Think It Through

One of the things you get for free in Recovery is a Toolbox.

You fill your Toolbox with tips, ideas, thoughts, prayers, concepts, realizations and whatever else you can find to build a lasting sobriety. My sobriety is only as good as the tools i use to build it with. So from time to time i’m gonna open my toolbox and share some of my tools with you.

Today’s tool is the concept of “Think it Through”. Every recovering addict is going to be tempted to relapse. My personal triggers are things like a bottle of wine sitting before me on the table in a restaurant or a group of people on a café terrace in the sun drinking fruity cocktails and smiling and having fun.

At these moments, my alcoholic brain starts saying things like, “Go for it, dude. You only live once and some people not even that. Don’t be a wuss. Life’s too short. Screw it. You can always go back on the wagon tomorrow. Everybody relapses once,” and so on and so on, add nausea. Before i let my brain get the best of me, i “Think it Through”.

Thinking it Through goes something like this:

  1. i have a drink
  2. i’ll want another drink–i know me
  3. i’ll have that second drink because that’s what i do
  4. After the second, the third is easier and after the third, all bets are off
  5. i’ll drink until i get so drunk i make a fool of myself and lose things and get into trouble i won’t be able to live down or get myself out of. i will drink until i cease to exist.
  6. i’ll pass out (at home, if i’m lucky)
  7. i’ll have a hangover that lasts two days and through which i’ll have to take care of my kids, pay attention to my wife and maybe even go to work through
  8. After the physical hangover will come three more days of a spiritual hangover where i’ll hate myself, beat myself up and wallow in depression

All of that for two hours of euphoria that gets less and less thrilling every time i binge. Mentally going through all these eventualities makes it easier for me to take a step back and take my hand off the “Screw It” button.

Powerful tool, that “Think it Through”.


About Al K Hall

Like a battered drinker or a punch drunk boxer, i am here for another round. For those of you who don’t know me, i’m a semi-professional writer on the rocks and a non-practicing alcoholic (if after 30 years of practicing, you still can't do something well, it's best to just give it up). For those of you who do know me, thanks for stopping by anyway and where’s the ten bucks you owe me? Welcome to my Bar None. A hole in the wall where we can hang out and trade the kind of stories you swap only when you’ve had one too many and either can’t find your way home or are afraid to. Hell, it’s cheaper than therapy and plus the pictures are prettier. Here we’ll crack open bottles and jokes and ‘last call’ are the only dirty words you’ll never hear. Pull up a stool and make yourselves at home.

Posted on September 14, 2011, in Alcoholics Anonymous, Lessons in Recovery, Recovery, Toolbox and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Yes, “Think through the drink” is a good tool just as “invoking the higher power” is a good one.

    In SMART they teach the ABC to cope with urges. I’m really annoyed Sum-zero took his blog down because he showed how to use these brilliantly.

    Anyway, these tools work because they help you change the part of your brain you are using. When you are having an urge, the region of the brain that is activated is the one that is concerned with instant gratification. And that’s part of your brain for a good reason — otherwise we wouldn’t reproduce and would starve to death. But that’s also what is driving you to insanity. By invoking your higher power, or doing an ABC, or performing the “think through the drink” ritual, you are switching to a different portion of your brain — the pre-frontal cortex, which among other things, is responsible for decision making and moderating correct social behavior.

    It doesn’t actually have to be “think through the drink.” To avoid cravings, spend some time planning the future. Anything. The act of planning will activate the pre-frontal cortex, and make you less likely to switch to the instant-gratification thought region. In this way, you can prevent many urges.

    I know it’s easier said than done. But the urge always passes and you’ll find you’re no worse for the wear. When have you ever regretted not drinking? (I can think of 3 times in the past 22 months where I think I would have been better off if I could have had a social drink or 2. And about 10,000 times where I’m glad I did not succumb to my urges to drink.)


