classes and yoga classes and pottery classes and vitamins don’t help you change your behaviour. They’re wonderful (and necessary and lovely) things to add to your life. They are.
But they are not sober tools.
A sober tool is something that helps you to be sober. Not paint colour.
I know you want to paint the room, but you haven’t built the room yet. You want to choose the light fixture, but the wiring hasn't been installed.
You want to focus on the details all around THE THING.
The THING you want is to be sober.
And you’re online spending hours choosing the right French class? You just spent $100 on multivitamins because that should help you be sober?
What if you’d spent that time and that $100 on actual sober supports.
[You don’t though, because wolfie is a sly fucker, taunting perfectly nice people with bullshit logic like vitamins and French classes.]
OK. Sober tools. They are things that help you be sober. That would include anything that directly makes it more likely that you (a) remember that being sober is a good idea, (b) soothes irritation, (c) helps you be accountable, (d) checks in on you, (e) reminds you what you’re doing when you forget, (f) reinforces the idea of the sober foundation and why you need it because you forgot again, (g) makes it possible for you to not drink.
A French class isn’t a sober tool.
It's not just a book. A book about being sober is awesome. But you can stop re-reading the book, waiting for something to click. It doesn't work like that.
(Do you think you can read books about pouring cement foundations, and have the book be enough? Is a one-day workshop on cement-pouring enough? How about a forum of other people on day 1 of cement installation?]
You are probably walking around THIS THING, acting like you don’t know what to do.
You know what to do.
You know that if you ask for support from people who can actually support you, then you have a higher chance of actually getting this done.
You know that if you turn and face the resources and education and accountability that sober support provides, that you’ll learn from people who’ve done it 2,778 times, that you’ll save time, feel better, and have your cement poured sooner.
If you have built a house out of straw AND IT’S WORKING FOR YOU then keep doing what you’re doing.
But if the wind keeps blowing you over, you’ve got to look at having some new tools. Things to read AND accountabilty AND support AND cheerleading AND treats AND audios AND going to bed as early as possible...
Paint isn’t a tool.
Neither is a French class.