I stared in the mirror. I had never seen eyes as cruel as the ones that returned fire. What had happened to me? I was falling apart. I could handle that. But my marriage? That was precious. I would not allow my marriage to fall apart. It was time to buy myself a bouquet of dead flowers. I was moving on.
I grabbed some tissue paper and blew the last remaining fragments of kebab out of my nose. I sniffed. Something flew down my throat. I gagged. I heaved. There was nothing left but air. I spat into the sink, blew for the last time and then I left the bathroom and walked into the bookstore.
“Are you ok Dad?”
He was 8-years of age. He could hear me puking. I could see that he was worried, confused.
I winked at him, “It’s ok son.”
We walked over to the self-help section. I looked over to the adjoining Starbucks. My wife waved to me and motioned the words: “Do you want anything?” I did. But it wasn’t going to be found in the bottom of a coffee cup.
“No.” I mouthed back. It floated across the air and fell into the back of her bun.
I looked at the bookshelf.
“What are we looking for Dad?”
“That.” I said.
“And what’s that?” Asked my son.
“That is the book that is going to help me quit drinking.”
He hugged my legs as tight as he could. No words came out of his mouth. There had been too many vodkas and too many beers. Even an 8-year old knew that. I was moving up in the world. It was time to say goodbye to the dirty concrete basement. I was about to wade into the quiet of the stream. Only by the time I got to the other side I was going to be bone dry.
The book that I bought that day was The Easyway to Control Alcohol by Allen Carr. I tell people that the book saved my life, and that was how I quit drinking, but it wasn’t until I decided to write this post that I realised I had been wrong all along.
When I rewind to that bathroom and stare back into that face. I remember making a decision that I would do whatever was necessary to save my marriage. Months later whilst reading The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz I would learn that I had made a Fundamental Choice, or as I like to call it: The Vow.
If you learn anything from me during your caravan through sobriety, then I hope this is it; if I were to give only one piece of advice this would be it; if I could put my finger on the single reason that I was able to quit alcohol this would be it. What you are about to learn worked for me. I hope it can work for you. These lessons are not only important when it comes to quitting alcohol, but they will also become the foundation to filling up the white space once you have quit. This is a lesson for another point in time, but one that is vital if you want to remain sober.
I want to start by talking about structure.
A lot of my closest friends and family believe that I am too structured. They laugh at me. They believe that I take things too far. I am an extremist. I often receive advice that I should chill out, relax and let life flow. I am told that my structure is inflexible and that I cannot be spontaneous.
Spontaneity and flexibility is a romantic notion. It’s all very Lieutenant Uhura, and steamy windows. But the truth is, all that jazz takes me away from reaching my goals. There are no goals. There is no alignment. You won’t see too many stags with floppy antlers, too many unicorns with hornectile dysfunction.
I believe in spontaneity and flexibility, but I don’t believe they offer you any value unless they are sprung from the foundation of structure. Antlers need to be strong and horns need to be hard. In my experience once you build a solid structure – the foundation of your life – then flexibility will find it’s rightful place like salmon searching for the bears paw.
If you have a solid structure you are less likely to allow short-term distractions to take you away from the road.
“Keep to the road lads. Keep to the road.”
The last time I looked a werewolf ate the ones that veered off the road. Fuck that for a laugh.
I didn’t want to write this tonight. I felt tired. It had been a long day. I wanted to watch an episode of Hannibal instead. Without structure that’s what I would do. Flexibility and spontaneity would cast a lure into the air, catch my fat bottom lip and drag me bloodied and howling onto the couch.
Structure keeps your eye on the prize.
But what is the prize?
In The Path of Least Resistance Robert Fritz talks about the importance of Primary Choices, Secondary Choices and the Fundamental Choice (what I refer to as The Vow).
Let’s break this down.
A primary choice is a clear-cut goal or objective.
When there is no further result that can be taken beyond that choice then you can be rest assured you are making a primary choice.
Creating lists of primary choices are essential to creating the structure I talked about previously. If you think of your life as a house, then the primary choices are the main structures that are born out of your foundation.
James Altucher is a great believer in making lists. He taught me to create 10 ideas every day in order to build my idea muscle. It’s a way of unleashing creativity at will.
I want you to start acting like Altucher.
You will thank me.
For the next few days write down 10 things that you want in life. When do you stop? You don’t. Keep on going until you have exhausted everything that you want in life.
Don’t write in the negative. Don’t write what you think society thinks you should have. If you don’t want your wife to treat you like a child anymore then write it like this.
I want my wife to treat me like a man.
Not like this.
I don’t want my wife to treat me like a child.
A primary choice needs to be something that YOU want to turn into a reality. Do not think of something that someone else wants. You are about to embark on a long and arduous journey, let’s make sure that when we reach the summit it will be worth it. It’s time to be a little bit selfish. It’s time to look after number one.
Once you have created all of your lists you will have a set of primary choices that if fulfilled will give you freedom and happiness. Your life will be truly wonderful. But first go through the list and ask yourself if you really want these things and start crossing off the shit that you wrote because you couldn’t be bothered thinking too hard.
Those primary choices form the primary structure of your new life. They are the main structures of your house. They are your skeletal frameworks. Now it’s time to talk about secondary choices.
Secondary choices are actions you take that support your Primary Choice. I like to call this part of the work ‘Chunking It Down’. Essentially, you choose a primary choice that is most important for you to enact change. Then working backwards from a state of perceived completion you note down all the actions that you need to take to ensure the primary choice is realised.
Primary Choice: I want to quit drinking.
