This is an extract from the book ‘Living Sober’ by Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is very hard just to sit still trying not to do a certain thing, or not even to think about it. It’s much easier to get active and do something else-other than the act we’re trying to avoid.
So it is with drinking. Simply trying to avoid a drink (or not think of one), all by itself, doesn’t seem to be enough. The more we think about the drink we’re trying to keep away from, the more it occupies our mind, of course. And that’s no good. It’s better to get busy with something, almost anything, that will use our mind and channel our energy toward health.
Thousands of us wondered what we would do, once we stopped drinking, with all that time on our hands. Sure enough, when we did stop, all those hours we had once spent planning, getting our drinks, drinking, and recovering from its immediate effects, suddenly turned into big, empty holes of time that had to be filled somehow.
Most of us had jobs to do. But even so, there were some pretty long, vacant stretches of minutes and hours staring at us. We needed new habits of activity to fill those open spaces and utilize the nervous energy previously absorbed by our preoccupation, or our obsession, with drinking.
Anyone who has ever tried to break a habit knows that substituting a new and different activity is easier than just stopping the old activity and putting nothing in its place.
Recovered alcoholics often say, “Just stopping drinking is not enough.” Just not drinking is a negative, sterile thing. That is clearly demonstrated by our experience. To stay stopped, we’ve found we need to put in place of the drinking a positive program of action. We’ve had to learn how to live sober.
Fear may have originally pushed some of us toward looking into the possibility that we might have a drinking problem. And over a short period, fear alone may help some of us stay away from a drink. But a fearful state is not a very happy or relaxed one to maintain for very long. So we try to develop a healthy respect for the power of alcohol, instead of a fear of it, just as people have a healthy respect for cyanide, iodine, or any other poison. Without going around in constant fear of those potions, most people respect what they can do to the body, and have enough sense not to imbibe them. We in A.A. now have the same knowledge of, and regard for, alcohol. But, of course, it is based on firsthand experience, not on seeing a skull and crossbones on a label.
We can’t rely on fear to get us through those empty hours without a drink, so what can we do?
We have found many kinds of activity useful and profitable, some more than others. Here are two kinds, in the order of their effectiveness as we experienced it.
A. Activity in and around A.A.
When experienced A.A. members say that they found “getting active” helpful in their recovery from alcoholism, they usually mean getting active in and around A.A.
B. Activity Not related to A.A.
It’s curious, but true, that some of us, when we first stop drinking, Seem to experience a sort of temporary failure of the imagination.
It’s curious, because during our drinking days, so many of us displayed almost unbelievably fertile powers of imagination. In less than a week, we could dream up instantly more reasons (excuses?) for drinking than most people use for all other purposes in a lifetime. (Incidentally, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that normal drinkers-that is, non-alcoholic’s-never need or use any particular justification for either drinking or not drinking!)
When the need to give ourselves reasons for our drinking is no longer there, it often seems that our minds go on a sit own strike. Some of us find we can’t think up nondrinking things to do! Perhaps this is because we’re just out of the habit.
The following list is just a starter for use at that time. It isn’t very thrilling or adventurous, but it covers the kinds of activity many of us have used to fill our first vacant hours when we were not at our jobs or with other nondrinking people. We know they work. We did such things as:
- Taking walks
- Going to museums and art galleries.
- Exercising swimming, golfing, jogging, yoga, or other forms of exercise your doctor advises.
- Starting on long-neglected chores
- Trying a new hobby
- Revisiting an old pastime
- Taking a course.
- Doing something about your personal appearance.
- Taking a fling at something frivolous! Not everything we do has to be an earnest effort at self-improvement, although any such effort is worthwhile and gives a lift to our self-esteem. Many of us find it important to balance serious periods with things we do for pure fun.
- Fill this one in for yourself. Let’s hope the list above sparked an idea for you which is different from all of those listed. . . . It did? Good! Go to it.
One word of caution, though. Some of us find we have a tendency to go overboard, and try too many things at once. The best approach is called “Easy Does It.”