Every time I catch myself thinking fondly of red wine, I immediately get scared and think, “I must be experiencing relapse! Why does my mind keep thinking of all the good times I had when I was drinking?” I assume I am romanticizing about alcohol (which is dangerous to a person in recovery) therefore I must quickly remind myself of all the negative repercussions of drinking and ground myself in sobriety. I am going to guess this happens about 3 times a day. (That may sound like a lot but in the beginning it was about 20 times a day). I like to think I am retraining for my brain for sobriety by reviewing all the terrible things alcohol can do to me, but am I also reinforcing a negative mindset?
A common exercise for people in recovery from alcohol is to write a ‘goodbye’ letter to alcohol. It is suggested we make a list all the toxic and damaging experiences we had with the drink and keep this letter close should we ever feel tempted to go back to it, like the desire to go back to an old (yet abusive) lover. I have been a fan of this exercise until today… when it occurred to me, that my efforts to re-train my brain, may have served to sabotage my joy. A goodbye letter does not need to be mean good riddance, why can’t it be a love letter?
I know as much as the next adult that alcohol is bad for you. It is toxic and addictive and has ruined billions of lives. But when I think about my experience with alcohol, most of my memories are good. That’s right, my experiences with alcohol were mostly good - until they went bad. When they went bad, they went real bad and it was indeed time to stop. But does that mean the I need to look at the length of my relationship with alcohol as all bad? And not only that do I need to look at all the relationships I had with people who drank with as bad too? Of course not - but I will admit, this is what I felt I needed to do to overcome my addiction. Wow, it’s been a long and painful few years.
I compare it to my relationship with my father and the grief I experienced when he died. A few years after he died, all I could think about was how sick he was in the end. Eventually, I started to remember the years before his death and some of the good times we had. Now that my kids are getting older I am having memories of beautiful times spent with my dad when I was a little kid. The full range of our relationship is finally settling in my memory and I am at peace with him. The relationship is over and he is gone and I accept what it was, including all the flaws.
My husband does not drink alcohol either. Yet, he loves to talk about the old days when he was a wild teenager drinking with his buddies and getting in trouble. I would drive me crazy to hear him talk like this and it scared me that this would influence our children to want to drink. Really, I think it was just a sign that he was comfortable with his relationship with alcohol and remembering his youth fondly without judging himself or others. He doesn’t want to forget his drinking days, but he has no intention of reviving them. Drinking stays where it belongs for him, in the past.
What a lesson this is for me today! It honestly never really sunk in how paranoid I have been about talking about drinking with any kind of fondness, or of people who drink and talk about drinking fondly. I felt like I might get sucked in and manipulated back into the miserable state I was in before I quit. Of course this would not happen. I was trying way too hard to protect myself!
It is time to change the power dynamic between me and alcohol. My letter will not be a goodbye, rather a letter of love and appreciation:
You have been there for me my whole life and will be with me until the day I die. I trust you will never leave, and I am grateful for all the support, lessons and opportunities you have given me.
You continue to help me grow and evolve as a person, as I come to understand what you are all about. You have given me a channel for connection with other people. Because of you, I was inspired to dig deep, live consciously and make improvements to my health and lifestyle.
Thank you alcohol, I welcome the memories, good and bad. I look forward to our future together and all that it shall bring. There is enough room in this life for the both of us to live interdependently. I am sorry I ever tried to cut you out of life. You are vital to my past and to my future. I accept, welcome and embrace you.
I love you, alcohol