Sobriety is a difficult problem that demands counterintuitive or psycho-logical thinking
Today marks 16 years since having my last alcoholic drink.
16 years sober — I suppose.
I used to do harder drugs but stopped using those maybe 17 years ago. I frankly don’t remember the day.
The last day I drank was quite unremarkable. In fact, no one around me knew that I was actually violating probation by drinking.
My mind was not made up yet.
The more eventful moment came a few weeks later when I woke up in the fetal position on the floor of my kitchen.
I don’t know how I got there. But I knew why I was there.
That was my day of surrender.
I was not surrendering to not drinking — I was surrendering to living.
When I explain this to people today, especially sober people or people in recovery, I get quizzical looks. I also get reprimanded — directly and indirectly.
Many roll their eyes. Some say “whatever.” And others proclaim, “Okay, keep telling yourself that lie.”
For these people, the only logical connection to my life today and my life before my last drink was the drink.
It was not the drink.
Society was exerting two strong forces against me … the force of logic and that of anchoring.
The logical force dictates that if I quit drinking my life would naturally get better.
No; that’s not how life works. Some of life gets better because alcohol for many creates friction and builds barriers to progress and success.
There is, however, a half-life or a set of diminishing returns after one gets sober.
16 years later, my not drinking alcohol has less effect on my goals than it did in July 2005.
Yet, society considers the effect a constant. It is not.
The anchoring force might be more evil and destructive to people’s lives.
An anchoring heuristic is where our thinking is set upon a particular reference point from which subsequent judgments are influenced and made.
If sobriety is the anchoring point, then all decisions are made through that lens.
Had I attached myself to that anchor, which society — including my family, friends, sponsors, and attorney — demanded I do, I wouldn’t have gone back to college when I did.
Odds are I wouldn’t have been nudged toward law school, subsequently proving that a convicted felon could become licensed to practice law.
My path to sobriety was not conventional. I did not follow conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom was the rational path.
The rational path restricts the opportunity for magic.
I did not know it at the time, but I was using psycho-logic.
The great ad exec, Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy, describes psycho-logic in his book Alchemy.
“The human mind does not run on logic any more than a horse runs on petrol.”
Human beings are not logical or rational animals — no matter what economists try to tell you.
We are highly irrational. Behavioral economists cheer.
A + B = C is perfectly fine when making an argument and designing a machine. But that is not the equation of human life.
When it comes to sobriety and addiction, society, and pretty much all of treatment seek rationality to this problem.
You drink a lot. And your life is filled with negative consequences. Stop drinking. And your life will have less negative consequences.
As the narrative goes ….
You drink a lot. You need treatment. Go away from your life for 30 days. Come back and change everything. Wait, don’t change everything. Go to 12 step meetings for the rest of your life. Don’t make any big decisions in the first year of sobriety. Life will get better … if you work it.
That is a rational approach to a highly illogical problem.
When I was 3 months sober, it became clear to me that going to a bunch of meetings and working a couple part-time jobs wasn’t getting me anywhere.
I decided a return to college would present the best opportunity for a reimagined future.
Almost everyone in my life said, “Don’t do it, you’ll relapse.”
They were anchored in sobriety. They were applying rationality. They were promoting safety.
This is the conventional wisdom applied to millions everyday.
The path I chose optimized for magic.
It introduced me to a professor, a former public defender. She suggested law school.
The spark of a real purpose in life was lit.
A natural reactor since.
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