    • ITSB!

      i was hoping you’d work your way over to this blog. This one should have more of the personal shit and focusing on the recovery aspect with less T&A, which seem to be the posts that get your attention the most.

      i’m not sure if ABC is supposed to stand for something or not, but i see exactly what your talking about. The idea is to break the habit, to short circuit the reflex so that when temptation sneaks in, the brain doesn’t fry and the hand doesn’t automatically reach for the “fuck it” button. It’s about breaking the cycle and making conscious decisions, and whatever method helps get to that point is a good one.

      i really appreciated what you said about the regretted drinking thing. Every morning i wake up without a hangover is a good one. Every Monday i don’t have to walk to work ashamed and afraid of how i embarrassed myself on Friday is a good way to start the week. A drink to suppressing the urges!

      Keep coming back, brother,

      Al K Hall

  2. No, the T&A posts get my attention too , but the keyboard is too sticky to make a comment after reading them.

    Seriously, you’ve got the the idea. These scientists who do all kinds of fMRI studies have found that people with “addictions” have rewired their brain so that circuit from the portion controlling the “here and now instant gratification” to the more “think of the future” prefrontal cortex has been fucked. So addicts never get out of that thought process. It actually takes time to repair this. (This time is sometimes called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.) Once you understand the mechanics, it gets a lot easier. And you’ll find that the time it takes to “disarm” an urge rapidly decreases as you progress in your mental reprogramming.

    ABC’s (and D and Es) can be found here:

    I haven’t had to do one in a while. My brain goes from “urge” to “rational” in less than a second these days. But I recall doing one about 3 or 4 months into sobriety.

    I had been waiting for some friends of mine who had flown into town. We agreed to meet at a restaurant serving spicy food for lunch. They were an hour late and I was hungry, impatient, and agitated because I had skipped out of work to meet them and it was getting late. When they finally arrived, I took a bite of the spicy food and thought to myself “A Heineken would just be great with this” and I nearly ordered one. But I excused myself and went outside to do an ABC instead. It took 5 minutes to fight this urge off. I could picture the different parts of my brain battling it out.

    So what was my ABC?

    A) “What’s the activating Event?” I was hungry (trigger) and angry at my friends for being late to begin with (trigger). I was with friends I used to drink with (another trigger). And the spice was an additional powerful trigger (which I hadn’t anticipated). It was the first time I had had this kind spicy food since I quit drinking and it never occurred to me that it was something I usually ate while drinking.

    B) What’s the irrational belief? That drinking while eating spicy food with friends — something I used to enjoy — is something I HAVE to do to enjoy myself.

    C) What are the consequences? I would have started drinking at 2:00 in the afternoon. We had plans to stay out late in Hollywood that night. i would have been drunk and had to have taken a taxi home ($70), made an ass out of myself, and pissed off my friends.

    So in this case, it’s really becoming aware of your situation and then “think through the drink.”

    But there can be other situations where it’s helpful. E.g.,

    A – Activating Event: “Co-worker pisses me off by having a glass of scotch from the bottle he keeps at his desk at 3:00, while chugging a beer, and starts talking shit about me as the buzz kicks in.”

    B – Irrational Belief: “Everyone I work with has be sober and kiss my ass.”

    C – Consequences: “If I choke this guy to death, I’ll go to jail. If I scream at him, I’ll embarrass myself and could lose my job.”

    D- Disarm. “I’ll Disarm the situation by going to the gym and working the punching bag for a half hour.”

    And then we have E – “Effective New Thinking” I’ll get my revenge by complaining loudly about his work at the next staff meeting and inform him privately that drunk or sober he’s responsible for what comes out of his mouth. He’ll know not to fuck with me like that again.

    See how helpful REBT is? It keeps you sober and it keeps you from committing murder.

    Good luck, Al.

    • Wow, this stuff is golden, man! It’s easy to see how you’ve become such a sobriety guru around here. If you think you might ever want to share some of your wisdom in a post here, let me know and i’ll hook you up with the necessary cred.

      That ABC thing was very interesting. Easy to remember and very useful. Another tool for my box. Thanks for the tip, brother!

      Keep coming back,

      Al K Hall

  3. The other useful tool is counting the days. You can now see how that one work now too. By thinking about your goal of 30 days or 6 months or 1 year or 2 years, you engage the pre-frontal cortex and disengage the greedy cheap-thrill seeking part of the brain.

    • Hi there, Boat,

      This explains why AA is so big about giving chips! It all makes sense now. i’m up for my nine month chip on the 11th of October, so this is something to help me count the days and get all pre-frontal.

      Keep coming back,

      Al K Hall

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