An old AA cliche is that a relapse starts to happen long before you go back to drinking/using. It starts with a shift in your thought process, lowered expectations, a new grudge. A little over two months out from my last lapse, I have been analyzing the hell out of it, trying to spot the moment when the shift began.
Here’s a problem with living in your head: you tend to make decisions based on current emotions and imagined possibilities – fantasies – far more than you consider things like evidence and probabilities. One thing I’ve learned: I know I’m heading towards real trouble when I begin imagining alcohol use in that sleek, romanticized way.
This does not mean that I imagine drinking without consequences. For someone with self-destructive tendencies, the consequences of drinking can be part of the charm. In the immature sector of my brain – the silly portion that never outgrew adolescence – the whole package of poor health and bad decisions and damaged relationships becomes a kind of beautiful Hollywood tragedy. It’s a tempting concoction of self-pity, selfishness and self-loathing, with escapism and a dash of hedonism thrown in. It’s silly and unrealistic and unforgivably self-absorbed, but in the moment – especially in a moment of exhaustion or sorrow – it can seem so accurate and appealing.
One solution is to simply stop buying the fantasy. Tell myself it isn’t true, point out its numerous flaws. And I do that, to the best of my abilities. But like I said, I’m a person to whom fantasy matters. Daydreaming is just part of the wiring of my brain. So I think another part of the solution is to find a way to make sobriety more appealing, to as many sectors of my brain as I can. To figure out its allure, to find its glamorous and beautiful heart.
Here’s what I’ve worked out: sobriety is really just a means to an end. There’s nothing particularly special or appealing about a simple not-drunk state – except for what it can lead you to. Sobriety is a connection to life itself. When I think of it that way, the appeal is obvious: it’s the intricacy and beauty and emotional depth of the entire universe. Lord knows there’s plenty to daydream about there.
I romanticize things. It’s immature, but it’s a habit and I’ll probably always do it. The trick is to work with the brain I have, not the one I “should” have. The trick is to romanticize life instead of death.