During this stage, you’ll be clarifying the reasons you don’t want to drink. Don’t underestimate this step, as it is a key component to the program. You will know you’ve done the step correctly when you DEEPLY feel as if you must quit drinking for your health and well-being. Those around you will certainly benefit from your positive behavior change, but it is important that you do not use someone else as your sole motivation to quit drinking.
What I mean by self-leveraging is getting your brain working with you on this endeavor. It is not unusual initially for your brain to crank out thoughts that do not support your efforts to stop drinking. This step acknowledges that this will happen and provides you with a way to deal with it.
First, make a benefit/cost mini-chart to keep with you for at least the first 3 months. It should look something like this:
When making your chart, consider this tidbit from The Harvard University Gazette, March 14, 1996 edition:
Alcohol, directly or indirectly, kills 100,000 people in the United States each year, according to the study, published in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. Also, the risk of heart disease and cancer is twice as high for alcohol abusers than for nonabusers, and heavy smoking dramatically increases the death rate among abusers.
Once you have made your list, keep it with you to refer to each day in the beginning. When you find yourself asking, “Why can’t I drink?” glance at the list for your answers.
The second part of self-leveraging will get your brain emotionally involved in the process. Find a quiet, comfortable place to do the following exercise undisturbed.
This involves visualizing in your mind’s eye. To improve your conscious visualizing ability, relax, close your eyes, and picture different colorful scenes that you know well. When you get a clear picture of a scene you know well, do something unusual with it. Drive a car through a rural pasture, put a hot air balloon in an urban skyline. Have fun with it as you develop your ability to visualize more and more vividly.
Then get comfortable and try the following exercise.
Imagine your problem drinking behavior as a “thing” that you carry around in a backpack. Yeah, I know, sounds a bit strange, just try it.
The backpack is already large and cumbersome and you choose to carry it all the time. The backpack does not contain anything you need but it never leaves you and is generally slowing you down.
Take yourself to one year from now with this enormous load in your backpack. Feel the health effects that others can’t even see yet. The obvious lack of energy, possibly the excess weight related to your drinking. Notice the way people perceive you, and all the detrimental effects you’re having on people you come in contact with, the immense time, energy, and money you waste drinking.
Think of all the negatives for you and how heavy they are making your permanent backpack. Remember, be vivid. You are sweating and straining as those that care about you are becoming more and more alienated.
Take the scenario three years down the timeline. Your backpack is so huge you can hardly drag it. Many of the people you love, who were there a couple years ago, no longer care to be a part of your problem.
If it is possible to gradually take yourself to five and ten years, do so. (some of you won’t be alive five or ten years from now if you continue down this path.)*
Carefully notice how your surroundings change as a result of your alcoholic behavior. Take full credit for this horrible scene as you refuse to abandon your backpack. If you don’t feel really badly at this point, try the process again with better clarity. Do it until you feel profoundly bad about how sad this scene is.
At the conclusion of this exercise, take 5 deep slow breaths to your core, and give yourself some credit for having decided to change this picture to one you’d like to be in.
Self-leveraging acknowledges that there is a great likelihood that you will experience spontaneous unsupportive thoughts, especially in the early going. Follow the two stages of self-leveraging, refer to your personal chart, and greatly increase your chances of staying sober during the predictably rough early stages.
You are ready for Step 3.
*I was told by a physician in Chicago after a liver failure that I wouldn’t survive more than two years if I continued the kind of drinking that I described to him. In true alcoholic fashion, all I heard was that I had one good year of heavy drinking left before I needed to address the situation. That was in 1991. I now consider every year after 1993 to be a gift. Don’t cut it that close. Please address this now for your sake and the sake of those who will be devastated if you don’t.