Sober tools: what helps, and what doesn’t
(Stop fucking around with houses built out of straw)
M (day 1 sober) writes: Belle, I keep trying all these things to help me be sober and nothing works. I just spent $100 on vitamins. I’ve been to the one-day, quit-drinking workshop. I signed up for a French class. You see, I’ve always wanted to go to Paris and with all the money I’m not spending on booze, I could buy a plane ticket.
You can hear M’s thinking, you can totally see what she’s saying, and it seems logical, doesn’t it. And my reply would be: “If you are continuously sober, then yes, whatever you’re doing is working. Keep doing it.”
But if you are not continuously sober — and I mean if you reset after 2 days, or 20 days, or 200 days — then what you’re doing isn’t quite enough to keep you sober. So you add in more sober tools.
Argh, I’m on Day 1 again. I’m enrolled in French class. Why isn’t that enough?
French class is something you can hang in the space that booze used to occupy. But taking a French class is not a sober tool.
Sober tools are things that help you to be sober.
Imagine this. You’re one of the three little piggies who is building a sober house, and wolfie comes to blow your sober house down.
You build your sober house out of straw or sticks or tarps or wood, and wolfie blows it over. Maybe not right away, maybe not tomorrow, but as soon as there’s a strong wind, as soon as there’s a death or a celebration or a runaway teenager or Sheila in accounting pulls her shit again and refuses to do the cheque run before end of day on Friday.
Doesn’t take much, then wolfie is at the door. Blowing. Sober house falls down.
But let’s be real, wolfie only has to knock on the door of your house made of straw to knock it over. To the house of wood, he’ll knock, and when that doesn’t work, he’ll add in a lung full of hot air and a bit of whining. Doesn’t take long.
(And really, you built a sober house out of straw? You were wishing. You’re were hoping you could do the minimum. You knew it wasn’t going to be enough.)
To the house of stone, though, the house built out of sober stones set careful on a sober cement foundation — yeah, that house — well, wolfie will knock on your door. And when that doesn’t work, he’ll try to blow you over with convincing arguments as to why you need to Drink Right Now. You’ll add in a bit more cement and wave to him through the window. He’ll look for cracks, but you’ve got double-paned glass and a bug screen.
Now this sober stone house, this is your life.
Your life is worth more than the minimum. It’s worth more than straw and tarps.
The soul of you, the essence of you, the real you that isn’t anesthetized, the real you that is empathetic and helpful and has good boundaries — that you deserves to be guarded in a solid stone structure.
What helps to build a wolfie-proof, stone sober house?
Advice from an architect. Talking to the girl at Home Depot about the length of the nails and what’s worked on similar projects.
Pouring a cement foundation. Going as slowly as required to not have to pour the foundation, dig it up, pour it again, and dig it up again. What a waste of time that is. Do the sober foundation, yes, but if you do it too quickly, do it too rashly, try to do it with inadequate cement, or do it while doing too many other things at the same time — well, you know what happens.
You can see this example clearly when we’re talking about cement.
The colour of the paint, and the carefully selected tri-season-blooming flowers, the stony garden walks, and the breeding fruit trees do not build a strong house.
The French classes and spin classes and yoga classes and pottery classes and vitamins don’t help you change your behaviour. They’re wonderful (and necessary and lovely) things to add to your life. They are.
But they’re not sober tools.
A sober tool is something that helps you to be sober. Not paint colour.
You want to paint the room, but you haven’t built the room. You want to choose the light fixture, but the wiring isn’t in yet. You want to focus on the details all around THE THING.
The thing you want is to be sober. And so you’re online spending hours choosing the right French class?
You just spent $100 on multivitamins because that should help you be sober?
What if you’d spent that time and that $100 on actual sober supports. You don’t though, because wolfie is a sly fucker, taunting perfectly nice people with bullshit logic like vitamins and French classes.
OK. So sober tools. They’re things that help you be sober. That would include anything that directly makes it more likely that you (a) remember that being sober is a good idea, (b) soothes irritation, (c) helps you be accountable, (d) checks in on you, (e) reminds you what you’re doing when you forget, (f) reinforces the idea of the sober foundation and why you need it because you forgot again, (g) makes it possible for you to not drink.
A French class isn’t a sober tool. Just like your drinking husband isn’t a sober support.
Treats and rewards work for being sober. Accountability works. Actual sober support works. Planning replacement drinks works. Listening to sober audios works. Reaching out works.
(Do you think you can read books about pouring cement foundations and have the book be enough? Is a one-day workshop enough? How about a forum of other people on day 1 of cement pouring? Why are you walking around outside THIS THING acting like you don’t know what to do? You know what to do. You know that if you ask for support from people who can actually support you, you can get this done. You know that if you turn and face the resources and education and accountability that sober support provides, that you’ll learn from people who’ve done it 2,593 times that you’ll save time, feel better, and have your cement poured sooner.)
And don’t get me wrong.
If you’ve built a house out of straw AND IT’S WORKING FOR YOU then keep doing what you’re doing.
But if the wind keeps blowing you over, you’ve gotta look at having some new tools.
And paint isn’t a tool.
Neither is a French class.
Thanks for reading. Can you click on the little heart thing? ❤️ Helps people find the stuff I write. Merci.
Belle Robertson, 4.5 year sober, blogs and writes and records daily sober audios. She’s been sober penpals with 2,593 people, and works as a text designer, baker & caterer. She does speak French. Don’t hold it against her.