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How to Stop Drinking, Without 12 Steps
 
 
 
 

If you're looking for a free and private alternative to AA-based treatment centers, my story might help.

 

This is one of the first things I ever posted online (waaayyy back in 1998). It offers the same benefit that expensive "12-step" treatment centers offer; you will learn how to stop drinking and / or doing drugs. The big difference is that it's free, and this approach can actually solve your problem. 

Using these methods, I literally destroyed my desire to drink alcohol, smoke pot, snort coke, or engage in any of the other self-destructive behaviors that were at one time an entrenched part of my identity. As a result, I haven't had to "fight an urge" in (as of March 28th, 2020) nearly three decades. I am living proof that effortless abstinence is attainable...destroy the desire, and the rest will take care of itself.  

The HTML version of this website is free. However, if you'd like to purchase the Kindle version, you can do so here: How to Stop Drinking without AA & without 12 steps.

The text below was last updated in 2008


-Readers' Feedback 

-Overview
-My History of Idiocy
-The 12-Step Approach
-The Power of Thoughts
-The Power of Self Image
-Destroying Your Desire to Drink
-Moving on Final Thoughts
-Questions and Answers

Readers' Feedback

NOTE: Messages have been shortened  ( -- ) for brevity. 
 

--Joe, just wished to say, your site is excellent. I have been wondering about an AA alternative for some time, my friends and family tried to push me into AA - fair enough, they are trying to help me, but I could not stand the set up of AA or the meetings themselves. Attendance has left me terrified of the "power" of drink, but now I can see it has no power thanks to your views and words. I am very pleased to hear you have stayed sober for over (17) years. I'm only on my first week of sobriety, after innumerable failed attempts, but feel much more confident about what I am dealing with now and intend to keep your words as a constant source of motivation and reference. Once again, many thanks.

 

--Dear Mr. Plummer, thank you for taking the time, effort and expense to make your message available. --There is never a night when I do not drink. For way too long I have been wondering how I could stop this, slow it down. I think perhaps your story and your insight just provided me with my own little toolbox to get started. Thank you.

 

-- I'm going to try again to stop drinking, incorporating the mentality you have discussed on your site, and keeping in mind that being sober doesn't mean being condemned to a life of constant struggle. Thanks again for taking the time.

 

--Just want to say thanks for providing the info and insight. I have been struggling to stop drinking for quite awhile now and after reading your site I really feel good about myself. -thanks for a different view on things.

 

--I just found your site and "OH MY GOD!" You hit the nail right on the head for me. I tried AA umpteen times and found I didn't fit there. However, I don't fit in the drinking crowd of people who do it "normally" either. What a blessing your information was to me! Thank you for that! I have a whole new view of myself and this "little" problem I've been battling the last 3 years. Bless you.

 

--I just wanted to say thanks. Your website has really inspired me. My blessings and best wishes to you and your family.

 

--Hi Joe. I just read you web page, It makes a whole lot of sense, just what I was looking for.

 

--I am starting my new life right now. Thanks a lot for your help.

--I just read the contents of your website and it has given me great hope. I won't take much of your time but I'm starting over again, today...Thanks for your story and insight.


--Everything you've written is wonderful. I can't agree with you more. I'm 22 almost 23 years old and have been in and out of aa since I was 14. As of forty five days ago, I quit drinking, on my own, no aa this time. I'm the happiest I've ever been and feel like a million bucks. -- i just wanted to say thanks for making such an awesome site and giving me hope that there are more of us out there who see that we can control ourselves and we are not powerless over our lives. Thank you.

 

--I found your webpage about quitting drinking. I have to admit that this has to be one of the greatest and most useful tools I have found on the internet. It really made an impact on me. ...Thank You

 

--Thank you for the information... My father sent me the link because he knows how I feel about AA. I will have to read the information a few times to really apply it to my life. I've only read it once and I think it will help me to understand that I can take control of my life again. THANK YOU AGAIN.

 

--Just wanted to say thank you. My husband has done "the AA thing." It has taken a huge toll on his self-esteem. He is now in a hospital (in "relapse") and begged for an alternative approach for help. I believe what you have stated on your web page will be of benefit for my husband. I'm going to print out this info and give it to him. -Eternally grateful...

Overview

Let’s Start with AA: Although I neither endorse nor use the AA method of maintaining sobriety, I’m not entirely against it as much as I am some of its teachings. Research suggests that (at best) 7% to 12% of those who try AA find success using its method. For that small percentage, AA provides an invaluable service and should be commended.

Unfortunately, AA provides a terrible disservice to the other 88% - 93% who are often (falsely) led to believe only AA can help them. A disservice to those who resist being labeled “diseased,” only to be told their objection is proof of their disease. A disservice to those who refuse to accept they’re powerless; only to be told they’re in denial. For the vast majority of people, AA’s dogmatic approach can actually impede sobriety. Given a false choice between drinking or AA, many take their chances with drinking.

AA, in my opinion, works best for those who’ve come to accept they have no control over their own behavior. For some, the idea their problems stem from a “disease” for which they’re not responsible is more than acceptable; it’s a relief. –And if “turning their life over to the care of God” (as AA suggests) is the solution, they’re more than happy to take that “step” along with all the rest. For this group, accepting and applying the AA approach is desirable and if, in the end, it helps them find the life they want, that is excellent.

However, the average person entertaining the idea of sobriety has a hard time accepting they are “powerless.” They don’t expect to be labeled “alcoholic” let alone “diseased” and they’re generally less than thrilled with the concept of surrendering their life to a “power greater than themselves.” For this other group, it’s unfortunate that AA offers no alternatives. Either you’re an alcoholic who has got to work the “12 steps” or you’re not. Either you suffer from the “disease” alcoholism and will be “recovering” the rest of your life, or you’re not. Simply stated, the AA / 12 step approach just isn’t practical for most of us.

Again, I’d like to make clear it’s not my intent to slam AA or the other 12-step programs currently available. Although I disagree with much of what they and the medical community teach, I recognize their approach has saved lives and brought a lot of good people together. If AA works for you or someone you love, I am happy for you or them because anything, in most cases, is better than the problems associated with regular substance abuse.

My primary goal in writing this is to shed light on a different approach. An approach for those who don’t believe they’re “powerless.” An approach for those who have confidence that their problems can actually be solved instead of just “treated” the rest of their lives. Dare I say, a “1-step” approach that goes right to the heart of the struggle; and kills it…

I stopped drinking more than 17 years ago. I can honestly say I haven’t had to “fight an urge” to drink in the past 16 of those years. This has freed my mind (and my time) to take on many new and rewarding challenges. My life is a thousand times richer as a result.

My hope is that you too can take something of value from my experience, my methods, and my views pertaining to drugs and alcohol. My objective isn’t to convince you to stop; rather it’s to provide you another perspective should you decide you want to.

 

Joe Plummer
October 2008

My History of Idiocy

My name is Joe Plummer. I’m not a clinical psychologist or an MD with an Ivy League education. I’m simply a man who over a period of many years grew tired of my life and my apparent inability to effectively change it. Substances (this includes alcohol) had become a primary source of avoidable problems and pain. Through trial and error I eventually realized any contact with them brought a predictable result: more problems and pain. Although this was easy enough to see, the issue of how to actually tackle the problem was not.

My drug use began at what many would consider a very young age. I was 9 years old when my babysitter and her older brother first introduced me to marijuana. They were probably 13 and 16 (respectively) and were very much into the teenage “drug lifestyle.” As a result, I learned fast what “partying” was all about from the two of them and their older friends. I suppose you could say, because there were no others, they became my role models. (Not a good choice on my part -but hey, we all make mistakes, right?)

Because nobody had ever warned me about drugs and alcohol (not many knew the dangers themselves back then, let alone knew enough to warn a 9 year old) I never questioned a thing my new role models taught me. Drugs were what cool people did and I was cool! I lived and breathed this new and exciting way of life as fully as I could. Although my drug of choice was marijuana, I experimented with other drugs like hash, opium, speed, acid, and cocaine. Drinking was also a big part of the equation but again, pot was what I used most.

At the time (and even now) everyone looked at marijuana as basically a “harmless / passive” drug. I guess to some extent that observation is true. Unfortunately, when words like “responsibility” or “moderation” haven’t even entered your vocabulary (let alone become concepts you actually understand) pot can easily turn you into a passive person interested in little more than getting high. I spent so much of my time high, I probably didn’t make a sensible decision from age 9 until I was finally incarcerated at age 15. (It’s no mystery you can make mistakes while under the influence of drugs and alcohol and I made too many to list.)

Within a few months of making my new lifestyle choice, I began stealing. It was nothing major; but a step in the wrong direction nonetheless. My older friends would distract the owner at the local wine store while I lifted a bottle (or two) of MD 20/20. After getting literally “puke drunk,” we’d go out and do all kinds of illegal stuff like break into cars, vandalize, etc.

I’m pretty sure my first felony (breaking and entering) was committed in the winter of 1980. I was 10 at the time and my Elementary School (Holly Lane) used to keep a money box in the office. My best friend (Russell) and I figured it had to have at least $20 in it and in those days, that would have bought us a dime bag of pretty good pot. So, being the slick dudes we thought we were, we planned our heist.

Russell insisted he could steal a key from the Janitor. I had my doubts but a couple days later, he’d managed to do just that. All that was left for us to do: Meet up under the Dover Center / Westown Boulevard bridge at 9:30pm, make our way to the school and collect our loot. And that’s exactly what we did…sort of.

Up until the last minute, everything had gone as planned: Russell snuck out of his house without getting caught, we’d managed our mile long walk without being spotted by the police, the key worked like a charm and we’d made our way into the school. It wasn’t until we were right in front of the school office that we hit a snag. For some reason, there were a bunch of people in the gymnasium and the gymnasium just so happened to be directly across from the office. This wouldn’t have been too big of a problem except the school office was made of glass walls. If somebody came out of the gym, they’d see us for sure.

As you might imagine, things can get a little scary when you’re doing something you KNOW you’re not supposed to. For instance, stuffing a bottle of wine down your pants while your friends distract the large bearded man at the counter is a bit nerve-racking. (It’s an interesting combination of excitement and fear; excitement that you’re going to get what you want, a bottle of wine and a good time, and fear that you’re going to get caught.) Every time I walked out the front door of that wine store, my mind raced at the thought of hearing: “Hey, hold it right there!”

Well, whatever anxiety stealing wine caused me; suffice to say I was now feeling something 5 times greater. Here we’ve illegally entered a building only to realize it was crawling with adults. Standing in the middle of a long, wide and empty hallway, our predicament could not have been clearer: If somebody walked out of the gym (while we were standing in the hallway) we’d be seen; we’d be busted. If somebody walked out of the gym while we were in the office, we’d be seen; we’d be busted. After having performed this calculation, the little voice in the back of our heads undoubtedly screamed: “It’s not too late to turn around and head home…you can still do the right thing.” ...We were soon headed for the office.

I’d watched teachers make change more than a dozen times so I had a pretty good idea where to find what we’d come for. Russell took the left row of cabinets, I took the right. First drawer; nothing, second drawer; nope, third drawer; bingo!

To see the smiles on our faces, you’d think we’d unearthed a pot of gold. Looking down at our treasure I remember thinking “there might even be enough here to buy a whole ounce!” Unfortunately, in our excitement we managed to miss a very important development. A man had come out of the gym and was now looking right at us from the other side of the glass. I’d love to have a snapshot of our faces when we finally looked up and saw him.

Like a couple deer in the headlights, we froze. To our amazement (and relief) the man gave us an odd look, turned around, and walked back into the gym. Not wasting a second, we made a hasty exit from the office (money box in hand) and began what you might call a “brisk walk” down the long empty corridor toward our exit. We’d only made it about 75 feet when we heard what I’d always dreaded hearing at the wine store. From behind us a booming male voice yelled: “Hey, Get back here.”

Our brisk walk immediately turned into an all-out sprint and with our shift in velocity came an obscene “clanging” of quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies as they thrashed around in the money box. In an instant we’d gone from being as quiet and stealthy as we could (as to not get noticed) to involuntarily making as much noise as you could possibly imagine. With each step the change slammed from top to bottom as if to say: “Hey, look at us, we’re over here!”

Our would-be captor was probably within 15 feet of us by the time we kicked open the cafeteria’s emergency exit door. Even though he didn’t follow us out of the building, we continued to run as hard and fast as we could. I was running so hard in fact, I tripped over my own feet in the snow and the prized money box we’d worked so hard to get went flying and disappeared into a deep drift. Needless to say, we left it where it fell; not stopping for a second and not looking back all the way home.

When we finally made it home, we were a lot less disappointed than you might think. Even though we didn’t get the loot, the whole incident was extremely exciting. (Also known as extremely “fun” when you’re a couple young / dumb-ass kids.) Moreover, this was something we could talk about for years to come; how “We broke into Holly Lane Elementary School and didn’t get caught.” Or, so we thought. It turns out we were sadly mistaken on that latter point. The Police, being the slick dudes they were, tracked our footprints in the snow straight to each of our homes. The very next day, the cops came a knockin’.

When they showed up at my door, I just said I had nothing to do with it. My mother quickly believed me and my friend stuck to the same story with his folks. Once again, we thought we’d gotten away with it. After all, how could they possible know it was us? Just because our footprints lead them directly to our front door and the shoeprints in the snow matched the shoes on our feet…that didn’t mean anything, right? Still, they were persistent; as if they were sure we were lying. Worse, they had one more trick up their sleeve. It was a procedure called fingerprinting.

Apparently, this “fingerprinting” thing enabled police to prove whether a suspect was innocent or guilty (regardless of what the suspect claimed) by matching fingerprints left on items the guilty person had touched. (-Like cabinet drawers and a recovered money box for instance.) I had a hard time believing such a thing actually existed; but when they hauled me into Westlake Police department to take my prints, I’ve got to admit I was pretty nervous. (Keep in mind, I was 10 years old.)

“Listen here boys, if there’s a match” (and there would be) “you’re going to be in big trouble…Fess up now and we’ll go easy on you. Otherwise we’ll have no choice but charge you with a felony when the fingerprint analysis comes back positive.” Well, there was no way we could lie our way out of this one. Faced with the prospect of “BIG TROUBLE” we now had to admit what we (in our parent’s eyes) had been wrongly accused of. We now had to admit what the police had known all along was true. Yes, we did it.

