You probably already know that you ‘should’ give up alcohol or drug abuse, but this will probably not be enough to help you break free. The problem is that, for most people, the word ‘should’ could easily be translated to mean ‘not going to’. It means that you feel expected to do something but part of the life of addiction is failing to live up to expectations. The only really hope you have of breaking free of this downward spiral is to want to be sober more than anything else in the world.
There are probably hundreds of things that you feel you should be doing. This could include eating the right food, exercising every day, spending more time with family, getting to bed early, and being more productive at work. The things you should be doing are probably going to be there making you feel guilty, and this will just be giving you another excuse to drink or use drugs. The reality is that the word ‘should’ is actually a little disempowering because it can lower your motivation and fuel self-loathing.
It is doubtful that you would be able to break free of addiction just because you think you should. What is more likely to happen is that you’ll feel like you are trapped in a battle because what you should be doing is in conflict with what you are actually doing. Over time, this inner-battle reduces your self-efficacy (your belief in your ability to achieve something), which just makes it harder to break free.
Words like ‘should’ can feel harmless, but this is not the reality of the situation. The words you use are going to affect your behaviour, so you need to be careful about what you allow in your normal vocabulary.
People who feel they ‘should’ stop drinking or using drugs spend a lot of time ‘trying’ to quit. This is problematic because trying to stop is completely different than actually stopping – in fact, if you are trying it means you are not stopping. This is easier to understand with an example. If somebody told you to throw a dart at the bull’s-eye on a dartboard, you goal would not be to actually hit this target, but to get close enough so you can say you are trying. You could spend the rest of your life trying to break free of addiction but might not see any real progress.
There are many people struggling with addiction who suffer from a condition known as demand resistance. It usually occurs with individuals who have grown up in an environment where they had to deal with unrealistic expectations from parents – they start to rebel against all demands put on them as a type of coping mechanism. If you are dealing with demand resistance, your automatic reaction to any ‘should’ thoughts is to just do the opposite.
If you are serious about breaking free of addiction, you need to completely remove the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary. You need to have a powerful reason to quit and doing it just because it seems like the right thing to do is unlikely to be enough. A much better approach is to think of what you really want from recovery, so you can start to develop the motivation to change your life. You can then move forward feeling positive and determined to give up alcohol and drugs – you will not be trying because you know that this is something you really want, and you are now ready to do whatever it takes.