I’m not jumping on the “screw 2016” bandwagon. Yes, a lot of famous, beloved people died, and yes, we in the US elected a dangerous buffoon to the presidency. But I’ve had worse years (2008 when I had cancer, pretty much any of the years I was drinking out of control). I was sober every day of 2016 (I’m coming up on two years). I committed myself to a serious Zen practice. And because of these two things, the first allowing the second, all the awfulness and suffering of 2016 was more bearable, and through it I could see spots –heck mountains!–of peace and joy and ease. Never had that for a full year before.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about today. I wanted to reprint a reply I posted for Annie over on Dappled Path. Many of you probably have followed Annie’s struggles to defeat her serious problems with alcoholism (as if there are any other kinds). And many of you are probably rooting for her as she attempts to make 2017 her year to get sober. I know I am.
Today, Annie talked about “preparing” for Sober January, her planned first sober month. I may well be misreading what she said — and what some of those replying implied — but what I heard was that for her (and others), sobriety would start tomorrow. That they were on Day -1, so to speak.
As a recovering alcoholic, that sort of thinking is both tremendously familiar (I’ll start not drinking tomorrow, so tonight, let’s drink to that!) and terrifying. I don’t believe in rules or absolutes for the most part, but I know that planning to stop drinking tomorrow is almost worse than not planning to stop at all. But I am stepping on my own lines. Here’s what I said, reprinted just in case Annie shuts her blog:
Dear Annie, you know, of course, that I fervently hope this is the day one that sticks. I’ve been hoping for two years, since I first started following your blog. I do, though, want to quibble with your title — “Preparation.” First of all, you of all people don’t need to make any more preparations to get sober. You’ve been preparing for years. You are the most prepared drunk-hoping-to-get-sober I know.
So unless this “preparation” involves NOT drinking tonight, New Years Eve, it is meaningless in terms of doing anything that forwards your sobriety.
You also know, because I’ve said it publicly and privately to you a million times before, you cannot get sober in the future. You cannot stop drinking in the future. The only time you can stop drinking (or take any action) is right now, the present. You must see the danger (or at very least the irony) of pouring yourself a glass of bubbly to toast your future sobriety.
And maybe you are sipping herbal tea and avoiding the big parties tonight, if so, brava! If not, then here’s my message to you –and to anyone else reading or responding here who is “preparing” to stop drinking tomorrow (I’m not talking to those doing Dry January to drop some weight after the holiday excess. I’m talking to active alcoholics hoping to use Dry January to kick start a life of sobriety) — STOP NOW. Even if you’ve already pre-gamed a bit or had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. End it now. Leave the party, if you’re already there. Hide in the bathroom and feel sorry for yourself if you can’t leave. Go to bed early if you’re home.
The only way to stop drinking is to stop drinking. It will never be the right time (or it will always be, take your pick). It will never be easy. Putting it off until tomorrow is NOT preparation for a life a sobriety. It is preparation for a life making excuses for your continued, destructive drunken behavior.
End it now. It will be the hardest and best thing you ever do. And Happy New Year.