The easy answer is, “because I’m an alcoholic.” I am ‘bodily and mentally different from my fellows,’ as it states in the Big Book. But I’m a successful business person, so I am not always satisfied with the easy answer. Thankfully, I’m a coach who has a coach, so I know I cannot do this alone. I work through quandaries like this by following the same process I follow with clients: Awareness, Acceptance, Action, and Adherence.
Earlier this month, I came face to face with the question “why did I drink?” It may seem odd that I’m delving into this question now almost six years since I took my last drink. As the saying goes, “sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.” On August 2, 2010, when I made the admission (out loud) that I had a problem drinking, I remember saying a quick prayer that went something like this: “OK, God, if I’ve gotta quit drinking, can You please make it easy?” My prayer was answered. From that moment, I never had a desire to drink. So, I had little motivation to explore the question “why did I drink?”
Just 3 weeks ago, I found myself driving next to a beer delivery truck. It was a brand of beer that I was, shall we say, quite familiar with. My thoughts wandered to how, I never truly liked the taste of beer, yet I sure drank plenty of it. I remembered vividly the taste of this particular brand of beer, then I was brought back to reality abruptly by the thought, “why in the world are you thinking about drinking beer?” I figured it was an isolated incident and went on to my next thought.
About a week later, a friend and I attended a meeting in the resort town where I own a vacation home. I was asked if my friend and I would like to accompany a group of ladies to a local eatery. I turned to my friend, and asked, “Hey, do you want to go get a drink?” Wow! I was stunned. Where did those words come from? We laughed it off as a Freudian slip of sorts, but I had a nagging feeling of uncertainty. Why did I just say that? Again, I brushed it off as a coincidence.
A couple days passed, and I was talking with a couple friends about a certain flavor pop (for my friends outside the Mid-West, I’m referring to soda). I heard these words fly from my lips without warning, “It tastes REALLY good with vodka in it!” Where did that come from?
I follow what I call “The Rule of Three.” When something pops up three times for me, I interpret it as a sign that Someone is trying to get my attention.
On my drive home after this third incident, I called a friend who’s in long-term recovery. I was shaken up. In over five years, I had never had a desire to drink and now within less than 2 weeks, I had three thoughts about drinking. It is well known that the disease of alcoholism is “cunning, baffling and powerful,” and, as my friend reminded me that night, “it is also very patient.” I dodged the bullet. I didn’t drink; probably because I have a strong program of recovery, and I don’t try to do this thing alone. But these thoughts were enough to alert me that I had some unfinished business to attend to.
The next few days proved to be very stressful as I tried to avoid dealing with this unfinished business. I noticed that my focus was fixed upon financial and business matters that, frankly, were outside of my control allowing me to be distracted by many unimportant matters. In Stephen Covey language, I was working on what was not urgent and not important, and wondering why I felt so useless and unproductive. It seemed like the more I tried to accomplish, the more pressure I felt and the higher my anxiety level rose while my overall feeling of security crumbled by the minute. In the past, alcohol would have provided a solution…but what solution did it provide?
Since I entered recovery, when I have feelings of restlessness, of fear, of discontentment, of discomfort, I have learned to reach out to other people: my coach, my sponsor, and other sober people in long-term recovery. These people offer me the perspective that I simply do not possess while in a particular situation. So, I reached out.
Each one of the people I spoke with, independently, suggested I do exactly the opposite of what my nature/habit told me to do. They all said, “STOP!” Get still, meditate, and listen. I must have been feeling pretty desperate, because I took their suggestion without hesitation. I got still. I spent time in the morning like I usually do reading meditative books, but I did so with purpose. I slowed down. I allowed myself to sit with the ideas I was reading. And interestingly, in nearly every piece of literature I found phrases like ‘be still,’ ‘listen,’ ‘let go, let God,’ ‘do not be afraid,’ ‘peace,’ ‘trust.’ I allowed these messages to settle in without judgment.
That’s when it hit me. I was able to clearly identify, almost six years into my sobriety, why I drank:
I drank for relief: to not care so much and to not feel so much pressure.
I drank for comfort: to relax and to find peace.
I drank for safety: to feel protected from all that I feared.
But awareness was just the first step. In fact, it actually created even more discomfort and tension. I knew that I needed to get to acceptance, but I knew I would never get there by myself. So off I went to my regular support group meeting where I shared my story and experienced the miracle of acceptance.
I mentioned that I drank for safety. It occurred to me that the two places I feel the safest are in a support group meeting among others dealing with alcoholism and in a session with my coach. At meetings, through identification and the sharing of a common solution, I experience acceptance and growth, and with my coach, I have the one-on-one space to work through things confidentially and without judgment.
I mentioned that I drank for relief. During the meeting, someone uttered the words, “we get relief by practicing recovery principles to the best of our ability.” I had experienced artificial and temporary relief from a substance, but now I have an ongoing ever-developing natural/spiritual form of relief.
I mentioned that I drank for comfort: After the meeting, as I talked one-on-one with a person with long-term sobriety, I began to tear up. This person looked me in the eye and said, “you’re gonna be okay,” and gave me a hug. In the past, comfort (or, as it says in the Big Book ‘that feeling of ease’) came in liquid form, but I that night, I got the comfort I needed in the form of a human embrace.
Exploring “why” questions is valuable – especially in creating awareness and finding acceptance, but then what? Like the saying goes, “Faith without works is dead,” and knowledge without application is useless. Asking a “what” question like “what’s next?” creates forward momentum – action, the next phase in the coaching process.
So, what’s next for you? Are you a newly sober professional who wants to protect your newly found sobriety? Are you thinking you might have a problem with alcohol or drugs? Are you concerned about the alcoholism/addiction of someone close to you? Perhaps sharing this article with someone or making a confidential call to an executive recovery coach is what’s next for you.