Now we were busted (as busted as busted gets.) I remember wondering where it all went so terribly wrong. Rather than reaching into a hefty bag of pot to roll ourselves a big fat joint, we were sitting in the police station wondering whether or not we’d end up spending time in the joint. Our little ride had come to an end and all that was left to discover was our punishment. (Drum roll please.)

The police let us go without charges, I don’t think I was even grounded and although my friend was grounded, it meant nothing since he snuck out all the time anyway. And believe it or not, that was that. So if the question was: “What happens if you get caught stealing?” The answer was: “Nothing!” Because I was clear on that fact, I continued to steal the remainder of my drug career. (And what a career it was.)

Life consisted of: Get high before school, cause as much chaos as possible during school, cut for lunch, get high, go back for last few periods; throw all my books in my locker, meet up with my friends, party some more and figure out where to get money so I could (you guessed it) buy some weed and get high. For years, I scammed and stole and sold drugs to support my habit and along with my behavior, my life began to deteriorate rapidly. I’d gone from scoring in the upper 92% of kids my age on the brain sheets to a zero point grade average. My behavior at school was unacceptable (to say the least) and the severity and frequency of my illegal activity had gotten pretty ugly. Unfortunately, by the time anyone noticed my problem, I was too far gone.

That’s not to say nobody tried. Mom attempted (twice) to straighten me out by forcing me into treatment, but I wasn’t hearing any of it. I defended my lifestyle to the death and was thrown out both times for being a serious pain in the ass. Drugs and alcohol were all I knew. They were part of a lifestyle I’d sworn my allegiance to. They were, in a very real sense, a huge part of who I was.

When the counselors would say I was “on a one way street to either jail or death” I would just laugh. My theory was: “If these idiots could predict the future, they wouldn’t be working a crappy job like this.” I felt it was my life and nobody had any right to tell me how to live it. I couldn’t understand why everyone insisted on poking their nose where it didn’t belong. Why couldn’t they just leave me alone?

Of course, I now see it was my unacceptable behavior that prompted the ever-increasing instances of “intervention.” (This was impossible for me to see at the time. I was in such a fog; the “cause and effect” nature of my worsening situation was missed completely.) The constant pressure on me to “stop using” only drove me further in the other direction; it only strengthened my bond with those who embraced and encouraged my lifestyle. I really was on a one way street and, as predicted, it ended at one of the predetermined destinations.

Although I’d been to court for a few other things prior, it was my third felony conviction in 1985 (at the age of 15) that brought my first real jail time. The saying “three strikes and you’re out” fit perfectly. My Judge was a woman and I think, in her eyes, I’d finally done something there was no sweet talking my way out of. I stole $1,200 cash from my Mom. “Her Honor” expressed her displeasure in no uncertain terms. She handed down a 1-6 year sentence to be served in a notoriously nasty “21 and under” felony detention center. –Damn right I was scared, but it was too late for that to do me any good. 

When I stole the $1,200, I had huge plans. I was going to buy a pound of premium weed and before I knew it, I’d have my own big time business selling drugs. I actually did the math on my wall with a pencil; I was going to be a millionaire in under a year. Instead, I got busted red handed with the cash by the cops and went straight to jail that day.

Up to this point, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again from the adults in my life. They insisted that I had to stop doing drugs and it was because of drugs that I was always in so much trouble. Now because I’d never been caught buying or selling or even possessing drugs by the Police, I couldn’t understand for the life of me why everyone (my probation officer, the Judge, my Mom, the School, etc.) kept saying drugs were the cause of all my problems. It seemed ridiculous to me. Again, the “cause and effect” relationship was impossible for me to see.

It wasn’t until a few months after they’d locked me up that I came out of the fog I’d been in and there it was staring me in the face….All the trouble I’d been in had a common denominator. In every instance I was either stoned, looking for money to get stoned, or hanging out with a crowd that was trouble and (logically enough) liked to get stoned. From minor to major problems, if I removed “getting wasted” from the equation, NONE of the problems would have ever existed. Up to and including the 1-6 years I was now serving behind bars.

With that sudden flash of insight came an enormous shift in thinking. It was like the drugs wore off and in walked rational thought, personal responsibility, morality and a bunch of other human characteristics I hadn’t seen in years. In what seemed like an instant, I went from my old and tragically flawed mindset of “The world sucks, all cops blow, if everyone would leave me alone I’d be just fine” to “what the HELL was I thinking, how could I have done this to myself and my family, how could I have been a follower of such blatant ignorance?” I looked back on the past 6 years of my life in utter disbelief. Everything I’d learned, all the things I believed in; it was all bullshit. I looked around at my current situation with anger and disgust. I could do better than this; I WOULD do better than this.

During the remaining months of my incarceration I developed a very strong hatred for what I felt had lead to so many of my problems. And for once it wasn’t the cops, it wasn’t the Judge, it wasn’t my probation officer or my Mom. Low and behold it really was the pot! Or more accurately, the pot and how it affected my behavior and judgment. From one end to the other (including my last offense of stealing money to buy a pound of weed) it had played a part in almost everything I’d ever done wrong and every consequence I’d ever suffered. (And yet, stoned out of my gourd, I never noticed this.) Not only did I feel like a jackass for being so blind, I’d grown good and pissed off at my old buddy “pot.”

By the time I was released from jail (I served 9 months total) 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 was the first time I’d ever destroyed my desire to do something (more on that later) and it really did the trick.

Few believed I could just stop without “help,” (after all, you can’t just quit a “disease”) but they were wrong. As I hope everyone someday realizes; ending self-destructive behavior isn’t hard when you’ve literally lost all interest in it. From December 23rd 1985 (when I got out jail) through March 28th 1991 (when I finally stopped drinking) I smoked maybe half a joint (total) spread out over four or five separate instances. In each case I was really, really drunk and even then (after taking a hit or two) I couldn’t stand it. ...Even wasted on booze, my mind stepped in and said “hey man, what the Hell are you smoking this shit for; are you stupid?”

Abstaining from pot brought about many productive changes in my life. I managed to go from being a 115 lb lying, scamming, thieving dirtbag; to a fairly trust worthy, physically improved (better diet + regular weight lifting) reasonably honest young adult with at least somewhat of a plan. Unfortunately for me and those around me, alcohol was part of that plan.

Although I’d sworn off weed, I hadn’t thought much about what drinking could do to my life. (Maybe because I was too focused on what weed had done.) I guess you could say I substituted alcohol for pot, but not completely. I’d spent every waking moment of my life for years stoned; with the booze it was more or less a weekend thing. And thank God for that, because it was truly amazing how much trouble I could get in over the weekend.

In the interest of full disclosure, there was a brief period of cocaine use that took place after my release from jail. I began dating a woman 9 years my senior and some of her bad habits wore off on me. Luckily, I still had a vivid memory of how pot had affected my mind / life and it was immediately clear that cocaine was far more “capable” of doing the same thing. For that reason, my cocaine use only lasted for about a year (1986 – 1987.) I did it a handful of times afterwards, but only when I was really drunk and each time I regretted the Hell out of it the next day. I never got back into it.

Now, I wish I could say there was a fairy tale moment where I suddenly regained all my wits and lived happily ever after. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. I still had a lot of growing up to do and there were plenty of “unwise” ideas left in my head from years of living a drug lifestyle. For instance; somewhere along the line after I’d quit doing pot and coke, I decided I was going to deal them. After all, who better than I? I had no interest in using them, I had plenty of potential customers I could trust (my friends) and there was decent money to be made. Most people who sell drugs “small time” end up smoking or snorting away all their profit. No longer doing drugs; I wouldn’t have to worry about that.

When I look back, I realize I was still holding on to fragments of my “sly / criminal” self image. After so many years of believing certain things it’s hard to shed all the misconceptions right off the bat. One of which happened to be: Dealing drugs is the high roller lifestyle and anyone smooth enough to deal them, not do them, and not get caught, is one slick son of a bitch.

Luckily I never got caught dealing and the few times I decided to give it a shot only lasted a couple months. My last adventure in dealing brought me severely close to getting caught in the wrong state with the wrong drug. In fact, I had came so close to being absolutely screwed that I wondered if my extraordinary “luck” in the matter was perhaps a little more. ...Like somebody upstairs was trying to show me I wasn’t nearly as “slick” as I thought I was; like I was being shown, regardless of the precautions I took, I could have my life destroyed in an instant. I’m glad to say I took the hint. I looked at what nearly happened and said “enough is enough; it has never been and never will be worth the risk, thanks but no thanks!” Fortunately that was the end of that.

So, to briefly sum up 1987 – 1991, I was basically your average everyday guy who had stopped getting high, but still drank on the weekends. I had a few high roller visions of grandeur about dealing that I eventually outgrew. The one glaring difference between me and the average everyday guy was: when I drank I had a tendency to turn into a completely psychotic moron capable of just about anything.

As if you couldn’t have guessed, it was just a matter of time before I was once again viewing the world from the confines of a jail cell; this time for my drinking extravaganzas. My highlight reel included things like: Breaking into a closed pizza shop to make myself dinner. -Standing in the backyard of my “suburban subdivision” home with a 38 revolver; repeatedly loading it and then unloading it into the ground. Kicking out arresting officers back windows, intentionally cutting myself with razors, knives or broken glass to watch myself bleed; fighting, shouting, acting like a complete idiot and racking up more driving violations than most families do in a lifetime. (I think I have 75 entries to date.)

Needless to say, things were not going too good and being the logical fast learning man I was (ya right) it only took me about 5 years to figure out that alcohol was causing me just as much grief as pot had and, once again, I was looking at spending a lot of boring time behind bars. –Different charges; same result.

On March 25th 1991 I was cited with my fourth D.U.I. It carried a penalty of up to two years in jail. Three days later, drunk out of my mind, I decided I didn’t like “no parking” signs. My solution was to spend a few hours driving around with a friend of mine running them down. (Fortunately, I did not get caught or I surely would have been cited for my fifth D.U.I. among other things.)

For me, March 28th 1991 was the final straw. Here I was still facing up to two years in jail for my fourth D.U.I. on the 25th and I’m out (just a few days later) drunk and driving AND intentionally running over street signs. When I woke up the next morning, my inner dialogue went something like this: “What are you, a fucking idiot? Do you want to destroy yourself? Are you actually trying to ruin your life? Is this all you expect of yourself? Are you willing to accept this?”

It was that last question that really hit home. It reminded me of what I’d done to myself with other substances and the subsequent unacceptable behavior. The answer was an unequivocal “NO.” Again, I was disgusted with the choices I’d made and concluded: “Screw this shit, it sucks, it’s ruining my life...I’m done.” And I meant it.

OK, I’d made up my mind. Now it was time to deal with the social attitude that I couldn’t just quit drinking without help from AA and the program. You’d think my prior success in quitting drugs (despite having been given the same doom and gloom story) might have won me some confidence from the “well intentioned” masses…not a chance. Seems they figured I’d just substituted booze for drugs, so my accomplishment in that department (and other subsequent improvements) didn’t really count. Even my friends who’d seen me stop smoking cigarettes, pot, doing coke, etc. didn’t really believe in me.

Well, I’d been through “the program” many times (during in-patient treatment, and as punishment for each of my prior D.U.I.’s.) If I was absolutely sure of anything it was this: The Program was not my cup of coffee. I hated the principles, procedures, pity, steps, prayers…basically everything about it. It just didn’t feel right to me. At best, “the program” came off as a flimsy crutch; at worst, a potentially dangerous and debilitating belief system.

If I was going to stop drinking; I wasn’t going to do it using “techniques” I didn’t believe in. Like I had quit smoking cigarettes, quit doing coke, quit smoking pot (quit lying, quit stealing, etc.) I wanted to uncover and destroy the self-destructive thought processes that were driving my unacceptable behavior. I wanted to replace them with (for lack of a better term) “self-productive” thoughts and actions. And despite the naysayers (with their cynical / mocking tone still ringing in my ears) that is exactly what I did. I found what I’d hoped all along I would: It’s easy to trade a bad life for a better one as long as you realize that is what you’re doing.

The 12-Step Approach

In my eyes, happiness is what sobriety is all about. The ability to live life without all the extra problems that substance abuse brings. Lets face it, life can be tough enough without added embarrassment, jail time, tickets, fights, court, reduced self esteem, bank account draining habits, etc.

 

     The problem is: Until you've lived as a sober person, it's really hard to know what it will be like. The first question I think everybody asks themselves is: Will it really be worth giving up drugs and alcohol? I mean, I always knew that straightening up would cut my problems in a big way, but would sobriety bring me greater happiness...Ah, that was the big question and, for me, this is why:

 

     From around age 12, I was told there were only “3 choices” for people like me: AA, prison, or death. In other words, AA was the ONLY wAAy a person like me could ever stop drinking or doing drugs – all other roads (I was told) would inevitably lead to ruin. In line with 12-step teachings, it was drilled into my head that I was powerless, suffered from an incurable disease, and had to completely surrender my “will and life to the care of God.” If I resisted these fundamental tenets, I was doomed.

 

Well, struggling the rest of my life with a so-called “incurable disease” didn’t quite fit my description of “greater happiness.” Nor was I excited about spending 6 – 9 hours per week (for the rest of my life) in “meetings” where the overarching theme was: “Be careful, your disease could kill you at any moment!” Probably worst of all, I could see no happiness in forcing myself to believe that I was "powerless" over something that I WAS PHYSICALLY CHOOSING TO DO! It just wasn’t true, and I knew it. 
 

To me, “powerless” is an extremely powerful word. It essentially means you can do nothing to protect yourself – nothing to prevent a negative outcome – nothing to produce a more favorable result. In life, there are few instances where any human being is truly “powerless.” To accept this label (when it does not apply) is to accept a loss where a gain is possible. Further, suggesting that the only way to cope with this "powerlessness" is through the suspension of critical thought (adherence without scrutiny) undermines the self confidence a person needs to rebuild a healthy self image and life.

 

In my view, AA offered me a lose-lose scenario: If I failed their program it was because I was "in denial" or not working the 12-steps properly; if I succeeded, it was only because of AA and my “higher power” (without which, I was assured, I’d fail again.) Come on now! Where is my credit in all this? Based on what they were telling me, I was incapable any way I sliced it. And again, everything in me said it simply wasn’t true.

