I’m a procrastinator. It’s actually a miracle I’m writing this article, but I owe my success with writing to the fact that I learned to get started with drinking less. Dealing with my drinking has helped me learn to figure out where to start with other things.
Goals are a difficult thing when you procrastinate a lot. I have goals. I have plans. I have a rich imagination of all the things I could do, but don’t. Sometimes I do manage to start, but finishing is incredibly hard. I want things, but somehow over the years I got used to wanting as a permanent state. If immediate gratification isn’t possible, I’m more content to keep wanting than taking on the scary and often frustrating job of actually doing. The real underlying fear behind most procrastinaton is that I want to avoid the terrible feeling of trying and failing, so I never start.
When it came to dealing with my drinking, I always told myself I should start today. I should sober up, learn to deal with my feelings and change my life. I told myself this when I struggled with a hangover in the morning, but by the end of the day I’d be back to drinking. How did that happen? Why was it so hard to get started?
The problem I was facing was that I didn’t have a goal I could accomplish in a single day. By the end of the day – as my life went unchanged, my urge to drink still high, and my ability to sort out my emotions was roughly the same as it had been 8 hours previously – I’d already failed these lofty goals. That failure, day after day, week after week, wore me down. After a while, even as I told myself I’d change, I didn’t really think I could do it. I was losing faith in myself. It didn’t help that everything I read about quitting drinking assumed that I had to stop drinking forever. I already felt ambivalent about sobriety as a goal, but I felt even worse trying to imagine never taking another drink when simply getting through a single evening was too much for me. Of course, for some people they break down this goal to one day at a time, and that works just fine for them. I needed a slightly different approach.
The change that worked for me was to change my goal to drinking less. It’s a vague goal, and rather annoyingly so to some people, but for me it was a perfect goal to have. For starters, I actually wanted to drink less. I didn’t just wish that I wanted to, I actually wanted to. I wanted to enjoy some wine, get drunk and silly from time to time, but without the hangover and the grind of being a daily drunk. Less was perfect. But what was less going to look like?
I was a daily drinker, so I totaled up my drinking for the week and set ‘less than that’ as my goal. I knew I’d drink more than I should on some days, but I wanted to pace myself. Each day, I focused on slowing the pace. I cut back slowly, taking opportunity each day to find ‘less’ to drink. Some days that meant I started a bit later. Sometimes I stopped a little sooner. It was a rare day that I drank nothing at all. But I drank less, and on the very first I had succeeded – I had cut back (slightly) on my drinking. I still drank too much for the sake of my health, but I had success on day 1. I had success on week 1. I had success on my first month. It turned out that having a goal where I could succeed more than I could fail was the key to change.
I’ve used this method in other aspects of my life. I wanted to ‘get in shape’ so I used the same, vague kind of goal for fitness.
That’s my goal. Just to somehow be more active. Getting ‘in shape’ sounds like ‘being sober’ – I suppose it’s the end result that I might approach after a few months, but the goal for the day had to begin with now. For fitness, that started with ‘get outside and walk around.’ That turned into my effort to walk to the store for an errand every day. It takes 5-10 minutes to get there, so that gave me 10-20 minutes of walking per day. After a couple of weeks, I added a few longer walks, little trips where I would have normally used transit or taken the car. I built the walking time into my schedule and found that I could handle the 30 minutes to an hour quite well, and I got better shoes to support my knees while I did all this activity. After a few long walks, I realized I could probably do some light jogging. Pretty soon, I had a regular jogging habit in place but found it was a bit boring, so I got new headphones so I could listen to music while I jogged. Then I found podcasts were more interesting, and that helped motivate me. Eventually I realized I could jog to the gym and try something different there. As it stands, I’m not sure if I’m ‘in shape’ by most people’s standards, but I’m definitely more active on a regular basis than I used to be. And even when I fall off the fitness wagon, or I’m sick and can’t do much for a week, I know how to get started.
My drinking is pretty much following the same pattern. I drink less. I don’t always drink sensibly, but I drink a LOT less than I used to. On the tough weeks, when I’m having a hard time and notice that I’m drinking more, I remind myself that this is part of the bigger goal of handling my emotions better. That one takes the most time, I find. I can still say with confidence that I drink less during a period of depression now than I used to, even if it’s more than my current average. As long as my average is still LESS, I’m happy with my success. And if I feel like it’s not less, at least I know where to begin. I’m gathering tools to help me along the way. I’m writing this article instead of nursing a hangover, actually. Last night was tough but I managed to take a hot bath and play games on my phone. A few months ago I also got a mat and a few handweights for those times when I can’t make it to the gym, so I did a few stretches and some pushups. If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d ever choose a workout and a bath instead of a drinking session, I would probably have laughed at you. I might wish that I’d be the kind of person who did that, but I couldn’t imagine how I would get to that point. The answer is that I got here slowly, by patiently finding a path that worked each small step of the way, gently moving forward and not feeling afraid when I got pushed backward. I think procrastination always overwhelmed me when I tried to take a small step on the hard road, but what I’ve learned is that it’s easier to take big strides on the easy road. I cover just as much distance in the long run, and I can be successful today on that path.