I’ve always been a bookworm. Most of the time I have at least two books on the go, but most often three or four. Since I stopped drinking I’ve been devouring sobriety literature like a demon. Hey, I know! I know, I know, I know. I know it might seem like I’m really obsessive and compulsive, but guess what – when it comes to endorphins and nurturing my mind, I don’t think full throttle is a particularly harmful setting so I’m just going with it. I usually have a couple of books I alternate between at home and then another on Audible that I listen to during my drive to and from work. The sobriety books I’m reading are anything from drinking memoirs to fact heavy books on addiction and everything in between. Most recently, I’ve been listening to The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley, which is of the memoir variety and her style reminds me a little of Bridget Jones: it’s light, easy going and enjoyable. In fact, much better than poor ol’ Bridget as Pooley isn’t such a whinge bag and just strikes me as really charming. I think Bridget – as charming as she is – would do my head in very quickly, whereas Pooley I’d like to hang out with. The blog can be found here.
Anyway, I was reading some of Pooley’s most recent posts and in the comments section an expression I often heard in AA meetings was mentioned: “play the tape forward“. This is really good advice. We can all be clever when armed with that handy thing called hindsight, but playing the tape forward is all about foresight. It might seem like such a simple device, and I guess it is, but I wonder if it’s particularly useful in very early sobriety. It all comes down to understanding the Beast, I suppose and what the Serenity Prayer is all about too.
Let’s say if (or when) that pesky ping! pops in to my head and I suddenly really want to have a drink. My addictive brain might go on to show me glittering and romantic images of a sparkling spritzer by the river on a summer’s eve with my sexy husband or something like that – you know, one of my favourite drinking scenarios. My brain will do its best to show me the “good” parts of drinking, make me believe them and ultimately get me yearning for them. For an alcoholic like me, this is the time when it’s be useful – crucial and life saving, even – to play that damn tape forward. Because playing it forward means I have to confront those images that my addictive mind doesn’t want to know about – the binge drinking, the compulsion, the depths of addiction and the black-outs. Add all the other shitty things drinking brings too, which makes that tape go on for a very long time as they’re endless.
Right now, this seems to happen without much effort but I suspect there will be plenty of times when I’ll really have to remind myself of where booze will take me. What I’m saying is, that when I think about drinking, my brain immediately goes oh gosh no and plays a stream of crappy stuff to me. Right now, when I think of alcohol I think of the shit it will first cause me and then how it’ll kill me. That glass of wine and soda water doesn’t hold any of the promises I used to think it did, it just holds a deadly poison that only does me harm. I guess my inner cassette player currently has some sort of automatic mechanism that kicks in without me having to press play. Or forward, as it were.
Anyway, I just wanted to emphasise this because I think it’s a really good thing to do if we start to fall for the charms of the Beast. Because the Beast can be VERY charming. Like Bradley Cooper serenading you in his raspy voice as he’s strumming his guitar, then gets you out on the stage with him for a duet to thundering applause. Fucking awesome! Absolute magic. WAIT! Play the tape forward. It’s the bit where he pisses himself on stage you need to see. Or the heartbreaking garage scene. Uhm, I’m talking about the film, obviously – A Star is Born. Well, Cooper plays an alcoholic in it and it hits you right where it should, in solar plexus. Playing the tape forward is a good thing to do when we get sober because the Beast is as talented as Cooper and therefore it’s the end bit we need to keep sight of.
It’s astounding really. The downsides to drinking are so severe, so obvious and so immediate, yet in many cases we go on for years – decades, even – because all we allow ourselves to see is that first part. Somehow we close ourselves off to the dark reality of alcoholism and even when we’re in a really desperate state we still manage to convince ourselves that it’s somehow worth it. Trust me, I know. I look back now and shudder at where I got myself, yet I can assure you that I at the time considered myself pretty happy (and in truth, most of the time I was but addiction is addiction and it was breaking me down) and hardly ever knowingly poured myself that first glass with anything other than free will. I say “hardly ever” because there were indeed times when I did pour it and felt such sorrow, not understanding how I got there. Free will, my arse, yet that’s what I mostly believed. Those darker moments when reality came a’knockin’ I quickly knocked back the drinks to knock it right back to the back of my mind.
I hate to be a doom’s day prophet, but I fear there is very little we can do if our minds turn on us. For that reason, it’s good to have a bag of tricks and playing the tape forward is a good one to keep handy. Don’t give any thought to the first part and those lovely images, it’s the end destination you need to remember and it’s always the same one.
Today I’m not going to drink.