 

It was me that had to learn to live without drugs and alcohol. It was me that had to develop the strength necessary to face my life. AA’s insistence that I accept and announce I was incapable of controlling myself (that I was powerless over an inanimate substance) was unacceptable to me. If anything, I believed the substance was powerless. Drugs and alcohol needed me, not the other way around.

 

Expanding on that point; a bottle of beer cannot accomplish anything without my help. It cannot anger or sadden me. It cannot embarrass me, torment me; cause me to manipulate or lie. It cannot cause me to kill (or be killed) unless I give it a body to work with. In fact, it will sit for eternity (powerless) unless I’m kind enough to come along, ingest it, and let it have its way with my body, spirit and mind. The same is true of pot, cocaine, pills, whiskey, etc. They are all powerless without me.

 

The fact substances can do NOTHING without human intervention is just that; a fact. This fact (when realized) provides a valuable source of self confidence and much-needed “perspective.” It should be comforting to know who really holds the cards: An intellectual being with the ability to learn and grow, not a substance that serves only one real purpose...to undermine our ability.
 

In fairness, some of the things I was told when I was forced into treatment weren’t too far from the mark. For instance, I could have easily wound up “dead or in prison” if I didn’t stop drinking / doing drugs. It’s the “solution” I was presented that was wrong for me. And the assertion that the 12 steps were “my only option” was just plain false.

 

In the end, AA is a “belief-based” system that can lead to sobriety – nothing more. In other words, you are not chained to a wall, you do not have a gun to your head; you are not on pharmaceuticals that diminish your desire to abuse drugs / alcohol. If AA works for you, it is because you believe it will work and you act accordingly. (You believe admitting you are powerless will help you achieve sobriety, so you admit you're powerlessness. You believe “turning your will and life over to the care of God” will keep you sober, so you do, etc.) If this is effective for you, that is excellent. In my case, these and other requirements clashed with my personal belief-system. And for that reason, their belief system was not something I was willing to accept or able to apply.

 

For instance, I did not believe it was a “disease” that drove me to drink. I didn’t believe it because I noticed, whenever I acted on an “urge” to drink, that urge was always accompanied by a favorable mental image; a favorable association in my mind of what “having a drink” or getting drunk would mean. (I was going to go have some fun at the bar, “put on a buzz” and chase the ladies, “relax” after a hard day, etc.)

 

I noticed the reverse was also true: When I was vomiting beer and double-cheese pizza out my nose, there was no “favorable association” tied to the idea of having another beer – and, as such, I never had to "fight an urge" to crack one open and take a swig. Likewise, the next day (suffering a terrible hangover and embarrassment) “drinking” was the last thing I had any interest in doing. Depending on the circumstances, I could go days, weeks, even months before my “total lack of interest” in drinking wore off and some of the old “favorable associations” (and urges) crept back into my head.

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.

The Power of Thoughts

Change the way you think and you’ll change the way you behave.

 

Our thoughts determine the choices we make - they establish our course of action. If we’re unhappy with a specific behavior, we need to examine (and change) the thoughts that lead us to choose that behavior. Simple enough.

 

But what are thoughts? What do they consist of? How do they appear in our mind and influence the choices we make? Once we answer these questions, we can more effectively change the way we think (and, by extension, the way we behave.)  

 

Let’s start with a very simple answer to the “what are thoughts” question. Our thoughts are made up of two primary parts: images and associations. First, images:  

 

It has been said: “Human beings think mostly in images.” And, as proof, the statement is usually followed up with a few words like: Spider, elephant, crawl, jump, etc. (The idea being; if you think of a “spider” you will see an image of a spider in your mind’s eye. If you think of a “crawling spider,” you’ll see a slightly different image and if you think of a “jumping spider,” you’ll see yet another image.) The spider you image in your mind won’t be exactly the same as the spider I see, but it’s safe to say that neither of us will see the image of a butterfly when we think of a spider.

 

Now to the second part; associations: (What does the spider mean?)

 

Though we’re likely to see a similar image when we think of a spider, our reaction to the image could be very different. Our reaction depends on what spiders mean to us as individuals. (It depends on what we’ve associated with the image of a spider.) In other words, if spiders represent something “creepy and dangerous” to you, the last thing you’ll want to hear is: “A giant spider is crawling up your leg.” (This statement will prompt an image in your mind and that image will prompt your association: “creepy and dangerous.” Fear, panic and swatting at your pant leg are almost sure to follow.) On the other hand, the statement: “A beautiful butterfly just landed on your hat” will probably be a lot less upsetting (unless of course butterflies freak you out too.)

 

Accepting this general idea, we can say that we assign meaning (associations) to the images we have stored in our mind. These images and associations make up our thoughts and, as such, they determine the course of action we choose. Alter them (images and associations) and our behavior will change. (Although images and associations work together, it’s the associations that really “move us” into action, so let’s look at them a little closer.)

 

Unlike the images that fill our minds, associations are very hard to visualize. They exist in our mind as a feeling, general understanding, or concept. For instance, consider the concepts of “right” and “wrong.” These are much harder to visualize than a spider or a butterfly. But if we see something that fits our understanding of right or wrong, we know it immediately. Example: If we witness a young man drowning a puppy, most of us would associate the young man’s actions with our concept of “wrong.” I’m guessing many of us would feel compelled to do the “right” thing: intervene (perhaps violently) on the puppy’s behalf.

 

When it comes to what we choose to do (or choose NOT to do) it’s our associations that drive us. Right / wrong, safe / unsafe, true / untrue, desirable / undesirable, etc.; whatever we associate with these terms will be sought or avoided automatically. Unfortunately, when our mind holds images / associations that are fundamentally flawed, we make bad choices and suffer the consequences. When we correct these flawed thoughts, the choices we make (and the results we get) will change. It really IS that simple.

 

So, images and associations are what our thoughts are made of. (Sure, this might be somewhat of a simplification, but the concept is very useful when it comes to changing how we think.) It helps to understand, if we feel an urge toward something, it’s only because an image and its corresponding “favorable association” has passed through our mind. Likewise, if we feel an aversion to something, an image and its “unfavorable association” has passed through our mind.

 

Once we realize this, our counterproductive urges (and aversions) become much easier to deal with. At the first sign of either, we can immediately pause our thoughts; isolate and examine the image / association that created the unwanted impulse, and begin making corrections. (Begin untying the inaccurate / unwanted associations and replacing them with associations that are more accurate and will serve us better.)

 

What follows are the specific techniques I used to “change my thoughts” regarding drugs and alcohol. (How I “destroyed my desire to drink” and moved on with the rest of my life.) These concepts are not difficult to understand and they are effective, but they won’t “work” all by themselves. It’s up to you to apply them.

The Power of Self-Image

When it comes to what you expect (and will accept) from yourself, “self-image” is like a master control. It sets the guidelines for your behavior. And if for some reason you cross one of those lines, your mind will immediately let you know about it. Regret, embarrassment, a sense of insecurity (or any number of other unpleasant feelings) is what you’re sure to feel if you act beneath your established self-image…and this is a good thing. It’s your “better self” stepping in to say: “Hey, wait a minute, is this really who you want to be?” Oddly enough, acting “above” your established self-image can also lead to problems. (Start doing “too well” without an adequately adjusted self-image, and don’t be surprised if you start sabotaging your own progress.)

 

If you’re looking to make a big change in your life, it’s very important to begin drawing a new image of who you are. As a matter of fact; I believe it’s even more important than addressing the images / associations tied to drugs and alcohol and here’s why: The strongest barrier a person can build between themselves and self-destructive behavior is a healthy self-image.

 

People who truly respect themselves don’t spend time disrespecting themselves. (And if you’re engaging in self-destructive / counterproductive behavior, you are disrespecting yourself in a very real way. You’re not only robbing yourself of your best, you’re actually injuring yourself emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually…probably financially and socially as well.) “Effortless” and permanent changes in our behavior occur when we change inside...when we “become” a new person. The process begins in our mind.

 

For this reason, I strongly recommend you begin with creating a mental image of yourself that is in line with the kind of person you want to be. It will require sustained effort and no, it is not likely to be easy. If you’re anywhere near as messed up as I was, it’s going to take some real determination. You must find the courage to admit what you truly want. Decide what you DEMAND from yourself and then draw a clear image of the “version of you” that can (and will) comply with that demand.

 

From there, it’s just a matter of honestly assessing the gap between the “new you” that you’ve created in your mind and the “old you” that’s been undermining your potential all along. From these comparisons, new guidelines will be drawn and you’ll be well on your way toward lasting change.

 

The importance of this exercise cannot be overstated. By deliberately visualizing a new self-image (and experiencing the corresponding “positive associations”) you will be giving your mind a map to follow. I’ve covered the importance of visualization pretty extensively in “The 1-Hour Guide to Successful Thinking.” I’m going to end this section on “Self-image” with just a few words (and audio) borrowed from The 1-Hour Guide:

 

"Visualization prepares our mind and body for the future by allowing us to experience the future in the present. This not only makes it easier for us to move confidently toward what we see, it also increases the likelihood that we’ll recognize (and eliminate) behavior that undermines the vision we’ve created. (Counterproductive thoughts and actions become far more obvious and less acceptable when they’re held against a productive image that we “look at” regularly for guidance.)

 

A good time to develop your “visualization skills” is when you’re lying in bed, just prior to going to sleep. Take a few deep breaths. Suspend all doubt, cynicism, or other unnecessary distractions. You might find it helpful to remind yourself that this image has nothing to do with your current self-image. Let yourself experience a day in the life of the “best you” imaginable. See yourself responding to foolish ideas the way the “stronger you” would respond. See yourself tackling challenges with the same clear mind and confidence the stronger you has developed. Experience how good it feels to be your best.

 

It should be noted that you can shape this vision just about anywhere at any time. While you’re cooking dinner, cutting the grass, in the shower, while you’re stopped at a train, etc. Keep your mind pointed toward that “new you” and it will begin the work of getting you there."
 

Click below for a short audio clip on "Visualization" (Taken from The 1-Hour Guide to Successful Thinking)

Destroying Your Desire to Drink

VisualizationJoe Plummer
00:00 / 03:55
 
 
 

Our goal here is simple: Stop drinking / doing drugs (without struggle) by completely destroying the desire to ingest these harmful substances.

 

We’ve covered how our thoughts drive our desire and, by extension, determine how we behave. More specifically, the “favorable associations” we’ve tied to drugs / alcohol are what create the impulse / urge to ingest them. So, for lasting and effortless change, these favorable associations that we’ve created need to be corrected and replaced.

 

There are many different ways this can be done. In this section I will cover some of the angles of attack that I used. Rather than memorize these examples, what’s most important is that you keep the ultimate goal in mind: Correct and replace unhealthy / unwanted “favorable” associations. My insights will help, but look for your own as well. Make sure that you think about your own personal experiences and how to apply the general ideas that follow.

 

Challenge EVERYTHING

 

As noted in the last section, I began the work of “changing my life” by challenging my own self-image. I laid the groundwork for change by creating (in my mind) an image of who I felt I should be. I then used that image as my guide...a reference I could look at while I was “chipping away” at what didn’t belong, and adding what did. It took time, trial and error, but as the years passed, huge gains were made. This is a powerful tool, don’t ignore it.

 

When rebuilding my thoughts on “alcohol,” I was careful to start at the beginning and work my way clear to the end; from the early days when I gagged on my first sips of scotch and beer, to the later years when I was facing major jail time for my fourth DUI. I wanted to revisit things like:

 

  • What were my first experiences with alcohol like? Did I “exaggerate the good” and “minimize the bad?” (Yes) Ok, but why? Figure it out, correct and replace unwanted / counterproductive associations.

  • When I started having problems, was I logical about how I reacted? Was I honest in my assessments? Was I ACCURATE in my assessments? (No) Ok, how might I see things differently? Correct and replace.

  • Did I understand what “triggered” my impulses to drink? Was I prepared to “PAUSE” my thoughts at the first hint of an “urge” and challenge the image / associations that created it? Was I ready with a more accurate and useful association? Correct and replace. 

 

But enough about me…

 

The Introduction

 

Imagine you’re walking through the park and you come across a tree that’s growing strange berries you’ve never seen before. Odds are you’re not likely to tear off a handful and pop them in your mouth, correct?


Under normal circumstance, you wouldn’t. But let’s just say you’re feeling brave today. Instead of passing this opportunity by you say: "Ah, what the hell, they look good enough to me." So you grab a fistful, toss ‘em back, and on the first bite you gag (just as you probably did the first time you did a shot of whiskey.) As you’re gagging, do you force yourself to “choke them down” or do you spit the nasty little buggers out? (Again, unless you’re not too bright, we’ve got to assume you spit them out.) SURELY, you would not grab another handful and repeat the process…   

 

Oh, why not? Let’s say you not only “choke them down,” but you take an even bigger handful and do it again, and again, and again. Before long you’re feeling dizzy and having a hard time with your motor skills. You stand up, but fall over and smack your head against the tree. You try again, stagger and fall face first into a bush. One more attempt (more of a “half crawl” than a “walk”) and this time you’re down for the count. With your head spinning wildly, the last thing you remember (just prior to losing consciousness) are berries leaving your body involuntarily.

 

There's an excellent chance this incident would be very scary and you have to wonder if anyone, having survived it, would put themselves through it again. Do you suppose that YOU, upon waking the next day in a pool of regurgitated berries with a horrible headache, would EVER consider another “round?” Of course not! And yet, even though many of us had a comparably atrocious experience the first time we “got hammered,” we all wound up deciding we should “try it again.” Why? Probably because we didn’t do it alone. We were surrounded by a group of people we trust and consider friends saying: "Ah, that's O.K., it happens to the best of us. It's perfectly normal, you just had a couple too many. Wasn't it great?”

 

Sadly, most of us are dumb enough to accept the encouragement and consolation of others as reason enough to do almost anything. Acceptance of others is a very powerful motivator and if everyone we know says it’s OK, then it must be. …For those of us who absolutely SHOULD NOT consume alcohol, so begins an unfortunate (and unnecessary) journey. (A journey of ever-increasing costs, and ever-decreasing “returns.”)

 

Misconceptions – Misdiagnosis - Misinformation     

 

If you are certain that you’ve identified the cause of a specific problem, you’re unlikely to consider other possibilities. Unfortunately, if you’re wrong, the real cause will remain undetected and the problem will continue to occur. Simple concept, true, but often overlooked.