Secondary Choices: I am going to buy some books on recovery, I am going to join a recovery forum, I am going to hire a coach, I am going to stop stocking alcohol in the house, I am going to drive to social events, I am going to change my route home from work so I don’t pass the liquor store, and I am going to tell everyone close to me to support me because it’s going to be tough.
Using the housing metaphor think of Secondary Choices as the bricks. Using the skeletal metaphor think of them as your veins, arteries, ligaments and muscle.
You cannot take positive and meaningful Secondary Choices without solid Primary Choices. This is the difference between a person of structure and a person of flowing joyfulness. Primary Choices are solid; the Secondary Choices strengthen them even more. Also, as you tick off more and more Secondary Choices your Primary Choice becomes more clearly defined. This creates excitement, which in turn creates momentum. Without momentum we are stuck on the coach sifting through the ripples trying to find the remote.
This is the most important piece of the puzzle. This is, in my opinion, the Holy Grail of sobriety. I believe when you make The Vow – or what Fritz calls Fundamental Choice – you have already won. Everything that happens from that point on leads to the inevitable conclusion that you will be a success in whatever you have chosen.
The Vow is not a choice. The Vow is a decision to change the course of your life. You are choosing a different life orientation, or a new state of being. This is the foundation of your house; this is the beating heart of your body. This is the Champions League, the World Cup and the Oscars. It’s the single most important discovery of your life.
Once you take The Vow nothing can stop you.
Once you take The Vow you have momentum.
Once you take The Vow you stop being passive and start taking action.
When I picked up that book, in that bookstore, after wiping the blood and puke from my jaw I had already taken The Vow. It was to create the most beautiful and loving marriage that I could. At that moment my marriage was falling apart. I wanted to fix that more than anything. I knew that to do that I needed a new state of being, I needed to be a new man, I needed a new life orientation.
I took The Vow.
Now I needed Primary Choices that were in line with my Vow. I needed to start building the structure of this new state of being. The first Primary Choice I made was to quit alcohol. The first Secondary Choice that supported the Primary Choice was to buy that book.
Can’t you see!
I had quit before I had turned a page.
Once I made The Vow I stopped fucking about. I wasn’t going to hope that things were going to change. I wasn’t going to mope around bemoaning the loss of booze. This is why I abhor the willpower method. When I see people trying so hard to quit and keep failing it’s because they haven’t taken the Vow.
Being a non-drinker is a completely different state of being than being a drinker that wants to quit.
I will say that again as it’s so important.
BEING A NON-DRINKER IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT STATE OF BEING THAN BEING A DRINKER THAT WANTS TO QUIT.
The non-drinker has made The Vow. He or she is full of strength. The drinker that wants to quit has not made The Vow. They are weak. They are hoping their shit holds together against all the odds.
I WAS A NON-DRINKER BEFORE I PICKED UP THE BOOK.
I WAS A NON-DRINKER AS SOON AS I TOOK THE VOW.
I didn’t even have to read the book.
So how do you know when you have taken The Vow?
YOU WILL KNOW.
It’s a feeling.
I can’t explain it.
You will be on fire. You will be waking up in the morning desperate to make Secondary Choices and take action to fulfil them because you will be so eager, and happy to make your Primary Choice a reality.
Can’t you see the structure that we have created?
By working this way everything we do has direction. There is strength. No weakness. This is why I believe in structure. That’s not to say we don’t have fun and go with the flow on times. We do. But that fun is built on the foundation of solidity. We are creating the circumstances of our lives. We are holding the pen and we are writing the script. We do not have a hand up our ass. You are not Punch. You are not Judy.
“That’s NOT the fucking way to do it.”
When we have made The Vow we will not be swayed by internal and external factors. It’s a powerful commitment that we have made to ourselves. A commitment to be whole, healthy and free.
When we take The Vow we are taking control. We are no longer that dry lifeless leaf blown around by the wind of societal conditioning. We do not have to be like everyone else. We do not have to follow the herd. Revel in your individuality. Look in that mirror and be proud of what you see. Wipe sweat from your jaw, not puke.
And guess what happened after I made The Vow?
Guess what happened after I promised to create a beautiful and loving marriage?
She asked me for a divorce.
It was the worst period of my life.
It was like she had died.
I lost my wife.
I lost my son.
I lost my home.
I lost everything.
Do you know what I did?
I made a Vow to take control of my life. I took a Vow to live a life of freedom and happiness and I do that to this day. Once you have momentum there is no stopping you.
Think about it?
How can you live a life of freedom and happiness if you feel lethargic? You can’t. So you have to make Primary and Secondary Choices that support the new Vow. This is why after quitting drinking I quit sugar, processed foods, stopped eating meat and became vegan. It’s why I run 5k every day and swim 10 laps. It’s why I meditate twice a day. All of these choices came from that Vow.
My father wants to quit smoking. That is a Primary Choice of his. But he hasn’t taken the Vow to become healthy. You ask him about his diabetes and he will tell you he couldn’t give a fuck. He still eats and drinks all of the wrong things. He doesn’t exercise. He has no hobbies. He spends most of his time asleep. How is he ever going to stop smoking without making the Vow to be healthy? Can you imagine the momentum he could kick-start if he could learn to take the Vow?
Now it’s your turn.
Are you prepared to re-write the history of your life? From this moment forward are you prepared to take control? Are you going to stop being passive and start being aggressive? Are you going to stand up straight? Are you going to get off that couch? Are you going to throw that fucking TV set out of the window?
Are you going to take THE VOW?
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