“Beads of Blood…

Once again, it’s early Monday morning and I’m facing the challenge reflected in the plaque a friend gave me years ago: “Writing is easy. Just stare at a blank piece of paper – or screen – until beads of blood form on your forehead.”

Some weeks it doesn’t come to that thanks to random articles I’ve recently read or emails you’ve sent or calls that ask new questions.

Then there is today when I wish I still smoked – cigarettes being the habit I resorted to when inspiration failed. But after 20 years I don’t think going back to cigarettes is an answer.

Yet the connection between writing and smoking remains. For 30 years my desk top housed a typewriter and a giant ashtray. Frequent reflective pauses were filled with a cloud of smoke. The connection was so firmly imbedded that I delayed quitting smoking because I seriously doubted I could write without the smoke breaks.

Ex-smokers frequently talk about “kicking the habit.” They don’t go to “meetings,” join cults, proclaim “powerlessness,” or hang out in back rooms lamenting – or glorifying – their “nicoholic” past.

Those with an alcohol problem can learn a lot from ex-smokers, especially when you remember that tobacco is far more addictive than alcohol and used to be even more pervasive in our culture than drinking.

Some of the lessons?

  • You don’t need to label yourself. Former smokers don’t waste time talking about it, demeaning themselves, or attempting to create a life around “not smoking;”
  • Ex-smokers assumed it was going to be difficult and uncomfortable for awhile;
  • It’s understood that there are going to be occasional urges, sometime nearly overwhelming, to light up again;
  • It’s also recognized that resisting the cravings means they become weaker and less frequent;
  • And the rewards show up very fast: recovered senses of taste and smell; no early morning sensation that a herd of camels spent the night in your mouth; better health prospects immediately, much better social opportunities.

I think we could all agree that most of these apply equally to letting the alcohol go but, just in case, I’ll add the realities here too:

  • You don’t need to label yourself and are well advised not to since labels come with social and psychological baggage that only makes breaking the habit more difficult, unless, of course, you only want to pretend to do something about the problem;
  • Yes, it’ll be difficult and uncomfortable for awhile – awhile being measured in weeks and months, not years;
  • Yes, there will be situations, circumstances, and people who will challenge your resolve;
  • No, the cravings and urges will not overwhelm you nor will they persist if you don’t feed them!
  • No, you don’t owe anyone an explanation nor do you need to seek anyone’s forgiveness;
  • Yes, you will feel better almost immediately as guilt subsides and depression lifts;
  • Yes, your personal, family, and most social relationships will improve. The exception will be “drinking buddies” who have a vested interest in keeping you drinking – as do a few bartenders, waiters, and liquor merchants.

I could go on but I’m sure you get the points. Still “researching” (the code word for procrastinating)? Make yourself a few lists: “Benefits of Drinking;” “Costs of Quitting;” “Benefits Others get from My Drinking” (especially spouses, children and other family members).

No, you can skip “Benefits of Quitting” and “Costs of Drinking.” We all know those.

And please, under Costs of Quitting, don’t forget the passive-aggressive FU component that frequently tops that list.

Addressing, Not Evading

We note that effectively relieving alcohol problems means recognizing that it’s really a symptom of, and strategy for, evading issues we are uncomfortable with addressing.

Typically, these include loneliness, boredom, unbalanced relationships and lives, passive-aggressive responses or punishments, pain, trauma, and other forms of avoidance.

That pretty much covers the “symptom” part and most of these can be resolved with some CBT and assertiveness training.

Then comes the habit part and here you are in the same boat as the smokers who “kick the habit” and demonstrate that you can too. It means taking a hard look at the times and circumstances when you drink just as I had to with when I smoked.

Then, having mapped out you patterns, you can formulate a new routine that interrupts those patterns. Believe me, you can’t continue to live out 95% of the pattern and successfully eliminate the 5% you like best. There was a considerable time gap between giving up cigarettes and resuming writing, which I eased back into very carefully and with a different schedule and structure.

The formula of real success remains: Address the Issues; Change the Habits. And wipe those beads of blood off your forehead whenever necessary.