 

One of the first things we do following a “negative” drinking experience is we blame ourselves entirely for the way we reacted / behaved. Blaming ourselves for the way alcohol affects us is, quite simply, a mistake. Not only is it a mistake, it’s a mistake that leads to all sorts of other mistakes. It goes something like this:

 

You act like a complete idiot at a party. You don’t remember much; just the part where you had somebody’s underwear on your head, got into a fight with your “significant other,” and told everyone to go to Hell. Your buddy gives you a ride home, you blow your cookies in his car, and after that it’s all a blur. As you’re sobering up the next day, you can’t believe what you did…you’re embarrassed beyond words. But rather than put the blame where it belongs (the substance that altered your thoughts / behavior and bodily functions) you accept full responsibility – you inaccurately conclude that you are an idiot that needs to learn how to “handle your buzz.”

 

There are two big problems here: First, you’ve begun the process of associating “who you are” with “what you did when you were drunk.” Over time, the effects of this on that extremely important image (your SELF-image) can be devastating. Repeating from the last section:

 

“When it comes to what you expect (and will accept) from yourself, self-image is like a master control. It sets the guidelines for your behavior.”

 

Equate “who you are” with “what you did when you were drunk,” and a downward spiral of continually lowered expectations are sure to follow. The bars you set for yourself and the “lines” you’re willing to cross will move further and further in the wrong direction. A new identity will begin to emerge, and in hours “sober” or “drunk,” that identity will have a negative impact on your life.

 

The second problem is the solution you’ve come up with: “Learn how to handle your buzz.” I truly believe some of us are genetically incapable of this. Every person reacts differently to the chemicals in alcohol, just as every person reacts differently to the chemicals in a bee sting. Those who are allergic to bees tend to stay the Hell away from them. So what’s our excuse? Are we just plain stupid?

Well, in our defense, society doesn’t expect people to sit around and sting themselves with bees as a way of “celebrating” or “bonding” with one another. When it comes to alcohol, it’s an entirely different story. Alcohol has been integrated into damn near everything. Sports, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, dating, dinner; you name it, there is a commercial telling you how to properly “celebrate” the occasion.

 

The outcome, until we learn better, is pretty predictable. Those of us who have a negative reaction to alcohol blame ourselves entirely for our unacceptable behavior (even though we would have never behaved inappropriately without the substance in our blood.) This, in turn, leads to attempts to control the part of the equation that we CANNOT control (the part that happens AFTER we ingest the substance.) Enter the downward spiral.

 

We try to control the effects the substance has on us and we fail. We reject the outcome, try again, and fail. (-Then we try again, and again, and again.) Our failures begin to erode our self-image. Our behavior, while intoxicated, does the same. In this vulnerable mental state we begin to hear words like “alcoholic” and “addict” tossed around. Who wants that label wrapped around their neck? So we fight with all our strength to prevent further negative incidents, we resolve to “control ourselves” and…we fail.

 

If a person isn’t careful, they might draw yet another INACCURATE conclusion from this cycle: “I really can’t control myself…my God, I must have this horrible disease…I must be an addict...I’m doomed!”

 

Now we’re in even deeper water because everyone knows an “addict” is somebody who must use. Everyone knows that addicts are just a step away from becoming full-blown junkies. They can’t keep themselves from using. …This is not only a very dangerous belief system to adopt; it is dead wrong. The conclusion is born of flawed reasoning.

 

It isn’t that we are “diseased addicts” who can’t control ourselves; it is an issue of not being able to control ourselves after we’ve chosen to give our control away (after we’ve chosen to put something in our bodies that we have an adverse reaction to.) This is an extremely important distinction. If it is not made, we make things much harder for ourselves. A person who is allergic to penicillin does not equate their inability to ingest penicillin with an inability to keep themselves from ingesting penicillin. Nor should we equate our inability to safely ingest drugs / alcohol with an inability to keep ourselves from ingesting them in the first place. Know what you can and can’t control; never blame yourself for the latter.

 

Unfortunately (no thanks to what is commonly taught) we do confuse the two. And this eventually leads to a FALSE choice:

 

1. Continue trying to “get it right,” OR

2. Accept that we’ve got a disease, check ourselves in for treatment, and set out on a journey of eternal “recovery.”

 

(No wonder so many continue choosing FALSE CHOICE number 1.)

 

The simple truth is this: These substances affect our bodies / minds / behavior in negative way. If we do not consume them, our bodies / minds / behavior will return to normal. Our inability to control how they affect us is a separate issue from what drives our desire to consume them. As long as we focus on what we can control (the thoughts that drive our desire to drink) then what we cannot control (how they affect us) becomes totally irrelevant. …In all my years of living, I’ve never had an adverse reaction to a beer, shot of whiskey, or glass of wine I did not consume. “Destroy the desire to drink and the rest will take care of itself…”

 

We’re much better off, our head cleared of nonsense, to focus on questions like:
 

“So what is so great about this ridiculous crap I choose to put in my body? Where are the great profits I gain for ingesting it? And what’s left of those so-called profits if I take the time to honestly (accurately) calculate all of the costs? What? There are no profits? Worse than no profit, I’m actually left with a loss? Fine, then let’s call it what it is: A way to abuse (not a way to reward) myself.”

 

...Now you’re moving in the right direction.

 

Dig a little deeper and you might find a big part of what you’ve placed a “favorable association” on has less to do with alcohol and more to do with the relationships you’ve developed around alcohol. If you’ve never consciously separated the two, do so now. Think about how much of your desire to “go party” is tied to the friends you’ll meet (at the bar, at the party, at dinner) rather than the booze itself. How much is driven by a desire to socialize and cultivate relationships?

 

Hypothetical scenario; which of the following would you choose: Go to a party where there will be alcohol but the “guest list” is filled with people you cannot stand OR go to a wedding reception (with no alcohol) filled with people you truly enjoy being around...Thought experiments like this help put things in their proper perspective. (Don’t give alcohol an ounce of “credit” it doesn’t deserve. In fact, make a point to revoke its credit wherever possible.)

 

Belief precedes reality

 

If you believe that you are helpless, addicted, and the victim of a “disease” that you cannot defeat, you will have no choice but suffer the consequences of that belief. You will look for supporting evidence, you will undoubtedly find it, and the ball and chain you accept will be an unnecessary weight added to your life.

 

If you refuse to believe that you are helpless, diseased, or unable to change the way you think about drinking / drugs; if you commit to accepting responsibility for your thoughts and the effect they have on what you choose to do, then you will become steadily stronger and improve your life. Resolve to take control of your mind; it is yours after all.

 

While we’re discussing beliefs, do you believe there is something wrong with you because of how you react to alcohol? Many people do. …Well, assume for a moment that it’s true. Go ahead and label the inability to ingest alcohol (socially) as an affliction. Can you think of any other disability you would rather substitute it for?

 

Is there one person in a wheelchair who wouldn’t trade “not being able to drink” with the ability to stand, walk, and run? Would being born crippled, deaf, deformed or retarded be “easier to deal with?” How about suffering from a REAL DISEASE like cancer of the lungs or pancreas? The devastating effects of which cannot be stopped by simply choosing NOT to ingest (what amounts to) poison…

 

I’d say life isn’t all a wash just because drinking or doing drugs isn’t in our best interest. Anybody, no matter who they are, would be better off without drugs and alcohol clouding their thoughts and altering their behavior. Some of us are just more “better off” than others. Unless your goal is to punish and destroy yourself (an issue that must be honestly addressed, and the inaccurate associations that motivate it CORRECTED) you’ve got no business putting harmful chemicals into your body.

 

 When you first begin the process of “pulling out” the old wiring and “installing” the new, there will be times when everything seems crystal clear. Making the right choices will be easy…effortless. It will be as if you’re seeing everything through different eyes. …Eyes that are wiser and see things more accurately. It’s awesome…take note of how good it feels and really connect with the moment emotionally. Reward that part of yourself for making an appearance.

 

But understand also, there will be times when what seemed clear yesterday (or even 10 minutes ago) suddenly seems vague or hard to access. Like a phone number, a name, or a word that is on the tip of your tongue, the clarity seems lost. In that fleeting moment, you can’t “see” as you saw only a brief time ago. You are again “seeing” things through unwelcome eyes. It’s OK. Acknowledge the perspective…even allow it to present its side, but do not reward it. Do not “welcome it” as you did the permanent perspective you’re in the process of creating. Perhaps your internal dialogue might go something like: “Yes, I see that…wow, looks great. But it’s a lie and I know it. And even if I can’t see the truth right now, I will find it again.”

The idea is to make the old perspective really have to FIGHT to exist. Unlike the perspective you’re creating (a perspective you welcome and permit to exist without effort or resistance…a perspective that you reward and rewards you) if the old perspective shows itself, you will challenge it. If it seems to have the “upper hand,” never waiver in your determination to attack and weaken its influence.

 

Even if, lost in this temporary “old and unwanted” mindset, you DECIDE to drink; do not approach it as a loss or an act of surrender…it is not. Know that YOU are making the decision, know WHY you are making the decision (because of an old and unwanted perspective that is currently clearer than the one you aim to create) and make a study of it.

 

When I first started trying to stop drinking, I’d “struggle” and “fight” urges (not really sure of what was causing them) and then I’d eventually throw my hands up in the air and just go full throttle in the opposite direction. “Ah, FUCK IT!...I’m going to get FUCKED UP tonight!!!” This of course was counterproductive on a number of levels. One, it made me totally reckless about how I approached the drinking, and it also had an underlying connotation that carried over: “Why try to stop? You’re just going to drink again…”

 

In the later years, I began taking a more mature approach. First, I stopped accepting it was inevitable that I would “always end up drinking again.” Instead, I leaned more towards believing that I’d eventually “get it right.” (Meaning: The correct perspective, with effort, would eventually become dominant and the old perspective would be weakened to the point of insignificance.)

 

In my less wise past, if I’d gone 30 days without a drink but then drank on day 31, I’d consider that a total negation of everything I’d achieved. This is clearly an exaggerated and counterproductive conclusion. My healthier perspective was more likely to see it as “New Joe: 30, old Joe: 1.” Not only was this a more accurate way of viewing the situation, it was far more productive. I didn’t beat myself up needlessly. I didn’t falsely allow myself to believe that “one day drunk” could somehow take away the 30 days that I hadn’t drank. It couldn’t and it didn’t. I was still “30 days ahead of the game” and those 30 days would always be mine.

 

I’m not certain, but I’d bet it was after a night of drinking that the following statement popped in my head: “As long as you learn from your mistakes, then what you’ve done was not a waste.” All I know is I wrote it down and have reminded myself of it often. You should too. Learn to view your experiences in a way that will HELP instead of harm you. Learn to take whatever value you can and apply it toward what you want to achieve.   

 

Dealing with “Triggers.”

 

Certain events, environments or “states of mind” can trigger old images / associations. Keep this in mind whenever a seemingly sudden “favorable association” (and subsequent urge) presents itself. It is often nothing more than a habitual reflex thought that has been developed over years or even decades. Identifying triggers immediately dulls their power. Your internal dialogue might go something like “Oh yes, of course, triggered by “X,” …that is predictable.” Learning to identify triggers keeps you objective and in control. It helps move you to the next logical step (correct and replace the old / unwanted association) as opposed to making a counterproductive “heat of the moment” decision.

 

I was very lucky to figure this out in the first few weeks and months after I stopped drinking. I noticed all sorts of things that triggered old / unwanted ideas about drinking and an obvious pattern began to emerge: The first time I engaged in any activity or encountered any kind of stress that before would have included alcohol, my reflex thought was to, once again, include alcohol. (Kind of like when you pick up your toothbrush, your reflex thought is to begin looking for the toothpaste. …Alcohol had become an expected element during these particular activities or states of mind.)

 

 My first date, my first trip to a nightclub, my first dinner at a fancy restaurant, my first “boring” weeknight, etc…each prompted the habitual thought: “Where’s the beer?” Once I realized what was going on, I could respond to those urges in a less fearful manner. Where before I would have believed I had a merciless broken record in my head, randomly playing “You want to drink, you want to drink, you want to drink,” I realized it was simply my mind following an established sequence that I had set up years ago.

 

By the second, third, and fourth time I faced each activity without alcohol; I noticed the “new sequence” taking hold. Walk into a bar, order a bottled water; sit down at a restaurant, order an iced tea, etc. It wasn’t long before my new reflex thought was to NOT drink alcohol. (…And for those who asked me why I wasn’t drinking, I had an honest and simple answer: “Because I don’t like the way it affects me.” There was nothing more to say. If somebody couldn’t respect that, then I had no reason to respect their opinion.)

 

Again, make an effort to identify your triggers. There are many counterproductive ways you might have associated alcohol with otherwise unrelated events, states of mind, environments, etc. For example, if years ago you established alcohol in your mind as a “value multiplier” (something you add to things that are already good) then simply being in a good mood could act as a trigger. “I’m feeling good about “X,” let’s go have a beer and celebrate!”

 

If you established alcohol as a “social lubricant” (something you use to loosen up around others) then there are countless situations that could act as a trigger. (Going to a party, going to nightclub, a concert, etc.) If you’ve established drugs / alcohol as a way to “numb pain,” then clearly anything that upsets you might act as a trigger. Do you use alcohol to validate yourself? “I can drink anyone under the table.” If so, the simple desire to feel “important / special” could act as a trigger.

 

As stated, learning what triggers you (whether it triggers you a “little” or “a lot”) is very useful…but it is only half of the equation. The other half involves replacing the unwanted associations with more accurate / productive ones.

 

Take a long honest look at how alcohol has affected your life. Does it really look like a “value multiplier?” I owe some of my worst memories to alcohol. Days, months and years of my life that were miserable as a direct result of “adding alcohol” to the mix. Sure, there are a few good memories; but those times don’t even come close to making up for the bad. (And besides, the majority of what makes those few memories “good” had nothing to do with the alcohol. A great concert, a Fourth of July celebration with friends, or meeting an interesting girl at a club; the truly fun elements would have been there with or without the booze.)  

 

Is alcohol your “social lube?” Well, if having a good time or feeling comfortable in a certain environment requires that you first drug yourself, maybe that is nature’s way of saying you’re not where you’re supposed to be. Perhaps you need some better pass times. (Pass times that don’t require drugs or alcohol to make the event tolerable.)  

