There’s a saying in the Twelve Step program that goes something like this:
“When you’re an alcoholic many drinks are not enough and one drink is too many.”
An essential piece of AA wisdom is to never take the first drink. These words are not as DoYaThink obvious as they seem.
For a problem drinker one modest beverage too often mushrooms into a monstrous binge. Alcoholics can’t stop at one or two the way other drinkers can; usually we can’t stop until we pass out. That is why one is too many.
There is a another step in this sequence: a toxic draught that often precedes the first drink and must be avoided if one is to stay straight.
I’m talking about emotional triggers for drinking and, in particular, troubled encounters with loved ones.
We can not control the hurtful behavior of our nearest and dearest. We don’t want to stop loving them. We can, however, protect ourselves from other people’s craziness by not rising to the bait.
It is much easier, as we know, to not bite in the first place than to try to unhook oneself later. It is amazing how quickly a provocation will dissipate, even from someone with the power to Punk us till it hurts, if we do not allow ourselves to overreact.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to free yourself once baited? How tough to calm down once you have unleashed feelings provoked by someone you love who is acting out?
It makes sense that civilization’s most memorable myths include tales of wicked genies swirling out of bottles and primordial evil pouring out of Pandora’s box. There is ancient wisdom in the ubiquitous advice to “keep a lid on it” “rise above it” or “take it easy”.
My favorite variation on this theme: “Don’t give it energy.”
The question is, how to stay above the fray? To be truthful I don’t always stifle myself. This week, for instance, I dodged two fights only to slam into another provocation and completely lose my cool. I ran screaming through my house begging God to put me out of my misery with one of the lightning bolts igniting the summer sky, then spent several hours explaining to my stunned 19-year-old that Mom was just being a Drama Queen and wasn’t going to jump out of the second story window (there’s a roof outside the second story window).
On other occasions, I have been more successful at taking a pass on the gleaming hook just barely covered with my love-junkie’s favorite bait, which is, of course, delicious affection.
Here are a few things that have worked for me. Perhaps they can help you, too:
*A brilliant life coach once advised me to imagine a pause button in my hand. Other mental health gurus speak of visualizing a stop sign. When I feel a reaction coming on, I use these tools to simply stop myself.
*Instead of verbal expression, I endeavor to fall silent, stay calm and breath deeply. I try to focus on how to take care of myself rather than how to punish or change someone else.
*I hang up the phone or if the encounter is live and in person I find a way to absent myself. Remember: powder rooms are meant to double as emotional bomb shelters. That’s why they have fans loud enough to mask heavy sobbing and guest towels strong enough to remedy the worst makeup malfunction. Also bear in mind: A hand-carved custom-milled mahogany front door is not just a status symbol. It is meant to be used, preferably after telling an ingenious whopper and offering a chipper adieu.
*I pray like hell to my Higher Power to help me slow my pulse and unclench my jaw. Removing the focus from the other person and myself and placing both of us into the hands of God offers immediate relief. Secondly, it helps me rise above the situation and stay there until it’s safe to come back down.