Sometimes you press the send button and instantly regret it. You’ve reacted to something said about you. Or maybe you’re upset about work. Electronic communication is now at our fingertips. We don’t need to wait until we meet somebody face-to-face. This has its advantages but it also means that we can sometimes be impetuous and we don’t think through carefully before we press send.
Before we know it, we’ve acted and responded on impulse. Once done it’s done. It can’t be undone. It's already gone and it’s become part of our history. It may have consequences, whatever regret we have, and we will have to get on with it. We didn’t stop to think and we didn’t deliberate enough before acting. The result could be a lost job or friendship.
It's the same for an alcoholic. He picks up the drink. He's said he won't do it again. But he breaks his promise often without thinking much about it. It's gone and it can’t be undone. It leads to feelings of regret and failure. And the pattern is repeated.
Somebody once gave me a piece of advice about thinking things through. We were talking about having arguments at work and wanting to resign. He said that he would not react immediately. He would go back home to think it through. Then he would come back the next day. If he still felt like resigning then he would go home and think it through again.
I’ve kept his advice on many past occasions when I’ve thought about resigning! Don’t send the email today – see how you feel tomorrow.
Unfortunately, we don’t always act in that way. We all have good intentions. We map out the future as we would like to see it. We all have hope. But we live in the present moment. We all live in the Now. Some of us crave satisfaction now and don’t want to wait for the greater reward in the Not Yet.
Augustine was a sex addict and famously prayed “grant me chastity and continence but not yet”. He went on to say, “I was afraid that you might hear my prayer too quickly, and that you might too rapidly heal me of the disease of lust which I preferred to satisfy rather than suppress”, (Confessions, Book VIII). Augustine knew what he ought to do and what would be better for him to do, but he preferred the Now to the Not Yet.
I was the same. I acknowledged that I had a problem with my drinking and I accepted that life would be better without it. But I kept slipping back. I tried every trick in the book. I tried rationing alcohol units. I tried having dry days – “I won’t have a drink today”. But the result was always the same. The bingeing resumed, there were never dry days, and the downward slide continued.
Why do some of us put such weight on instant gratification? The addiction literature is full of possible answers and there is not the space to list them here. Is it rational for alcoholics to continue to drink when knowing it is bad for them? Or is the ‘choice’ in some way taken away from them by impulse and processes in the brain? The puzzle is that we sometimes even plan ahead to indulge. Indeed, part of the ‘pleasure’ is the anticipation.
We all live in the here and now. We are not perfect. The alcoholic knows he is not perfect. But we live in hope. We can build hope into alcohol treatment and through the encouragement of others, including family and close friends. Hope bears on our present actions. It shows its fruits but we continue to live between the Now but Not Yet.
We should not dwell on the past. Relapse is a common part of the alcoholic’s journey. We all have setbacks.
I've always been in a restless search for peace. I’ve been aware of this restlessness through the stages of my past life and there is no doubt that it played a part in my drinking. Although I’ve been sober for more than 20 years, I’m often still restless. The difference today is that I believe I know the source of peace. But I continue to live between the Now and the Not Yet in hope.