 

Depressed? Trying to deal with things that are “unpleasant?” Let’s hope you haven’t settled on alcohol as an acceptable “solution.” Any honest person knows that alcohol is NOT going to solve a damn thing. Quite the opposite…it’s likely to make whatever you’re avoiding even worse. If you’re dealing with something difficult and your old self suggests you add alcohol, simply answer with the truth: “That’s not the solution. That isn’t going to help. Why the Hell would I want to make things worse than they already are?”

 

Do you use alcohol as a way to validate yourself? Did you earn a reputation for how much you can drink and now, it’s like a badge of honor? ...is that really an “honor” worth keeping? If you have a knack for being able to tolerate “more than others,” try applying that talent toward things that are actually productive instead of self-destructive.

 

How about just plain boredom? Does that trigger you? Well, once again, the “solution” isn’t to get drunk. “I’m bored so I’m going to engage in a self-destructive act that will make me hate myself.” And tomorrow, you’ll just be bored all over again plus, more than likely, you’ll be able to add depressed to the list. Doesn’t sound like a very good SOLUTION to the problem of being bored, does it?

 

The solution to boredom is to “get a life.” Develop a wide range of interests. Learning about topics that interest you, writing / photography / art, exercise in any of its innumerable forms; these are all excellent places to begin. How about some hobbies? Skydiving, drag racing, martial arts, hiking, or snowboarding for the thrill seekers; dance, cooking, knitting, learning to play an instrument, rollerblading or bicycling for the more “laid back” types.

 

A friend of mine stopped drinking a few years back…shortly thereafter, he took up Karate. So, instead of sitting on a bar stool getting drunk after work, he went to his Karate classes. Years later, he’s now competing in tournaments and has something of real value to show for how he chose to spend his time; something he can be proud of and will always be with him. Stop dulling your mind and motor skills with drugs / alcohol, and a whole new world of opportunities open up. The possibilities are limitless. 

 

A guy once asked me: “what do you do if you don’t drink?” I answered: “I do a lot of the same things you do…I just don’t do them drunk.” That pretty much sums it up. As far as boredom goes, I truly can’t remember the last time I was bored. I’ve got so many things keeping me busy these days; I often wish there were another one (or two) of me to get more done.

Moving On

I’m grateful that I can honestly say I haven’t missed drugs and alcohol. For those who find this hard to believe, I offer the following metaphor: It’s like trading a $5.00 per hour job that really SUCKS, for a $500.00 per hour job you LOVE. In this metaphor, the word “job” represents your life and the “hourly wage” represents the amount of compensation (intellectual, emotional, physical, financial, spiritual, etc.) you can earn with drugs / alcohol out of the picture. Get off the bar stool, begin putting your time and energy into more productive / rewarding things, and your life will be immeasurably richer. …you too will find it very hard to miss your “old job.”

 

Sure, you might occasionally look back on the “good old days” with a sense of longing. You might sometimes miss the days when there was less responsibility and a sense of being “young and out of control.” I had a little bit of that when I first stopped. But guess what? Now that it has been 17 years since I drank, I notice I get the same feelings about stuff I was doing 5, 10, 15 years ago. In other words, don’t tie your “pleasant memories” of the past to the booze…nostalgia is always going to creep in. Don’t confuse what was good about your past with what wasn’t.

 

Now is a good time to state the obvious: If you want what you’ve read to “work” for you, you’re going to have to actually apply this information. I liken it to buying weights and a book on weightlifting…you can have all the tools and information necessary, but if you don’t “perform the exercises” you’re not going to get any stronger.

 

What happens the first time you and your significant other get into an argument? Well, if you’ve always retreated to the bar to have a few drinks, you can guess what your “reflex thought” will be. Based on what we’ve already covered, do you have some ideas about how to deal with that “reflex thought?” There’s nothing wrong with considering these types of situations before they happen…you can do some “exercises” without the pressure of the real event!  

 

Aside from the information we’ve already covered, another technique is to create a specific image / association that you can use to help “get your perspective back” where it needs to be. First, visualize what it looks like when you’re out of control. (Really take the time to “see yourself” at the mercy of an unwanted state of mind.) Now, tie a negative phrase / association to that image. It can be just about anything, so long as it has a negative connotation. For instance, the phrase could be: “Heat of the moment.” Now you’ve got a ready-made wedge that you can use to block yourself from going too deep into an unwanted state of mind. Example: “STOP! That’s ‘heat of the moment’ talking, and ‘heat of the moment’ is always a bad idea…What is a better response?”

 

Another technique is to take the anger you’re feeling toward the situation and focus it directly on the ridiculous “reflex thought” to drink. I did this many times when I first stopped drinking. As a matter of fact, this technique became a sort of “reflex thought” of its own. Whenever an outdated / unwanted thought would slip into my mind, I’d pounce on it. “Oh ya, that’s a brilliant idea…gee, I can run away like a little baby and the bottle (or pipe, or line, etc.) will be my mommy so I don’t have to deal with the big bad problem! Sorry, but that approach has already “helped me” enough…I think I’ll pass.”  

 

It may sound silly, but trust me; turning your anger and disgust on habitually counterproductive thoughts really works! If you’re done with the process of “assessing” how you feel about drugs / alcohol (you’ve looked at both sides as much as you want to, and you’ve made up your mind) then this is an effective way to teach your brain the kind of thoughts you will and WILL NOT tolerate. Outdated reflex thoughts are no longer welcome…like an enemy whispering in your ear, they will get neither your time or your respect.

 

Keep in mind that all of this is a process. Without exception, if you work through the challenges the best you can, you WILL build mental muscles for the future. Nothing is a failure. As long as you can truthfully say you did your best, you will keep learning and growing stronger.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Many people are nervous when they decide to stop drinking and doing drugs because they are afraid of the way they'll feel if they "can't" stop. They feel it will further affirm their inability to control themselves, or prove that they are an "addict". I say this is absolute nonsense.

 

All it will prove (if you should decide to drink or do drugs) is that you changed your mind. In my experience, that only happens for one reason: You’re focusing on some perceived “benefit” that hasn’t yet been completely discredited. If this happens, the key is to stay honest and keep working. As I’ve said, I "quit drinking” and doing drugs many times before I actually stopped.

 

What I say to everyone is this: If you feel like drinking, then drink. If you feel like doing drugs, they’re everywhere, help yourself. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that it is YOUR decision. Take mental notes, question how you feel, hold yourself accountable for the decision and LEARN something from it. I don't believe you should stop doing anything that’s really important to you but at the same time, if it seems to have become a total waste of life, stop and take a couple more steps in the right direction. (And don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ve “thrown everything away” just because you had a drink. If you were sober 30 out of the past 31 days, you got it 96% right!)

 

Remember, nothing is absolute. If someday you decide that you want to drink or do drugs, they'll be there. But the reality is this: As you move towards your true ability and as that strong / healthy self-image begins to make more frequent appearances, alcohol becomes the furthest thing from your mind. It loses it's "power" because it becomes clear, aside from the power you gave it, it never had any. For lack of a better term, your mind will mature (grow up) and what once seemed larger than life will assume its lowly place on your list of things to consider.

After a short while you will begin to trust in your ability to make the right decisions. Don't be afraid of the question: "What if I start drinking again?" Who Cares? It's your decision, you’re an adult. Just say to yourself when that question comes to your mind, "Hey if that's what I decide to do someday, then it's my decision."

 

The bottom line here is, drugs and alcohol ain't goin’ anywhere and membership to the club is real easy to get. Don't stop because you feel you “have to.” That takes all the fun out of it. Stop because you want to. Stop because you deserve, and can do, better. When it comes to getting the most out of your life, quitting drinking is just the first step. Once that step is behind you, it’s on to bigger and better things.

 

I’ll end with a short list of simple truths; they should help to keep you on the right path.

 

1. The more you believe in yourself, the more you will accomplish. Avoid activities that only serve to harm and weaken you. (Like drinking & doing drugs)

2. The closer you look at life, the more solutions you will find. Whatever your initial response to a problem is, realize that it is only ONE of literally thousands you can choose from. In fact, you should actually SAY THAT to yourself the next time your “response” is clearly less than ideal. Say: “Well, that is ONE way I can respond…what is a BETTER way?”

3. Ignoring problems will not make them go away. Be honest with yourself, whatever the issue, and do the BEST you can to correct what is wrong. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done doing “a little at a time.”

4. Don’t beat yourself up if / when you make mistakes. With effort, you will make progress and progress (even if it is only 10%) is well worth having.

5. You will always have choices. Choices that require you to “dig deep” tend to pay the greatest rewards.

 

Wishing you the best,

Joe Plummer

 
 

Questions & Answers

Note: Unless a person has given me specific permission to use their name, I have omitted or changed it to protect their identity in the correspondence below. 

Q1: 11/10/2005

 

I heard about this site on the radio and hoped it might be a solution for my 22 year old son whose story sounds very much like yours except he hasn't yet ended up with serious jail time.I will have him read all that I have copied and see what he says. Do you have any suggestions on how to proceed?

Hi,

 

Ultimately, it boils down to what kind of life he wants for himself. He is the only one who can make that decision. He has to be able to look honestly at his drinking or drug use and determine if it is costing him more than it's worth. Not just the cost in dollars, but the "accumulated costs" of missed opportunities now and in the future.

 

Here is one simple way to make that determination. He can ask himself:

 

1. What do I want to achieve in the next year, 5 years, 10 years, etc.? What do I want in my life, what do I want my life to be?

 

2. What am I doing regularly that will help move me closer to these goals?

 

3. What am I doing regularly that will weaken my ability to achieve them? What activities am I engaged in that are non-productive or counterproductive?

 

If he's honest, the answers will point him in the right direction. From there, it's a matter of "doing the work" to get there.

 

Hope this helps,
Joe

Q2: 11/17/2003 

 

My best friend finally asked for help last night and meant it.  She's been drinking heavily for over three years.  I've got us lined up for an AA and Al-Anon meeting tonight, but in speaking with people and going over web information, I'm worried this won't be a good fit for her.  She's not "diseased" or "powerless," more like depressed and, FUNCTIONING while drunk.  It's progressed from a weekend thing to an everyday, two and three bottles of wine (she stocks up on Saturdays because our state doesn't sell liquor on Sundays).  I know that it's her decision, if the AA process helps or not, but knowing her this doesn't seem like a great approach.  I've been looking for alternatives for her, I don't want her to get spooked the first time she reaches out.  If you have any information to offer to me, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your time and your website, -Tina

Hi Tina,

 

Well I think the first thing you would need to make her aware of, regardless of what she might hear at an AA meeting, is that AA is NOT the only approach.

 

Many in the 12-step program mistakenly assume that because it is the only thing that worked for them, it must be the only thing that works. This is very unfortunate and can really cost those who go through "the program" only to find it unsuitable. The repetitive nature and insistence on accepting the universal rules of the AA approach can lead people to falsely believe that, by rejecting it, they must then accept a life of "struggling" and suffering at the hands of alcohol. Fortunately, time and experience have proven this to be untrue.

 

Obviously, there are many different ways to approach improving our lives and even then, any approach we choose can be improved upon further. Let her know that there is nothing wrong with creating her own approach...taking what she can that works for her from whatever information is available. Make sure she understands that making improvements is a process (regardless of what you are improving), and in understanding that, the process becomes a little easier. "Becoming more," which is really what quitting drinking boils down to, isn't rocket science. It does however require brutal honesty with yourself and a willingness to challenge the nonsense beliefs that drive your desire to drink.

 

Like anything else, drinking is one way to spend our time. Each person will receive different "rewards" for making that choice. If the rewards have begun to show a clear progression towards "penalty," then there is nothing more to learn. Nothing you can do will change the fact that you are better suited, and will profit more, from spending your time in another way. You can ignore that truth, but then you must accept the consequences of doing so. …The bright side is, if you commit yourself to doing what it takes to move on, the rewards (creatively, financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.) are extraordinary.

 

Once a person begins to experience the benefits of being stronger and more able to achieve rewarding things in life, the thought of intentionally choosing behaviors that undermine that strength becomes increasingly laughable.

People need to know that they CAN destroy their desire to do things that are inherently harmful to them…and if they doubt that, they can look at me, and many others as living proof. 

 

Hope this helps,

Joe Plummer

Q3: 8/15/2006 

Things you have written make so much sense. I, being an alcoholic associate with all that you say. I have a beautiful loving wife and son, but (here is my blame, my excuse!) my wife is a constant nag! I rarely go out,l have sold my beloved motor cycles, watch a limited amount of TV. My wife compiles lists of things for me to do around the house each day. I’m never left alone. I used to have a very active social life but wanted to settle down, drink was never a problem as it is now. I do love my wife, I do not want us to split. This is so easy. Drink is my “buzz” as you say and I do enjoy it. Unfortunately this is driving us apart. I go too far too often. What advice could you give??

Hi,

 

I don't know the specifics of your situation beyond what you've told me, and sometimes things aren't as accurate coming from only "one side," but it sounds to me like your wife is what is "driving you apart."

 

It might sound harsh, but have you asked your wife to consider how she would like it if all you did was write out lists of things for her to do. Granted, she'll probably reply that she already does a lot; but what wives / husbands sometimes forget is: The things they're doing are things they want to get done.

 

The only way to fairly compare the situation would be to write out lists of things she has no interest in; things that would keep her from doing what she'd rather be doing. For instance, if you still had a motorcycle, asking her to wash it for you and, when she is done with that, asking her to run to the auto parts store and pick up a fan belt and, when she is done with that, asking her to call your friends to find out when everyone is going to "meet up" tonight for the poker game.

 

Now, with all that said, "going too far, too often" with your drinking is another issue altogether. That would be unhealthy for you with or without your current situation. Just because you're not happy with the way your wife nags you and compiles endless lists of things for you to do is no reason to chemically abuse yourself. It just doesn't make any sense. Spell it out and see for yourself: "I hate the way my wife makes me feel, so I'll do something that makes me feel even worse." The responsibility for that problem rests solely on your shoulders.

 

Here is one way of looking at this: You feel bad about yourself because you haven't stood up to your wife and said: "Hey, I need some time for myself; I have things that are important to ME and those things are getting lost in all of this." Let’s consider this the root cause of your discomfort.

 

Normally, discomfort drives a person to address the problem causing it; but because you haven't mustered the courage to address it, you look for a way to numb the discomfort. So, you drink (which temporarily prevents you from having to deal with your situation), but when you sober up and the pain returns (as it must because the problem hasn't been dealt with), you now have something NEW causing discomfort: The fact that you're drinking too much.

