He’s a Real Tool

Alkie Cravens

Fifty Chosen Articles:
Number Eighteen.
Originally posted in February 2016.

“I am not my addiction. I can give it funny names, question it, challenge it, and choose to defeat it.”

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!

For a PDF of this article, click here: He’s a Real Tool.


7 Responses

  1. Brien O. says:

    I like this and some how missed it the first time. I have been having this conversation a lot lately a few drinks will not hurt nobody’s business etc. etc. I will name my bad self and use it. This alcoholism is cunning baffling and powerful but just for today I will not drink.

    • Mike O says:

      The way I try to see the “first few drinks” is not that they’re the END but the BEGINNING of the Pandora’s Box of trouble we could get ourselves into. The biggest danger of the “first few drinks” is that they usually feel pretty harmless in the immediate moment (except maybe for the guilt) but the reality is that they allow for all the other drinks that are to inevitably come afterwards. It’s all the negotiating we do with ourselves about how to “control” it once we’ve broken through and started drinking again, except NOW it’s after having our judgement impaired and our cravings truly reawakened. It’s SO much easier to not pick up that first drink for many of us then it is to try and “control” it once we’ve already started again. However much of a “voice” we have encouraging us to drink while we’re still sober, it only gets louder and more powerful once we start drinking again. The good news is that if and when we resist that voice and use different tools to withstand those urges that usually the “voice” calms down after just a little while, especially once we have some practice and experience doing it. The “voice” is not something external. It’s just our own minds and we have control of it while we’re not drinking. The voice is still ours, not the addiction’s.

      Keep at it! The one day at a time can be hard but I can say from time and experience of my own (along with many, many others I’ve known over many years) that it does eventually get easier and better and we slowly gain more and more confidence in our ability to recognize and combat these urges when they come. Best of luck!

  2. Hilary J. says:

    I call mine “the kid in the back seat”. He used to drive me crazy, but now I can just tell him to shut up and go back to sleep.

    Great post!

  3. Lance B. says:

    Say, there is a story in the second and/or first edition of that book with which we are all familiar where the female author calls a character a “real piece of furniture”. A sponsee and I cracked up over that slang.

  4. Lance B. says:

    I too thought I had read every article published on aaagnostica “religiously” (and printed out a lot of them), but don’t remember this one. But I sure like it. My little man on the shoulder is named Hose Pepple (HP, get it?) and picturing him there helped me through some tough spots like visualizing Alkie Cravens did the author.

    This introduction to Alkie Cravens is so compelling that I wonder if handing a copy of the article to the next slipper I meet might not help them progress.

  5. bob k says:

    This is another essay of which I have no recollection. I consider myself a regular reader but it seems I’ve missed some of these. I wonder how the author is doing 5 years later.

    Fundie CA members do some similar anthropomorpizing when they talk about “the liar in my head.” Although neither a crackhead nor a fundamentalist, I relate to the analogy.

    • Joanne O. says:

      I have been asked about flicking the invisible jerk off my shoulder. And then asked to share about him at newcomers meetings. They need some humor… and a REAL TOOL.

      I retired to the Big Island of Hawaii. Great AA here, Lots of interesting Spirituality and acceptance of non-traditional, pantheistic spirituality here.

      Joanne O.

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