riding into the sunset

How to use language to help you succeed

Today I’ve been reflecting on some of the posts I’ve seen on social media recently, some of the posts about sobriety and stopping drinking.

There are two phrases that crop up regularly that could be making life less easy than it needs to be for people who want to live life alcohol-free.

1. “In recovery”
Some people describe life sober after an unhealthy relationship with alcohol as being “in recovery” and they believe they're in recovery for the rest of their lives. To me, the concept of recovering from something (an illness, a disease, a broken limb) suggests vulnerability and fragile health. It suggests someone who is less than fully well. If I was to embrace this concept of being in recovery for the rest of my life, I would be planting a seed in the unconscious part of my mind that I wasn’t 100% well. That I was perhaps fragile in some way, less robust and resilient than if I was fully recovered.

The concept of recovery also suggests being somehow, to some degree or another, in the power of an illness that poses an ever-present threat.

If this was what my unconscious mind believed, it would create that reality for me, and I can imagine that I would live my life being careful not to disturb the conditions of my recovery and possibly worrying about the threat of the illness returning. This would make it much more likely that I would behave like I wasn’t fully resilient and well and much more likely that I could succumb to the illness I was recovering from.

In other words, it would make it much more likely that I could sometimes allow the illness to take over or the old symptoms to return. If I believe I’m not very resilient and strong, I’m much more likely to behave as if I’m fragile and weak.

If we’re to going to use the metaphor of an illness or a disease to describe an unhealthy relationship with alcohol or any other substance (and the value of doing this is another article or blog waiting to be written), why not believe in being 100% well again? When I think of the rest of my life opening up in front of me, I’d rather be 100% well and fully recovered from any illnesses so that I can fully enjoy it.

In fact, why refer to that old unhealthy relationship with drink at all when you’re describing who you are and what the rest of your life might be like? There is so much more to you than that old relationship with drink… even while you were in it, there were other parts of you, other aspects of you that were nothing to do with alcohol, though they might have been temporarily squashed. Rather than being somebody who’s in recovery, why not be somebody?

If you have to make a reference to your drinking status, why not refer to yourself as a non-drinker, or a tee-totaller, or whatever description for not drinking alcohol works for you? I often just tell people that I don’t drink alcohol and, although nobody ever questions it, the wording and language I use is more for my benefit than theirs. I’m choosing language that will help the unconscious part of my mind to create a happy, healthy future reality with me. The more I tell my unconscious mind that I’m a non-drinker, the more I behave like a non-drinker, the more it believes I’m a non-drinker and just accepts this is so. It takes any conflict out of the equation. I’m not battling an illness, I’m not trying to sustain a fragile recovery process forever, I’m simply someone who doesn’t drink alcohol.

2. “Getting through”
The other phrase that I see cropping up frequently in posts about living life sober is “getting through”.

Eg. Well done for getting through the week sober!
Eg. I got through this last month sober, just. And, feeling proud of myself!
Eg. I’m just aiming to get through this weekend without drinking.

Now, I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with this phrase. In fact, it’s a very accurate description of what it can feel like when you first stop drinking and start developing new, sober habits. Learning a new habit is like learning a new skill: it takes practise, determination and concentration. Changing a pattern of behaviour that has become unconscious and automatic takes some focus. And, in the early days of starting to live your life sober, it can be like you just have to “get through” certain situations and events. And, this is great. The sense of achievement you can notice when you’ve got through something sober is wonderful – it helps to build your self-respect, your self-belief and your self-confidence.

The point I’d like to make is that, while this might be a healthy way to refer to those occasions which are challenging for you when you first stop drinking, as a way of referring to each week, each month, each year of the rest of your life, it’s less helpful. “Getting through” suggests struggle and hard work. Why consign yourself to a lifetime of struggle when you can choose a lifetime of liberation and joy?

Rather than just “getting through” life, I prefer to grab life by the horns, the reins or the wheel (whatever your metaphor of choice) and make the most of it – ride it into the sunset and appreciate every moment along the way.

The language you choose here is important as the future you describe will affect your motivation to achieve it. Imagining a lifetime of struggle and just getting through, of recovering and never achieving wellness is a lot less motivating than imagining a lifetime of great wellbeing, freedom and satisfaction.

Being aware of how you’re describing who you are, what you are and the future you want to create and choosing language that is healthy, happy and motivating for you is a foundation for success and achievement.

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