 

Over time, this "new reason" begins to replace the original "root cause" of your pain. (Avoiding an honest discussion with your wife and doing the hard work it would take to iron that issue out.) So we can see the progression like this: Discomfort, refusal to address the problem, drink to escape, return to reality, discomfort still exists, drink to escape, drinking becomes yet another source of discomfort which amplifies the problem, drinking increases to numb additional discomfort, soon drinking BECOMES the new "root cause" of your pain, don't want to deal with it, drink even more, etc...

I don't know how far along you might be in the cycle above or, again, whether it is entirely accurate as I don't know much about the specifics of your situation. But hopefully this information will prove useful in some way.

 

Joe Plummer

Q4: 5/21/2006

Thanks again for your insight, I think the hardest thing to do is to admit you do have a drinking problem. Once one feels better after a few days you think, why not I been good only to find that rut you really never came out of. Thanks for sharing these stories with me and to know that I am not alone in this. Your words of wisdom I hope will help many, I sure look forward to reviewing your website when I am feeling that little DEMON saying it's ok. And thank you again for responding, The rewards that come from something like this are real rewards, not false as you stated.

You're very welcome. -here is just one more piece of information you might find useful. It deals with how you're framing your thoughts about drinking. You wrote:
 

<<< I think the hardest thing to do is to admit you do have a drinking problem. Once one feels better after a few days you think, why not I been good only to find that rut you really never came out of. >>>


Instead of admitting you "have a problem," which implies you are in some kind of predicament or "at the mercy" of something stronger than you, "admit" that you don't like the way alcohol affects you. This latter statement, and all it implies, is more accurate than the "I have a problem" statement. Additionally, the mental leverage it provides is more empowering.

As an example, let's use your "I've been good for a couple days" scenario:

If you've been telling yourself "I have a problem" you might be compelled to resist or fight the urge to drink. Chances are; sometimes you'll win that battle and sometimes you won't.

However, if you've been telling yourself  "I don't like the way alcohol affects me," and assuming you've backed that statement up with plenty of supporting evidence over days, weeks, and years, your perspective regarding the very idea to drink will be completely different.

Think about that statement for a moment: "I don't like the way alcohol affects me..." -Or how about this one: "I don't like the way alcohol is affecting my life."

Are those statements accurate? Are they TRUE? If so, you need to focus on them regularly; give them plenty of attention, build them up! Make those statements something you don’t even have to think about…make them automatic.

For lack of a better term, this whole process boils down to re-programming your mind. –Replacing the old programming / false ideas about what alcohol represents in your life (ideas that suggest “value” and hence create an urge to drink), with ideas that more accurately reflect the REALITY of what alcohol represents: a steady chipping away of value that inevitably results in a loss.

If something leads you to change your mind (you decide you're not bothered by the way alcohol affects you and you decide to drink), don't overreact or hate yourself; don't get any silly ideas that you "can't" control yourself or anything like that. Instead, trace the thoughts that led you to make that decision to drink and analyze them objectively. When you find exactly what was going through your head, begin the process of picking those ideas apart; test their accuracy, identify the flaws and file that info for future reference. In fact, do this whenever you feel alcohol is being presented in a favorable light - regardless of whether or not you decide to take a drink.

Sure, it takes some time and some practice, but it gets easier. ...before you know it, it will start to "click," and when that happens you're well on your way.

 

Remember; destroy the desire to drink (by critically attacking the “fun” or “valuable” ideas you've associated with drinking), and the rest will take care of itself.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

 

Your way of putting the right perspective in front of fear is amazing. I really like your approach. What I am going to think about is your statement ( I do not like to way alcohol effects me and or my life ) because I don't. I find I have a completely different mind set when I drink. You are also right when you say ( do not hate yourself ) because I do when I drink. I should be using that as a lesson and not go back, look forward. The tips you have provided me I will think about. The DESIRE is what gets me. I love the buzz but hate the effects. I am currently fighting with my girl friend about all this right now. She is a wonderful person. I also fear being very alone. I am only 44 but also think about my health. I had visitors last night ( which we drank ) and woke up hating myself. I think about this daily. It's time to use your thoughts, yet again to try to make myself think differently using some of your statements. Thank you for your response, and I continue to admire how you view this issue. It will help me.

Just remember that the "buzz" you say you "love" is only part of the overall effect. Figure out exactly what it is about the "buzz" that you "love." Then, find another way to achieve the same thing or better without the negatives that go along with drinking.

Example: It could simply be that a buzz makes you feel more comfortable around other people. Stated another way: If you were to ask: "What is so great about the buzz?," the best answer might be: "It makes me feel more confident, less anxious."

Once you've determined that, it's easy to ask yourself: "Well, does it make me feel "confident" and "less anxious" the next day? Is it sensible to trade a few hours of alcohol induced / false confidence for days of insecurity and anxiousness? What are some better ways I could build REAL confidence? And why am I anxious? Is it possible that I'm in situations I shouldn't even be in? If I'm honest, is it possible that I'm hanging out where I really don't belong?"

The point here is to reveal that the buzz actually undermines / weakens the benefit that you think it provides. It's to show that, if it is confidence and calm you're after, "the buzz" only delivers a temporary illusion of both, while it steadily erodes the real thing. When this becomes something you deeply understand, you'll begin to see the absurdity of what you used to believe. And you'll begin to see a seemingly endless list of ways that you can TRULY develop what you wanted all along.

-Joe

Q5: 10/28/2004

 

--I used to be able to stop for a month at a time and periodically go a week without for health sakes.I'm a 50yr old male and I live alone which makes it easy to drink as I wish.I don't drink during the day or at work or keep a bottle in my car. I don't keep alcohol in my house or only a bottle of wine with dinner priodically.Yet my social drinking is my problem.I've developed friends that drink and that's what we do after work as a social gathering.I've already figured out that I have to change my weakest time (after work) with a structured activity that with wean me of the habit. Also help me make some new friends that don't drink or not as a daily activity.I thought of getting back to the gym and or taking a yoga class or something in that line to help me re-stimulate my interest in life in general.--I want to stop this before it really gets too big for me.I feel I still have a chance to work this out before I get myself in trouble. I'd appreciate it. -Tom

Tom,

 

First of all, unless you are in the grave, you always have a "chance" to begin the process of moving towards a healthier life...every second is an opportunity where you can decide your direction.

 

I have not drank, or wanted to drink, in well over a decade. The real key is destroying the desire. If you truly learn to see alcohol as a disgusting, unhealthy, self destructive and costly habit, you don't have to worry about the "other problems." If you are naturally repulsed by it, you don't drink. If you don't drink, the "problems" that drinking causes become a non-issue.

 

And keep in mind, you don't have to become some kind of snob either. I don't look down on people who drink anymore than I look down on people who consume some kind of food I don't like...Alcohol just isn't "for me," and that was proven over many years of trying to pretend otherwise.

 

I want you to understand that this, as with anything else worth having, isn't easy. It requires sustained thought and action on your part. The payoffs are of course worth 10 times the effort (or more), but that isn't really something you can see when you first start out.

 

Let's start here:

 

Why do you drink?  (5 reasons.)

 

How many hours per week do you spend drinking or drunk?

 

Describe your ideal life. (At least 5 elements.)

 

Now, how much progress could you begin making towards that life by swapping out your "drinking and drunk" time, for things that will actually produce some accumulated value?

 

I look forward to your answers, especially those regarding "why" you drink.

 

talk soon,
Joe

Hey Joe, In response to your inquiry about:

#1 -5 reasons why I drink.
1. To get away from my day to day life and my troubles..
2. To help me threw the night.
3. To socialize with my friends or just to talk with someone.
4. To loosen me up sometimes so I'm not so serious.
5. To try and feel like I used to when I was younger.

# 2- An ideal life.
1. To have my own successful business and not have to work with my family.
2. Have peace of mind and a sense of well being.
3. Be in the position to do some good and help others who are less fortunate.
4. To have a successful personal relationship.
5. Repair my self esteem and feel good about my day to day life.

These answers were pretty much written as I felt them. As I look at them I feel I could rewrite them for a better impression but I won't. They're as they pretty much stand. Look forward to hear from you, Tom

Ok Tom, thanks for the reply.

 

I will quickly address number 1 which was: "To get away from my day to day life and my troubles."

 

Now, if you think about that statement deeply, something becomes very obvious:

 

The only way to get away from your "day to day life" is to begin the process of creating a new one; begin putting your time and energy into things that will move you closer toward what you want, and away from what you don't. Every day is an opportunity to do just that.

 

In many ways, drinking traps you into sustaining (not improving), your life. To name just a couple:

#1. It works as a kind of anesthesia against what you don't like.

 

By drowning out what we don’t like, we drown out our incentive to change it. However, as I'm sure you've begun to notice, the effectiveness of "drowning out" what needs to be dealt with wears off over time. Why? Because ultimately the one thing we CANNOT drown out is our awareness that we are wasting (on a daily basis), our opportunity to move toward what we have the potential to be.

 

Rather than suffer the mild inconvenience of learning to make full use of our lives, we suffer the unimaginable loss of never becoming, experiencing, or contributing at the level we are capable of. As we numb ourselves to what needs to be improved, we STOP making progress. As the days, months and years pass without progress, our anxiety grows, our attempts to "drown it out" increase, and the self destructive cycle continues from there.

 

#2. Every hour you spend drinking or drunk is an hour you could have invested into something that “increases you” in some way; an hour you could have invested into something that moves you toward a life that is more in line with your desire and ability. The list of ways you could better invest your time and money are only limited by the list of things you want to do.

You said you would like to be able to help the less fortunate...there are countless ways to begin figuring out exactly what area you would like to work in prior to jumping in. This too can help with your self esteem (few things "help us" more than knowing, as a result of our work, we are helping others.) Like compound interest, making small daily or weekly investments into things that are USEFUL and move you toward a better more fulfilling life pays off in ways that are hard to imagine.

 

--I will respond to the rest of your email soon,
Joe

 

Hi Tom,

 

I'm guessing you received my last reply so there won't be a whole lot to add to this one. In short, evaluate what it is that you truly want and then total up how much time and effort you are spending on things that can help you get there. If you are like most people, it will be somewhere between "zero" and "next to nothing." Any improvement on those numbers will begin the process of moving you forward, and progress towards what we want always comes with a dose of happiness and self-confidence to match.

 

As far as the reasons "why" you drink, think about what I wrote to you last week (regarding #1) and consider this on the others:

 

2. Every night that you can find something else to pass the time (a book, inspirational movie, researching something you want to move towards, night school, a hobby you can improve at, etc.) is a night you can expect to walk away with some accumulated value.

 

3. The first few times you go out and don't drink alcohol (order a "water" or whatever), might feel weird, but after a few times, it becomes normal. 

 

If your friends give you a hard time, just tell them you feel alcohol is having a negative impact on you...just say you feel like you should give it a rest for a while to see how you feel. (And obviously, if you feel better, there is a good reason to continue "giving it a rest.") If they can't handle that, or if they don't care about whether or not drinking is potentially harming you, those aren't friends worth having. 

 

4. There is nothing wrong with being "serious." You might be more suited for "serious things." Let's face it, we're not all cut out for the essentially mindless atmosphere of a typical bar or keg party. Certainly not night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade.

 

Another way to look at it is: If you've got to drink to feel comfortable in a particular environment, maybe it isn't the best environment for you. Maybe you'd be better off at a chess club, or taking a night class in something you are really interested in (which would put you in touch with like-minded people. ) Skiing, sky diving, drag racing, rock climbing, working out, scuba diving, flying remote-controlled airplanes, (or real ones for that matter), playing a musical instrument, writing, singing, painting, building models, traveling, stamp collecting, online video games...the list is endless.

 

5. ...want to feel like you did when you were younger? Get out of your rut. Start exploring again, learning, growing. Alcohol makes boring things more tolerable. If what you were doing was truly fun, alcohol would only dull the experience. Find those "better things" and do them.

 

:-)
Joe

Q6: 3/29/2005

I really liked your web page and the insight you had. I have been a drinker since I was 17 ( now 42). I knew my drinking was a major problem about 3 years ago. As a successfull businessman we often "celebrated" the victories- new contracts ect. With the downturn in the economy now we "agonized" with a beer or 10. Becomes a selffullfilling proficy as things go down in flames. I looked at AA and just some of it I couldnt handle. This "making amends to everyone you hurt???? There are people I dont like and I dont like them for a reason....but it is time to have the courage to IMPROVE my life....Thanks

Thank you for the kind words. I recently responded to another person regarding the process of "improving" their life. I don't know that this applies to your situation as much, but I think you might be able to take some useful info from the letter I sent.

 

"Remember, the real trick is to attack and tear down the "impulse" or "desire" to drink. LEARN to see drinking for what it REALLY is (...something that can only weaken you and undermine your best efforts in life.)

 

Drugs and Alcohol are garbage...period. Any other representation of them being 'fun" or a way to "relax and be social" are cherry picked ideas that don't hold up when you do the long term math...poisoning yourself and weakening your mind is a losing proposition...always.

 

When "garbage" becomes your FIXED idea of what Alcohol represents, it really starts to lose its luster...As you become stronger and more and more healthy mentally, you will demand REAL solutions for the ongoing things you confront in life...You will confront them honestly, and take away genuine strength to move yet even further forward. ....Problem enhancers (like alcohol) become laughably easy to ignore.

 

DESTROY your desire to drink, and the rest takes care of itself. Like anything, it does take some time...but progress (with a focused and genuine effort) is inevitable. "

 

All the Best,
Joe Plummer

Q7: 3/25/2002

Dear Joe,
I read with great interest your article and must say that it resonated very deeply with my own thoughts on the popular notions of "addiction" and "powerlessness". I am at a crossroads in my life, quite recently, where my drinking has become an issue and I genuinely want to do something about it. I'm told I have to go to AA, but do not like what I'm reading about it. I feel by the very fact that I WANT to do something about my problem implies a concrete autonomy. I do not and cannot accept the popular notion that I do not have any ability to do this myself. And no, I am not IN DENIAL. I am simply choosing to do it my way. I accept I have issues with alcohol, but definitely more in the terms in which you describe them. Incidently, I recently gave up cigarettes. There are many similarities between the two, but I still did it because I felt my life would be better off without it. Simple as that. But I thank for verbalising my own thoughts in such an erudite way and good luck to you sir.

