Why Willpower Won’t Help You In Your Quest For Sobriety

For so many women the decision to free themselves from alcohol is often an act of desperation.

They realise it’s negative affect on their life can no longer be tolerated. Is that you?

A Typical Struggle

Did you reach your decision in a fit of temper, boiled up from the heat of so many hangovers, so much embarrassment, so many stupid drunken acts? Did you have a ‘moment of clarity’ that shouted out to you ‘enough is enough’ and subsequently have that feeling of determination and action that was full of energy and enthusiasm?

And did you declare ‘today is Day One’? Did you embark on your new fearless journey by tipping the last of the wine and vodka down the sink in a triumphal ceremony of freedom – crying ‘I can DO this!”? Did you buy all the books and join all the groups that would inform and support you? Did you carve out a new daily routine based on drinking water, going for walks and runs, journaling and meditating – knowing that you have the strength to stick with it all?

Maybe the first 5 days you’re flying high? Perhaps you’re not feeling too great physically but your determination and new habits are holding strong.

Maybe you get to 10 days and you feel like a warrior goddess. You’re bright eyed and so full of the joy of sobriety that you feel like you’re floating. Nothing will stand in your way. You have all your new routines and habits, your new strategies and your new drinks. You’re so confident that you start sharing with anyone who will listen that you’ve given up. You dismiss their raised eyebrows and judgement.

You have nights out with your friends and take the car. You even have a mad, crazy night and no-one notices you’re not drinking. You feel like a fearless she-wolf howling at the moon in defiance.

A Bad Day

And then you have a bad day. Your child has turned into demon spawn overnight, your boss piled on just too much extra work, you got a call to say a loved one was seriously ill, you had a row with your other half. Or worse yet, you have that inexplicable emotional spike/drop called ‘ah f*ck it!’ and you buy a bottle of wine on the way home.

You kick your determination into the long grass declaring ‘I don’t care!’. That slipper and pj moment on the sofa with your favourite red is like a warm, soft enfolding hug from your most favourite person in the world and you dismiss your fight for sobriety without so much as a second thought.

Waking the next day, you feel wretched. You let yourself down. You let your family down. You let your Sobersistas down. Good god you finished the whole bottle! What sort of weak-willed, disappointing, pathetic sort of woman are you? Plus you have the hangover from hell so everyone gets the rough end of your temper for the rest of the day.

It’s Day One again. You’re embarrassed because you had just posted in your favourite Facebook Group that you were on Day 10 and the weekend was coming and you were READY for it! You can’t possibly post that it’s Day One again can you?

Are you exhausted yet? Probably.

In the last 10 days you have pushed, fought, forced, wrestled and screamed your way through each day. It’s no wonder you’re exhausted.

The problem is that you tried to use all your willpower to get yourself sober without realising at the outset that willpower isn’t enough to get you to the light side.

The Problem With Willpower

Willpower only works in a limited, forced way. You said, ‘I can do this’ through gritted teeth but how does that jaw clenching feel in your body? It feels bad – as your jaws clench your body responds accordingly with tension. Even if you are legendary for having a will of iron, when it is constantly applied to anything, eventually you will run out of energy.

It’s exhausting, it saps your energy and when you are at your weakest that big steel door you’ve been pushing closed has no more resistance being applied against it. Beyond this door is a room with your comfy sofa with ‘oh f*ck it’ written on the welcome mat. You’ve done so well for 10 days keeping it pushed closed but one moment of weakness is all it needs to step into that ‘safe’ space and before you know it the bottle is half empty.

In that space there is a blackness that creates a tsunami in you and grows because it feeds off your anxiety, anger and fear. All those negative thoughts you ever said about yourself are all true aren’t they? You’ll never stay sober – you’re too weak, angry, traumatised and anxious to fight all those negative feelings and you will NEVER find the willpower to try again.

Willpower isn’t an endless resource. One day it will run out. It always does.

Another Way

But there is another way. This way requires very little, if any, willpower from you.

Before I explain how, lets go for a little walk.

Just imagine that you’re walking towards the entrance of the off licence. You know the one. The one at the bottom of your street that sells overpriced vinegar in a wine bottle and dares to call itself merlot. You’re in your sweatpants or pyjamas, your hair is scraped back in a greasy bun and you’ve just realised you’re still wearing your slippers because they look at bit like Ugg boots and nobody cares anyway. You put your hand on the door handle knowing that what waits inside is an assault on your senses – just in-date bread, the soft smell of newspaper print and something unidentifiable.

You open the door and go to step over the threshold but what awaits you isn’t the off licence. It’s a huge garden filled with flowers of every colour, scents to stimulate the senses, hammocks for sleeping, beanbags for lounging and comfily cushioned chairs designed solely for losing yourself in your favourite book. The sun is warm and dappled because the trees are providing you with exactly the right amount of shade and light. You realise you are clean, your hair is washed and you smell of angels. There’s a pot of your favourite tea on a small table next to that book you haven’t gotten round to reading yet.

As you tap into the warmth and silence a gentle breeze whispers, ‘time has stopped out there so you can stay as long as you like‘.

Every bit of tension in your body melts away as you sink into the most comfortable chair you’ve ever sat on, you sip your tea and pick up your book.

Are you relaxed? Perhaps that’s not your perfect relaxed space because it’s mine, but you get the idea.

What’s Your Approach?

What if you could approach your quest for sobriety in this same, relaxed, warm way? How would that feel? Would you care about alcohol and your desire and habit of drinking it? Would it matter to you as much as it did when you were fighting it?

What if in that moment of perfect relaxation you simply stopped caring about alcohol? You recognised what it has given you, how it has affected you, you’ve acknowledged it and decided that actually a cup of tea, a book and a comfy chair is entirely more preferable to pushing back against it.

I Don’t Care

I avoided giving up alcohol for many many years because I knew that I would fail and I can’t bear failure. I knew that if I had to fight it, I wouldn’t have enough willpower to win and the shame of failure would have been too much to deal with. In fact it probably would have ended with me drinking more than before.

It was only when I stopped caring about alcohol that I knew I would succeed. I don’t care that I drank for 40 years – the important thing is that I don’t drink anymore. I don’t care that 40 years of drinking has taken a massive toll on my body that isn’t going to be rectified over night. I don’t care if I’m surrounded by a thousand drinking people because I know I don’t and that’s all that matters to me. I don’t care if the world feeds me images and messages that I should drink because it doesn’t matter to me anymore.

Today alcohol is just something that is. I watched a table of people have bacon sandwiches and pints of lager for breakfast at the airport this week and whilst I thought it was interesting from a Sobersistas point of view, I just didn’t care.

And that’s the key to sobriety for me. Not caring. Not caring about alcohol to give it any energy.

Can you remember that boyfriend who wouldn’t go away for months after you ended it no matter how much you cried, begged, threatened, cajoled and whined at him to leave you alone? You know the one. The one that disappeared off the radar the moment you stopped responding to him because you were really done with him? That. Sobriety feels like that for me.

Stop Fighting

Perhaps the ‘don’t care’ approach isn’t for you but I promise you, trying to apply willpower to force yourself sober isn’t going to work.

Whatever you fight will fight back, and in the end you’re only fighting yourself. ┬áDon’t fight it anymore.

And anyway, wouldn’t it be better to be kinder, nicer, more loving towards yourself? Because at the end of the day it’s only yourself that you’re fighting.

Much love always, Jules x