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The 12-Step Approach (page 2)


I easily recognized this pattern of: favorable association / urge / drinking (or unfavorable association / zero urge / no drinking) because I’d been through the exact same thing with pot. As I wrote earlier: By the time I was released from jail…I’d so thoroughly associated pot with everything I’d ever hated about myself or my life, the thought of “getting high” was nearly enough to make me gag. Where it once meant “cool” it now meant “stupid.” Where it once meant “fun” it now meant “waste of life.” Where it once meant “who I am” it now meant “who I have no desire to be.”


It appears that, while in jail, I stumbled upon the secret of eliminating self destructive behavior from my life. In a nutshell, that “secret” is this:

Destroy the fundamentally flawed favorable associations that drive your desire to engage in self destructive behavior, and replace them with associations that drive the desire to abstain. After these new associations are firmly in place – once they are truly and deeply held, abstinence requires no special effort because “abstinence” becomes your natural choice.


This “1-step approach” has worked for me on everything. From self destructive behavior that isn’t “consumption-based” (like lying, cheating, stealing, etc.) to behavior that is consumption-based (like drinking, drugs, smoking, diet, etc.)


Here is a simple metaphor (regarding consumption-based behavior.) If you despise anchovies, it requires no “special effort” on your part to order pizza without them. If anchovies are offered as a topping, it requires no special effort to reply: “No thank you.” Although this isn’t a perfect metaphor for drinking and drugs, it conveys the basic idea. That is: if there are no favorable associations, there is no desire to consume; when there is no desire to consume, the rest takes care of itself.

My understanding of this concept is one of the things that made AA so unacceptable to me. For instance, I was sternly warned to avoid relationships the first 1 – 2 years sober because a “break up” could cause me to “relapse.” (That advice would have cost me the best relationship I’d ever had up to that point in my life.) I was told I had to avoid “bars” or any places that had “alcohol” at all costs. (That would have cost me my livelihood. I ran a corner bar and then a much larger 4,000 square foot bar for 7 years AFTER I stopped drinking.)


I understand why AA gives this advice: If your relationship goes bad, conventional wisdom states it could “drive you to drink.” But that implies there is still some favorable association tied to drinking. Continuing with the metaphor above: Would a rough break up drive you to order anchovies on your pizza? Of course not…you’d be depressed enough without adding some smelly little fish to the equation. (My fiancée and I eventually did break up. It was extremely painful at the time but not once did I think “boy, I should go ingest some alcohol, that’ll help.” ...any more than I thought ingesting bleach or raw sewage was the solution to my problem.)


What about working at the bar? Surely, being around so much alcohol and people partying was a “threat to my sobriety,” right? Well, would working at a pizza shop, surrounded by anchovies all day long, make you suddenly want to shovel them into your mouth? Would you find yourself unable to resist them? Or, if anything, would being around them so much only tend to make you despise them even more? (Again, it’s not the perfect metaphor, but it conveys the general idea.) 

Absolute poison, garbage, filth. Morally corrosive, dishonest, self destructive and weak. THIS is what alcohol “represents” in my mind. It is the enemy of everything I ever hope to achieve. It can only weaken my best efforts and erode my desire (and ability) to become more. It is worse than “worthless,” it is caustic and, as such, has absolutely nothing to offer me. The idea of putting it in my body repulses me.


It seems most people simply try to “stop drinking” without ever addressing the false belief that drinking represents a thing of value. They never consciously attack the lie that suggests “drinking” is equal to “reward.” And yet this is the root of the problem. (It is the association to “reward” that drives the desire to drink in the first place.) Destroy that false association, replace it with one that reflects the true nature of what alcohol stands to offer you (a consistent, accumulated LOSS) and the rest will take care of itself.


When you get to the point where you honestly see drinking as something that can only weaken and harm you – when the “thought” of ingesting alcohol becomes akin to the thought of ingesting “bleach or raw sewage”…when you clearly see (despite what any remaining false associations might hold up as a “reward”) that the costs will ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS strip away any so-called value; it is then the thought of drinking becomes laughably easy to ignore.


Within just a couple years, drinking had become a non-issue in my life (which freed up a lot of time and energy for other, more productive things.) If I had known then what I know now (regarding the exact mental work that needed done) I’m sure I could have been “over it” much sooner. In short: I destroyed my desire to drink and (over 17 years later) the rest is history.


If I could download my perspective directly into people’s minds, so they could instantly see and feel exactly what I’m talking about…so they could skip all the preliminary doubt, fear and anxiety and get right to the “ah ha” moment (then “on with” the rest of their lives) all this writing wouldn’t be necessary. However, since this is not possible, I’ve done my best to recount the different ways in which I attacked my old associations and created the perspective that has served me all these years.


Whether you use all (or none) of what I’ve written...whether you achieve your goal entirely on your own, in conjunction with what I’ve shared, with help from AA or through another method, I KNOW you are capable of improving the quality of your life. Every day is progress and every lesson has value (especially those events we mistake as “failure.”)


Keep learning, keep growing and keep challenging the lies that drive you to harm yourself. Before long, you’ll see progress. And remember, whether it’s a reduction in suffering of 1%, 5%, 10%, 50% or more; every bit is well worth having. Fight for it and be proud of what you earn. ----> Continue to "The Power of Thoughts"