Hi,

 

I stopped drinking March 28th 1991 (almost 11 years ago). Within about a year, I had all but forgotten about it completely...I had moved on to bigger and better challenges.

"The 12 step Program" (in the way it is structured), never allows people to do this. It requires members to constantly focus on a lie (that they are powerless ), which is anything but empowering. In addition, the constant rehashing of the past stunts their ability to "get over it" and move on.

In other words, who cares if you can't change the way alcohol affects you if, instead, you can change your perception of alcohol in a way that makes you never WANT to drink? When you learn to truly despise alcohol and everything it represents in your life, you won't drink...if you don't drink, you won't suffer the consequences of drinking...end of story.

You know YOUR TRUTH...so follow it, learn along the way, and you'll get there. :-)

Continued Success,
Joe Plummer

Q8: 5/2004

I have been sober for 4 years now and I have lost most of my friends because they say that I think I like I am better than them. It is far from it. I am having a real problem with feeling like I am an outcast. I am never invited to any parties any more, Most never stop by just to say hi. When I do go to a party because my husband has been invited I am known as the DD, which is ok. I can be around the drinking ,I am not going to give in. But it hurts to be treated like there is something wrong with me. I was a very heavy drinker for many years and became very sick and had to stop because of the meds I was on. I found that I could think better and feel better about myself. So I never started again. I lost 78 lb. and have never been in such good shape.I even stopped smoking. I have been told that I look 10 years younger, which makes me feel good.I know some are a little jealous, but It still hurts to be treated like I am the one with a problem. They even laugh at me at my face and treat me like I am not around.

 

My husband still drinks, heavy at times and I can see it coming. He has become forgetful, blacks out, and at times even hateful. I hang in there because he is drunk.... That is the reason not an excuse, that is how I handle it now. Some days when it is really hard and I want to fit back in I want to drink again,if that would make my friends like me again and I would fit in again.

How do I handle it, I try and stay away, but they are my husbands friends and I want to be with him.
I am making new friends, but the old ones I have known for 20 or more years.


I was told once by my daughter that I grew-up and the rest cant or wont. She has been a big supporter of mine and I do not think I could have done it with out her.

How do I handle these feelings and the way I am being treated? I want my friends back in my life, but I do not want that bottle back in my life!


Please can you help me? -Tracy

Hi Tracy,

 

You already know the answers; you just have to be willing to face them. Your daughter is right on the money.

You didn't like the way alcohol affected you and so you stopped. I'm guessing you didn't like the way smoking or being overweight felt either (which led you to quit smoking and lose weight. ) Obviously, these were healthy decisions that you made.

 

If you consider these people "friends" (people who laugh in your face and treat you like you are "less than" them because you stopped drinking, lost weight, and quit smoking), I would really hate to see what you would consider an enemy.

 

A true friend would be happy for you and supportive of your progress. How a person acts is what determines whether or not they are a friend, not how long you've known them.

 

Did it ever occur to you that maybe they only liked being around you before because you weren't a threat?  Or even worse, because you were somebody they felt they could put themselves above, and now they are still trying to do the same thing, only it’s more difficult because the things they secretly used to rely on are no longer available?

 

I know this sounds harsh and I apologize for that, but the bottom line is:

 

You became the kind of person who no longer felt drinking was acceptable.

 

You became the kind of person who felt smoking was no longer acceptable.

 

You became the kind of person who felt being overweight was no longer acceptable.

 

It is time again to adjust your self-image. It is time to become the kind of person who feels being mistreated by people (just because you once had things in common and considered them friends), is no longer acceptable.

 

Look, we’ve got to let people be the way they are. It is their right to be as mature or as immature as they want. But before you take how they are treating you personally, ask yourself this question:  How many other people are there in the “click” that don’t drink and are actually making significant progress in their life? …I’m guessing ZERO.

 

They've made it clear by their actions that simply being around a person who is making progress in their life is too much for them to handle. Sure, you can stop making progress, or even go back to your old ways, but then EVERYONE loses. It destroys you, and it just makes it easier for them to stay the way they are without ever thinking there might be a better way.

 

Want to be a friend? Let them be who they are, you be who you are, and let nature do the rest. You've grown apart, and if it is the fault of anything, then blame the “truth.” You’re being TRUE to yourself and, unfortunately, selfish people (who expect you to be as they want you to be and live as they want you to live), never appreciate that very much.

Want new friends? Well, what are you interested in? Sky Diving, Knitting, skiing, drag racing, horseback riding...or of course any of the hundreds of other interests/ hobbies available?

 

Guess what happens when you pursue those interests: You’ll meet others who you have something in common with and who won’t be threatened by the fact that you don’t drink and want to improve the quality of your life. They can contribute something of value to you, and you can contribute something of value to them, without either one of you having to be something you’re not. …it’s the way things are supposed to be, and as you move further and further in that direction, you’ll know you did the right thing.

 

Best regards,
Joe Plummer

Thank you!! I read your e-mail more than 10 times. You are right, I have to move on with new friends and I hope I have learned allot about people and people that I thought I knew for so many years.

 

--Now I am being put in a situation I do not know how to handle. Every year we have a canoe trip, we all camp and spend the week end together. It is the only time all three of our kids are together, Fathers Day. I want to go but it was made clear that I am not going to be welcome. I have told my family that I will not go and be treated that way I do not deserve to be treated that way. My kids are so upset with me, they want me to go so bad, but I am so worried about a scene that this kid will try and start. {he likes being the center of attention and if he is not he will make a show} What do I do? I want to see my kids all to gather but I want to avoid that party ,lots of drinking and probably some drugs,and being put in a spot were I will have to leave again.

 

My husband says I am going to show that I am not afraid of them. Do I stand my ground and take a chance of get hurt but make that statement ,or do I back out and stay home? Would I be a hypocrite by going? The drinking is always heavy and all nighters, and someone always ends up in an argument, all because of the drinking.--Do I stay away from this canoe trip so I do not get hurt or stand up to them and go and take a chance of getting hurt?"

If you are going on the camping trip just because they don't want you there, that is no different from NOT going just because they don't want you there. What do YOU want to do? That's the question that matters.

So in other words:

Do you really want to go? Do you think it's going to be fun? Do you think you'll enjoy the company? Are the rewards going to outweigh the costs? Is there anything else you could do that would be a better use of your time?

And if you did go, wouldn't that just be prolonging the inevitable?

 

Haven't you pretty much decided you don't plan on associating with these people much anymore? And if that is the case, don't you think "going" will just make it seem weird when you don't go next time? Might as well just get the "not-going" part over with.

Of course, this is just my take on it, but I don't see any good reason to go and lots of good reasons not to.

Trust me, I do understand the concept of "standing up for yourself," but that's only when you've got something worth standing up for! What's the big prize here? You get to hang out with a bunch of people who enjoy rejecting you? Hell, they can do that just fine without you there. (Which means you can spend your time doing something more productive.) …Sounds like a "win/win" situation to me!

Again: Let people be who they are - no need to force yourself on them - and you be who you are. Sounds like you're moving in the right direction with your life…no need to let something like this slow you down. Be true to yourself.

 

-Joe

Q9: 2/22/2006

Dear Joe, After reading your entire offering, I am convinced that you haven't suffered enough; haven't looked up, become humbled, and be willing to do ANYTHING NOT drink again.Yours is a great approach for someone willing to "play around" with his/her sobriety, without commitment, without depth. I have been sober now for 26 years thanks to AA and its teachings. After reading your approach, all I can say is I've met Bill Wilson, and you, (and your program,) are no Bill Wilson, responsible for millionS of people turning their lives around since 1935. AA must be doing something right! Thanks for "listening".

Hi,

 

Come March, I haven't drank in 15 years. I'm proud to say I haven't had to "fight" not to drink. I believe it is because I actually addressed the problem / struck the root of what drove my desire to drink in the first place. I've used the same approach to address other issues in my life. I prefer to solve problems, rather than "treat them."

 

You are still living the AA way of life after 26 years. Dare I say, for the past 14 years I can't remember ONE TIME I've SERIOUSLY considered having a drink? - not when my ex fiancée killed herself, not when one of my dear friends died in a car accident, not when I went bankrupt, not when everything I worked for seemed to crumble beneath me.

 

To me, AA is like a religion. It demands blind obedience if one expects to be "saved." Well, I have always resisted other people telling me not to think for myself - telling me they know better than I what is "best" and "true." I've always figured, if I kept an open mind and remained intellectually honest, I'd be able to figure that out for myself. It has worked well for me.

 

If AA "works" for you, more power to you. It didn't for me and I'm happy to provide others, who also find the mandates of AA unworkable, an alternative approach. You're right, I'm no "Bill Wilson." -Nor do I have any desire to be.

 

best regards,
Joe Plummer

Q10: 6/17/2006

Joe,
I came across your site online, and just wanted to say how much I related to  the vast majority of what you had to say.  I started drinking when I was 14,  and have been doing it off and on for almost twenty years.  I've quit for a  couple of months at a time, but have never stopped completely for whatever reason (my own choice, of course...).  In the meantime, I've managed to build a pretty good life with a wonderful fiance, but the several nights a  week of drinking excessively (anywhere from a six-pack on weeknight to 15+  beers on weekends) I believe has kept me in a fog and prevents me from truly  enjoying it as much as a sober me would.  I'm getting married in November  and would really like the person that stands up there next to my future wife to be the person she deserves to have.  I've been to AA meetings, and  they've never really rang true to me, either although there were some great  individuals there.  I'm going to try again to stop drinking incorporating  the mentality you have discussed on your site, and keeping in mind that  being sober doesn't mean being condemned to a life of constant struggle. Thanks again for taking the time. Regards,

Hi,

 

 Thank you for your letter. A couple of comments on what you wrote:


<<<...I believe (drinking) has kept me in a fog and prevents me from truly enjoying (what I've achieved) as much as a sober me would.>>>


Well, you can rest assured you're right. Moreover, it prevents you from achieving all you're capable of...those costs, over a lifetime, are incalculable.


<<<I'm getting married in November and would really like the person that stands up there next to my future wife to be the person she deserves to have.>>>


That is a noble thought, but I'd like to shift your focus a bit if I can. Do this for YOU. You were given a life to work with, to make the most out of, to expand and enjoy; show your appreciation by making full use of it. The truth is you deserve more...so stop accepting less from yourself. Draw a picture in your mind of the man you'd like to be and then set out to become that man. Each day is an opportunity to do just that. And as a result of your decision, everyone around you will reap the rewards. ( That, of course, includes your wife.)

I've included some letters I've written to others with hope they will provide more insight into my approach. Stay honest with yourself; you'll get there.

Wishing you and your wife the best,
Joe Plummer

Q11: 1/19/2005

Hey Joe was kinda interested in how this really works… been off drugs since 6-6-03…. Put just cant kick the drinking….do a couple meetings a week but still drink….

Hi,

 

I started with quitting drugs and then progressed into "not drinking." I would never say you "can't" kick the drinking, you just haven't figured out how to do it yet. I "quit drinking" many times before I actually stopped. (Coming up on 14 years ago now.)

It takes time to figure out what is driving your desire to drink and if you believe the "AA" line of thought, you'll never figure it out because, in their eyes, it has nothing to do with you...you have a "disease" that you are "powerless over" and your only hope is to "turn your life over to the care of God." In case you haven't guessed, I didn't find that answer acceptable, or intellectually honest.

Wishing you the best,
Joe Plummer

Q12: 8/17/2001 
(A visitor wrote to me with questions about "finding their place" in the world. He also asked about my take on the term "higher power" and God. This is a slightly expanded version of the original reply)

Hi,

I'm glad you found the information helpful. Regarding the issue of "finding your place," that will come naturally as soon as you "find yourself." After you begin that process, the people who are best suited to share your life will naturally appear. "Like minds attract one another." A simple example: If you're really interested in skiing, take up skiing. You'll immediately be surrounded by other people who share your interests. (Obviously, there are more "skiers" on the slopes than "alligator wrestlers.") Or, for the opposite perspective: If you are NOT interested in spending the rest of your life sitting on a bar stool getting drunk, the last place you'll find like-minded individuals is in a bar! Most of them are there because it's where they want to be - if you don't really want to be there, you DON'T fit in.

As far as a "higher power" is concerned, for me that merely represents the absolute best a person can be....the "higher power" is the power in you that makes you want to improve who you are and what you're capable of; it's what drives you to become more. ...That "Get up and fight" that is deep inside us all. If I used the term "higher power," that is what I would mean by it. Your higher / highest self.

You know, quitting drinking (and never missing it), really isn't hard at all. The tough part is figuring out what makes you want to hurt yourself, hinder your ability, and beat yourself down. Getting honest about who you are, what you expect from ( and refuse to accept from ), yourself...that's where the work is. But once that work is done, the rest is pretty easy.

In the end, alcohol is nothing but an expensive waste of time. It stands in the way of dealing with other things that NEED to be dealt with. Once you realize that - that it's NOT the solution but only something that amplifies underlying problems - it rapidly begins to lose its appeal. Or, to put it another way: Quitting drinking is only a first step toward improving the quality of your life. It's just one thing. Once it is out of the way, the list of other areas you can focus on, and benefit from working on, stretch on for a lifetime. Yes, a lifetime of work; but also a lifetime of rewards.

As far as "God" goes, you don't need to believe in God to see that life is real...

 

Life seeks to become more. And because you are alive, so do you. All the pain, desire, confusion, and apprehension we feel basically boils down to unrealized potential...avoiding challenges instead of dealing with them. There are tons of ways to hide from that pain -  alcohol is just one. But the only way to ever make it really "go away" is to face the work that is ours to do...and in doing so, develop the strength that is ours to have. Everything else, in my opinion, will leave us empty.

Hope this helps,
Joe

Q13: 12/25/2001

Joe,

i like the approach you seem to have taken to this using problem.I am 36 and have been in and out of A.A. for three years.I never really dug in to the A.A. philosophy .I do have friends who make great strides in the program but everytime I talk to them its 12 step,BLAH BLAH,BLAH.I was also mis -diagnosed as Bi-polar,making the pharmacy companys stock continue to rise.I am sure Mr PAXIL is sitting on the aft deck of his yacht.I find that there comes a point where i am just so sick of my own bullshit ,that it makes sense to just STOP DRINKING. I have enough of an attitude as it is(I would be a great New York cab driver).However,I have started the academic upgrade process and will begin nightschool jan 21.Life without booze seems a bit odd mind you,I must constantly try to occupy my mind or i begin to wander.I KNOW there has to be a better way than the way i have been living,i mean it is a short enough ride as it is!

