He’s a Real Tool

Alkie Cravens

By Joanne O.

I call him “Alkie, Alkie Cravens”. I invented him.

And you might say he invented the alcoholic me. He is a cartoon character that I created to personify the physical cravings, automatic thoughts, habits, self-defeating behaviors, and character defects that we eventually come to recognize as our alcoholic thinking. In practical application, summarizing all of that insight into the reasons we drink was just too unwieldy, when confronted by the pressing challenges of life.

So I just call him “Alkie, Alkie Cravens”. He’s that little voice in your head that always leads you astray. He says things like “See, your (insert appropriate authority figure) was right. You can’t do it. You tried, you failed, Big Surprise. You might as well have a drink; it will take the pressure off.” What he doesn’t say is that HE is the one applying the pressure, pulling your strings, and pushing your buttons. He knows them all very well, he was already lurking when they were installed.

Go ahead, name your Bad Self. So that you can begin to separate your better self, and your future, from it. So that you can change, and grow, and finally quit.

The first step is awareness, just listening to the manipulative justifications and convoluted rationalizations that he hopes to slip past you without question. “Of course you’ll go to the bar, it’s two hours until your flight takes off.” He is completely in charge of Auto-Pilot. Hit pause momentarily to remember what happens when you sit at the bar, and review all of the reasons you want to stay sober. I start simply, “No, I don’t drink anymore.” He loves a challenge. “You don’t have to order a drink to have the shrimp, but after being singled out by the baggage screener like that, who could blame you?” Now it is time for a firm affirmation. “I don’t even want a drink. I’m going to the food court. I am just hungry.” He may insist. Then tell him where to get off. That you are not going to be manipulated by a sleazy little jerk like him anymore. That is usually all that is required.

If he is still persistent I sometimes literally flick him off my shoulder. I usually use my middle finger, but that’s just because I am kind of immature for a 61 year old woman.

Alkie is absolutely obsessed, since his only purpose in life is to drive us to drink, his very survival depends on it. He is cunning, baffling, and loves it when people say he is powerful.

I visualize him sitting on my shoulder, whispering his manipulations, “You can’t just ignore that trigger! It’s your trigger after all!!!” in my ear. Such a Drama Queen, there is no such thing as a little problem to Mr. Cravens. No, every problem is huge and justifies a drink immediately.

He is as well versed as we are (since he lives in our heads) about our own reservations about aspects of the program. “They don’t know what they are talking about. Just plain bad advice. Just read that chapter To Wives yet again. Remember how much that archaic nonsense helped when we were married to Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde?” He knows exactly how to pick away at our resolve and undermine the support systems for our sobriety.

And don’t even get him going on the God stuff. He knows the oppressive religiosity kept me out of the rooms for over 20 years. And out of many meetings to this day.

He is still working on his B.S. in irrelevant babble after all. When he gets especially pushy, I imagine I am Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, “You talkin’ to me, Alkie?” Okay, so 61 with less than a year of sobriety. Maturity will come with ongoing sobriety, from what I have observed in the rooms.

At first, he was loud, obnoxious, pulling my strings, and playing my cravings with glee. Once he’s been recognized as the nemesis he is, confronted and shut down regularly, he becomes more subdued for a while. I believe that has to do with abstinence, with not stimulating the neuropathways to the receptor sites in our brains that create our very real physical cravings. Or maybe he just gives up after a while.

But he is always lurking, waiting for an unguarded moment or an overwhelming fear, waiting to rush in to comfort us, offer some familiar numbness, some temporary oblivion to make everything OK. “Relaxxx… you deserve it after what you just went through.” He tempts, and entices, cajoles and ruminates on the injustices of our little world ad nauseum. He never forgets an insult, or a slight. But when it comes to taking responsibility, he has total amnesia.

In a meeting recently, a young woman tearfully confessed to relapsing yet again. She collapsed in tears of shame, guilt, and contrition. She said “I hate myself”. Don’t hate yourself. Hate that little voice in your head that won that round. Shame and guilt are just more material for Alkie’s routine. It happened, deal with it. Use it, don’t waste it. Learn from it, so he won’t get the best of the better you again.

So I shared next. What I learned from my last relapse. What my little nemesis was whispering in my ear right before that. Playing on my frustrations and insecurities. “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me…” What I wish I had said and done to shut him up, instead of drinking. We can ruminate for hours about some petty conversation at work. So go ahead and pick this imaginary conversation apart to really learn from it. So that he doesn’t trick us with the same rationalizations ever again.

When I confessed my LAST relapse at my home group, they clapped for my return. I understand that ritual, but Alkie was so thrilled that he preened for the ladies and took a bow. He thought they were acknowledging his triumph. I told you he’s a real tool. After a couple more weeks of confession and counting days, I announced that I would not be announcing my relapse anymore because I don’t believe in positive reinforcement for negative behavior. Or in giving the little jerk the satisfaction of acknowledging his momentary victory over my better self ever again.

I am not my addiction. I can give it funny names, question it, challenge it, and choose to defeat it. Just because Alkie tells me to do something stupid doesn’t mean I have to act on it. Now I recognize his subtle hiss and flick him off, tell him off, or question his faulty premise. Every time I say no to his cunning, baffling B.S., it strengthens my resolve and clarifies my commitment to my sobriety. By personifying my cravings and alcoholic thinking I was able to enlist my innate stubbornness to challenge the automatic loop that always ended, eventually, with a hangover. Now, there is something really satisfying about flicking him off my shoulder, and right out of my head.