 

Wife ,Career,kids sounds a bit more fulfilling than being hungover on the couch watching football for the next 40 years!

Well, I can only say "on the money!" I got the "You're bi-polar, so take these and call me when you're dead" crap too. I hate to think that it is all just money motivated, but think about it: How many BILLIONS are to be made from things that "can't be cured" (requiring a lifetime of "treatment" instead)?  You gotta do what you know is right. Period. The excuses are bullshit, no matter how good it feels when an "expert" tells you "It's not your fault...you can't help yourself."

 

I made up my mind a long time ago. I decided I would either reach my goals, or I would die trying. And EITHER of those two results was acceptable to me.

 

In other words, as long as I'm doing what I feel I've got to do and I'm working through the issues that are standing in my way TRUTHFULLY the best I can (rather than "dimming them down" with prescriptions, booze, drugs, etc.), then I am who I'm supposed to be. The nonsense gets old quick once you start to expect more from yourself. And when you truly start to become stronger / closer to your best - when you get your self-respect up where it needs to be - the thought of drinking to deal with a problem seems ridiculous...because it IS ridiculous. You just instinctively know better.  Keep in mind, it may take some time for the instinctive certainty to develop...but you can't help but get a little closer with each challenge you face. Win, lose, or draw; FACING challenges develops strength - avoiding them develops weakness.

 

As far as "occupying your mind" goes, be glad that you need to. It's a blessing once you start putting it to constructive use. That "unease" you feel when you are idle is due to the fact that you are not supposed to be idle! There are two ways to deal with the feeling:

 

1. Push yourself more and grow

 

2. Sedate it with drugs, alcohol, or other self-destructive behavior.

 

You can guess which one will get you further in life.

 

I started my own internet advertising business, wrote the information at this site, am happily married, play in a band (and have a CD of original music) enjoy riding my 215 horsepower motorcycle, work out regularly, and have plans to write a book on "how to get there in life."  Now guess how much of that I had BEFORE I stopped drinking...My life read more like: I've got no money, I've got no license, I've got to go to Jail again, bla, bla, bla.

 

So in other words, put that brain and energy to good use. A great start for some really incredible advice (from a truly brilliant man) would be "Lead the Field" by Earl Nightingale. You can buy it at: http://www.nightingaleconant.com ...well worth the money.

 

Take care,
Joe

Q14: 11/17/2001

I am a 38 year old married female who has a mom in "recovery". My drinking and smoking began to get quite excessive. I'd go in the back yard (never smoked in the house) smoke, drink beer or wine for 2 hours every night after work. I have a hectic professional job that I love and I just starting feeling like crap every day.

I have a problem with the cigarettes and booze. They go together. I have quit smoking several times. I always go back to smoking when I drink. So after many years of this torture to my body. I just put them both down 2 weeks ago.

Because mom is Mrs AA, I went to one meeting. I felt exactly the way you described.

I am not powerless over anything that I have the ability to change.

In fact, I would feel a little guilty using God's shoulder for that. I'll need him more in the future to help me deal with things that I can't control.

Well, I told mom about my feelings regarding AA. She (of course) says I'm in denial and will eventually go back.

I'm pretty committed to living a HEALTHLY life.

Thanks for validating my take on the whole thing.

Hi,

 

Remember to remain true to yourself. The saddest thing about many AA members is they would secretly enjoy seeing you fail, just so they could feel that their way "must be right."

They will scream others are "in denial" without ever looking for facts that maybe it is they who are denying reality. The reality that nothing in life can only be done "one way" or that nothing we do today will necessarily be the best way to do it 10, 20, or 50 years from now.

I stopped drinking 10 years ago...I wonder if I am still "in denial."


I don't even remember the last time I had the thought to drink. At this point in my life, regarding my list of "possible things to do" I'm certain it would appear somewhere beneath-->Light myself on fire and jump of the Empire State Building :-)

Do your best...that is all God / Life asks.


Look for the good in things, learn and contribute...what more is there?

Also, realize you are just as successful as I am today at not drinking, and here is why:
We have both been sober as long as is humanly possible from the date we decided to stop, until today.

If you stumble some along the way, consider it part of the process. As long as you learn from your mistakes then what you've done was not a waste :-)

Joe

Q15: 4/2/2002

Somehow I got to your website, mainly because I was feed up with drinking. I have read it all and think you hit on the one thing I had been missing in my quest to quit, the need to and the want to aspect. I know I need to but have not wanted to. Thank you for the insight, I now know what it is going to take to start my new life with out the poison, Just hope I get there soon. Thank you and take care.

Thank you for the kind words. I can promise you this: The more you learn to dislike what alcohol represents in your life, the easier it is to lose interest in it completely.

After 11 years of functioning at or near my best (without that crap screwing up my ability and slowing my progress in life), you couldn't pay me enough to EVEN CONSIDER ingesting that garbage. ...Figure out and fully realize why it IS garbage (this gets easier as the years go by), and the absence of it from your life will come naturally.

Continued Success with your quest!

Joe

Q16: 2/24/2002

that's it. you are not an alcoholic. you just smoked alittle to much weed ? if you were an alcoholic you would be able to identify with the big book and aa , i'm not trying to critisize, just i've got relative's like you who say just quit ? the main problem with the alcoholic centres in his mind ,yes! but the alergy is physical ,progressive ? i like what  you said about our habits , and just changing our thoughts will change our habit, but what
about the fact that we have no power of choice as the disease progresses. the real alcoholic has no power over that bottle of vodka. we remember the ease an comfort . you offer no solution other then my will power which is none existant at this point, plus what program of recovery do you offer? -Mike

Hi Mike,

 

Only you know what is true for you. If you believe alcohol is a disease, and the only thing that will prevent it from becoming worse is AA, then that will be the course that works for you.

I happen to believe, through experience and observation, that AA is not the only way, and for me was not the best way, to deal with my self destructive "inner dialogue." That inner voice that said "Hey, let's go get drunk, it will be fun."

Just as I no longer would consider stealing an attractive / appropriate proposition for acquiring something I desire, I have long since realized that alcohol will not bring me ANYTHING I truly want. It only serves to weaken me and my ability to get where I want to go in life.

If my goal is to be my best (emotionally, physically, creatively, spiritually,
financially, etc.), then the thought of putting poison into my system just isn't an option. It ranks somewhere after: Light myself on fire and jump off a bridge.

For me, it simply became a matter of challenging the "glorified" images of what alcohol was - glorifications that had been taught to me - and replacing them with more truthful images. Alcohol is a poison (for me), and serves no useful purpose in my life. Any thought I have that is contrary to that is a lie. If I choose to believe that lie (that alcohol is in any way, shape, form, an acceptable means to an end), then I will suffer the consequences of believing it.

You must realize that I "quit drinking" many, many times before I finally got it right (11 years ago this coming March).

Right now, AA seems to be working for you. That is great. My approach is different from theirs. Mine requires that a "problem drinker" systematically establish (day after day, week after week, year after year if necessary), that drinking, for them, is a self-destructive choice that only a person who wanted to hurt themselves would make.

 

Once that becomes a core belief (backed by evidence of truth / experience) the thought of drinking or hurting yourself with any other unhealthy choices becomes unacceptable. Instead of "ya, that sounds like fun" your inner dialogue is more likely to say "ya right, and then I will take a couple swigs of gasoline, swallow a match and see what happens."

It really is a matter of coming to KNOW in "the center of your mind" that alcohol is garbage at every level. Once you truly realize and believe this, the corresponding action naturally follows...you don't drink. This is especially true once you've had enough time away from it, to see the progress and realize how much better life is without alcohol.

 

It's kind of like, if you got a job that you loved and it paid you $20,000 per month, you would not likely quit that job so you could return to a job that you hated and that paid $500 per month. In this metaphor, life without drinking is the $20,000 per month job, and life with drinking is the $500 per month Job.

 

Life without alcohol pays much better and is much more enjoyable. It is a job that you can train yourself to get, and only you can fire yourself from.

Continued success,
Joe Plummer

Q17: 4/4/2002

Hello,
My name is Mary. And I just said the words out of my mouth. I have issues with drinking. I need help and I don't know how to start it. I loged on to your site and started printing a few things to look at. I'm in the music and fashion world and there are drinks all over all the time. I need help to be able to say "NO" to myself at any club, dinner. I would like to go cold turkey.................Thanks, Mary

Hi Mary,

I just have a couple of things to say.

1. You need to invest time into learning how to despise alcohol. If you've had any significant problems caused by it, this should not be too hard. Look over your life, all the worst moments, and ask yourself how many of them would have never existed if it weren't for alcohol. (Seriously...Write it ALL down...and take a good hard look.)

Chances are, a good portion of what you dislike in your past and your present can be directly linked to poisoning yourself with booze over the years.

2. When it comes to going out, realize that once you learn to dislike the stuff, you won't have to "fight" anything. You simply won't want it. Look, If you hated tomatoes, you wouldn't be embarrassed to pick them off your club sandwich. As a matter of fact, you'd order the sandwich without them. Well, don't feel weird about pulling alcohol from the menu. It's an "unnecessary condiment" at best!

When people start doing the "Ah, c'mon...one won't kill ya" routine, all you have to do is honestly say to them "Look, I don't like the way alcohol affects me...we just don't get along and it has never done me any favors....I don't want it...and sure, you are right, one won't kill me, but then again I might get away with taking a sip of gasoline if I really wanted to...doesn't mean I'm interested."

Chances are, if they are not weak and easily threatened by people who can act as an individual (instead of "part of the group"), then they will understand. If they don't understand, screw em, you can do better.

I'll be honest with you, I think when you start to spend your time more productively (bettering yourself and forwarding your career), as opposed to destructively (wasting your time intoxicated and undermining your self esteem), you will start to understand the value of your decision...it gets easier from then on. It's only as hard as you make it. The only way to make it hard is by clinging to beliefs that suggest alcohol has some value in your life...sure, it might help you feel comfortable in situations where you wouldn't normally...sure it might help you "loosen up" etc...But the bottom line is, when you get where you are supposed to be in life, you don't need that crap to loosen up, feel comfortable, and have a good time.

Remember, if you start feeling boredom, unease, or anxiety, realize that is nature's way of telling you there are more important things you could be doing with your time! (And your life for that matter.) The easy way to deal with those feelings is to take a drink and pretend they don't exist...Unfortunately, that is also the most expensive way, in every respect.

Keep workin...you will get there. :-)
Joe

Q18: 11/20/2001

Alright man,
just had to write and let you know that it's great to see this web page up there. I think your view on the whole sobriety thing is probably the truest of them all........smart, rational recovery, aa, etc. Thanks for the inspiration to go at it alone....Just dropped out of aa. Had 21 months and then partied and am now experiencing the wrath of its members to the fact that I am drinking. I have been given the death sentence unless I get my ass to a meeting and get a sponsor! It all makes me sick and I definitely need out so I think my drinking is a passport to freedom once and for all. I have had the steps shoved down my throat for 15 years and you know I still don't get it and do not want to spend the rest of my days going to meetings and dwelling on alcohol the rest of my days. Enough is enough. Thanks again and I sure hope you're doing well......

Hi,

One of the biggest problems I have with AA is their "only wAAy" mentality. It's not the only way, and if you asked me, it is far from the best way. Any group of people who refuse any and all evidence that may contradict their beliefs are not interested in the truth. They only want to believe what they choose, and they want everyone else to believe that too...because it somehow validates their choice.

YOU stopped drinking for 21 months. If in fact you "substituted" the AA way of life to help accomplish that, then there is no reason YOU could not substitute a more healthy, real way of life to accomplish even more...a way of life that leads you to things so much more important / valuable than drinking that the thought to drink would seem absurd.

I use the following "job" metaphor to explain my thoughts on drinking.

Imagine that:

My "Drinking Life" was like having a job I completely hated (scrubbing toilets maybe...) Also, because it only paid $5 an hour, I would have to work all the overtime I could get just to "get by."

My "Non Drinking Life" is like having the job of my dreams. It pays $500 an hour, so it's not necessary that I work much at all...but I work all the overtime I can get because I love what I do!

Imagine your life as any "job" you want it to be. It only requires that you develop the skills necessary to fill the position.

Once you acquire those skills and find yourself in that $500 an hour dream job / life, it is extremely unlikely that you will ever accept going back to what you used to do. If it is New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, somebody you love dies, your dog gets hit by a car, whatever...the last thing that will enter your mind is: "Well, I guess I better quit this great life I have and go back to scrubbing toilets..." It just wouldn't make sense...and although this is a metaphor, it is true. Destroying yourself just doesn't make any sense once you begin to truly believe and see that you can have, and deserve, so much more.

Hope this helps,
Joe

Q19: 2/14/2002

Joe,

I like your thoughts and reflections, but having been sober for just 18 months, I can't claim to be a guru.

Do you have any thoughts on AA's insistence on including a 'higher power' ? I'm doing some state mandated DUI classes, and I am required to attend 8 AA classes. In my area of suburban Philadelphia, the bible bangers have blown it up to 'God' and they won't let go of it. It's a shame agnostics like me are doomed to be outcast as drunk heathens and hopeless (smirk).

I especially relate to your simple decisions in your own mind to stop drinking. I parallel a lot of your experiences also. -Jim

Hello Jim,

Just remember that people believe things that meet their needs. It sounds like those you describe are interested only in that result (meeting their needs), without concern for those who may be ostracized in the process.

I think we all do have a "higher power" but to me that higher power is simply our higher self. That part of us which is focused, free of fear, determined and capable of reaching our greatest goals. That part of us that knows what we want to do with our lives and knows what can be done, provided that we remain committed to progress.

Perhaps if AA is working for you, and your only real snag is the "God" part, you can work on widening your idea of what God is. Understand that "God" or a "higher power" is something different to everyone...and that just because they believe their higher power is "God as described in the Bible," is no reason why you should limit your definition to the same...

"God" and "higher power" are just words. It is you who must decide what those words mean. You can define them as you please. Find what works for you, and use it. :-)

Wishing you the Best,
Joe Plummer

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