Pass it on…. He’ll hate that!


10 Responses

  1. Manoel C. says:

    I´m a 60 year-old guy, sober for just about ten months. This here is to inform you that your sticky friend Alkie Cravens has a distant relative here in Brasília. I named him Lula Fissura and he´s just left the room as I was finishing your article. Said he needs some air.


  2. Kimberley S says:

    I love this way of describing addiction. I wish I’d had this mental weapon to use when I got sober. I was able to use a similar behaviour when I finally, a few years after getting sober, I quit the cigarettes. I named him “mother f–ker” and every time he whispered in my ear I would say “die you little mother f–ker, die”. Not very mature but it worked for me. I love being booze and cigarette free. Thanks for the great story Joanne O. Personifying the addiction is very powerful and I wonder why this idea isn’t talked about more.

  3. Paul H. says:

    Thanks Joanne for this story. I’m learning how to befriend my disease and seek out the real motive that it has for me. For me, the disease has been about distracting me from what I don’t want to face in my life. Trouble is, after a while the disease itself was creating more that I didn’t want to face. Working the steps, asking for help from experienced members of AA, and putting their suggestions into action has helped me to get and stay sober for a long time, as well as get to the place where I can see that this disease is just a messed-up part of my innate creativity. Befriending the disease and using real program stuff (not supplications to invisible friends in the sky) has allowed me to permit the disease to take on a new role in my life as a reinforcement of creativity and curiosity. In the process, no longer is it necessary to fight the disease, which, of course, is a losing proposition.

    • Lisa says:

      This recalls the kids who battle their cancer cells by mentally blasting them as in a video game.

      My higher power is the life force itself. I want to be healthy, my better brain keeps pushing me in that direction. My damaged brain part wants to “have one once in a while”. Yeah, right. Being unable to drink moderately on a consistent basis, I try to just dig up that “weed/thought” before it gets too big to pull. The longer I ignore it, the worse it gets.

      Funny…I’ve been working on a real dandelion that had been undisturbed there for many years: I shoveled out 15″ of soil to dig out the root and it still comes back. I will keep digging further down. And, just like recovery, there are chemicals to resort to, if necessary! It’s a good reminder that old problems take time and perseverance to resolve.

  4. Mary M says:

    Thanks Joanne, I could so relate. I would call it Monster and he would wake up (still does infrequently) stretch his arms out and demand to be fed. Screaming sometimes. Voracious appetite. I would do boring things to put him back to sleep. AA meetings, talk to my sponsor, go for a walk, write a story, sing a song.

  5. Patrick says:

    This bastard comes from a big family, I’ll tell you that. I know his cousin, we hang out on a regular basis. I call him DrunkVoice, and it’s his job to be my Lower Power.

    He’s annoying as hell, but he’s really useful. See, when he pipes up and starts whispering his lies in my ear, it’s like an intruder alarm. It tells me that there is something present that poses a danger to me.

    What is it, you wee bastard? What makes you think I’ll buy your line of bullshit? What is it you see?

    Is it because I am pissed off at something that happened? Hmm…I didn’t realize that I had some anger boiling below the surface. Let’s have a better look at it.

    Maybe. You think I’m bored. You could be right. Let’s get out of the house and go do something.

    Maybe you’re keeping me company because I am lonely and don’t ever realize it. Thanks for the tip. Now beat it, I like to hang out with a better class of being than you are. Where’s my phone?

    That’s right, you little shit. I am not your slave…in fact, it’s YOU that works for ME. Now crawl back under your rock, I have things I need to do, and you’re an annoyance. I will see you next time you perceive a vulnerability. It’s your job to point them out. That’s when I fix them…MY way, not your way.

  6. Dan V says:

    Thanks Joanne for a great way to separate yourself from your addiction. I’m not my addiction any more, unless I choose to listen to the voice and in my case the voice’s name is Don and sometimes he still wins a few but I keep killing the bastard one day at a time.

  7. Beth says:

    Great article, Joanne. We are not the problem. Addiction is the problem. In AlAnon they teach that right up front – love the person with the disease, hate the disease. We don’t get that same message in AA. For someone already full of self-loathing, it was a low blow to be told I was the problem because I was selfish, self-centered, egotistical, and full of defects of character. I love that you told the relapser not to hate herself but to hate that little voice that is not her instead.

    I wish I could post a cartoon here. It shows a distraught woman wringing her hands. The speech balloon says, “I’ve got to stop drinking like this!” The one on the other side says, “Don’t listen to her. She’s drunk.”

    I’ve heard the lingering of the insanity after sobriety described as, “I quit drinking and got the monkey off my back, but the circus is still in town.” Alkie is your cast of circus characters. After a while we learn to laugh at them and admire their efforts while peacefully coexisting.

    Thanks for your share.

  8. Dave B says:

    Either Alkie Cravens OR what? Answer: That inner resource… that alter ego to Alkie Cravens… that jiminy cricket… that following the tape to the end… that flicking Alkie off our shoulder with our middle finger before he gets started.

    I use the inner resource and it mutes Alkie before he gets out much of an argument. Reading this excellent article presents the method I use from the opposite point of view. Thanks for the thoughts.

  9. Joanne O says:

    I love the circus idea, may have to work up a new routine myself. My brother responded that he doesn’t know Alkie, but his brother, Nico has thwarted his attempts to quit smoking for years. And a friend who is in Overeaters Anonymous says she knows his sister, Cookie Cravens way too well! This Sobriety thing may turn out to be fun after all. Joanne

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