Put The Plug In The Jug And Other Hokey Pokey’s


My experience with jug containers weren't quite as festive as this.  Think warm rose wine and a bumpy subway ride.

My experience with jug containers weren’t quite as festive as this. Think warm rose wine and a bumpy subway ride.

(I want to make it quite clear I don’t have anything against what works for another alcoholic to stay sober.  Slogans, or any other similar cantatas, can be useful at times, can be good little tidbits of recovery jingoism that can move someone through tough moments, can be the difference for a newcomer in their first few days or weeks, but slogans don’t keep me sober.  So while I might sound like I am coming down on slogan-like offerings, or just being a Downer Dave, I just present things in the context of my own experience and what I have encountered on my journey. Now we return you to the Tony Awards.)

There is a slogan-slash-phrase that one hears in the rooms – “Put the plug in the jug”.  Or if you’re a drug addict, “Don’t put the harm in the arm”.  Cute. Very Dr. Seuss, minus the creepy illustrations (I always saw one of those characters in any given Rorschach splashes). Now, if one were to take that at face value as a philosophy and as an act of virtue and ongoing practice, we’d all have a wonderful Christmas.  The only problem with this cheery slogan is that it misrepresents, misdirects and misses the whole point and idea of recovery.  Very simply stated – if I could just put the cork in the goerke, or the top on the glop, or the cap on the crap, or whatnot, and keep it on, and not worry about removing it to drink the bloody last drop until I am practically blind and not uneasy and comfortable in my skin and able to kind of talk to people I may or may not want to talk to and try to dance because I suck at dancing and want to impress someone that I don’t care if I exist or not and want the Chernobyl like rot gut tension in my innards to unwind and know what love and feeling connected to the world feels like, then I wouldn’t need any sort of recovery program or plan of action.

Capisce?

No, sorry, I said "Rorschach".  But thanks for playing!

No, sorry, I said “Rorschach”. But thanks for playing!

I recall one of the counselors at my treatment center tossing out that slogan during an impassioned talk,  as if it were fact, that if we just stopped drinking, we’d be fine.  I know that he was getting to a greater point, and never made that his elocution epicenter, so I understood it in a holistic sense.  And so while I never thought much of what he had mentioned at that time, it’s been one of the things that crosses my mind now and then as I encounter folks on their own paths, as I see others strewn upon the wayside of this thing we call recovery. I think about it when I hear someone in the room state it as a declaration of demarcation between the right way and the wrong way of doing things.  I think about it when someone can’t stop drinking no matter what and have nothing to fall on except an inadequate rhyming rallying cry.

I had no problem putting the plug in the jug.  Easy pickin’s.  But it was in not unplugging it that was the true fly in the ointment.  Stopping is easy.  Staying stopped is the tricky dance.  A deadly one, like the Macarana or Lambada.  You see, if it were that easy, then we could declare alcoholism a curable illness and move onto the plight of the near extinction of the Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral. But clearly we know it goes much deeper than this platitude.  Recovery, for this alcoholic, is more than just catch phrases and inspirational quotes from philosophers and spiritual gurus.  While helpful at times, their gossamer-like strands are unable to anchor me to true sobriety.    I needed to plunge further into something that would shake myself to the core and bring about a change that would effectively remove the need and want for alcohol.   Treat the causes, not the symptoms.  Slogans flirt with the symptoms.

Slogans like "hurry hard!" helped us win the big curling championship back in the day.  I am the one with the broom.

Slogans like “hurry hard!” helped us win the big curling championship back in the college days. I am the one with the orange and green broom. Can’t miss it.

I want to get down to brass tacks here – alcoholism kills.  That is without argument.  I see and hear and read and speak to many alcoholics who struggle. Who hasn’t struggled?  No one walks in easy breezy like a detergent commercial actor and straddles that bad boy and rides off to a sober sunset in one take.  We stumble, fall, pick ourselves back up, try again, latch onto something for strength. We see what’s worked for others.  We look to a path that’s already been trodden upon.   But the one constant that I have experienced amongst those who truly struggle is when they are looking to ease the symptoms when the causes and conditions remain untouched, unexamined, undisturbed.  I drank alcohol because I liked the effects.  It made me feel like I wasn’t me any more, because I hated me, and didn’t know how to handle life.  That’s pretty much it.  Now, I can come up with some inventive ways to not pick up that drink, ways to distract myself, to tell myself the drink will do me in, to come up with time consuming tasks that take away from the picking up.

And that’s important.  Early on, I was the same.  I used to stroll the streets for hours, going to meetings after meetings, afraid to go to my apartment because I didn’t trust myself.  I was still in the grips of the grape, but not drinking.  My mind thought of drinking – often.  I read, walked, read, walked, hit meetings, read, listened to music, talked to my sponsor, walked, ate bags of cookies in one shot…all in the name of deflecting the elephant that was not only in the room, but on my head, crushing any sort of thought that didn’t involve me picking up something or doing something to get me out of self.

I'll give ya something to think about, ya treacherous little puke.  Now stop stealing ma drawers off the washin' line!

I’ll give ya something to think about, ya treacherous little vagrant! Now stop sniffin’ ma drawers off the washin’ line!

But I need something more than that.  I couldn’t live with a plug in the jug mentality.  It would have killed me.  It was draining in that short time that all I could think about was “don’t drink”.  My white knuckling hours wore on me as if I had been bathed in acid and crawled over broken Jose Cuervo glass.  I knew that I wouldn’t be able to last in such a state.  The relief I sought came as a result of doing some work, of having a plan of action, of taking a book and taking the hand from a man who had been there before and had a solution for me and talking to him.  And meeting his friends in a fellowship who had also been down that road and talking to them about what I had gone through.  Listening to their stories, and hearing them laugh and wondering why it was that I had never been interested in this sort of thing before.

There is another expression that is heard in the rooms too – it originated outside the program, so it’s not a slogan per se, but is used, and it states “Nothing changes if nothing changes”.  And that one I dig.  I can get around that one, because it states a simple fact about recovery – nothing will change in my life, in my drinking landscape, in my emotional state of being, if I don’t go about making life altering choices and changes.  And that is what I am getting at.  Putting the plug in the jug does nothing to change me, and the need and want of me wanting to drown myself in booze.  Putting the plug in the jug doesn’t address the why’s of my attempt to kill myself slowly by putting poison in my system.  Putting the plug in the jug doesn’t put any responsibility on me to get to the real issues that drag me to the bar stool or the liquor store.

Old drunken argument #1 - is he wearing an ascot or a bow?

Old drunken argument #27 – is he wearing an ascot or a bow?  Old drinking game #13 – chug when he says “Waka Waka Waka”.  I win.

Focusing on the symptoms or the immediate only works in the short term.  Yes, some are able to maintain that sort of sobriety for quite a while, years, and still not focus on the reasons for their wanting to pick up a drink. Some need not want, desire nor perhaps need to go any further.  Just the fact they are not drinking is a “win” on it’s own.  And that’s fine – for many, that’s all they desire. What I am speaking of is finding a way in which one has some sort of plan to dig a bit deeper, to have some introspection, to seek a path that suits them, to see that this is not just a surface thing.  I am not just referring to 12-steps recovery – this could be some of the other recovery programs out there, or therapy, or entire lifestyle changes, or meditation / mindfulness, or a bit of everything.

The example I often use in trying to illustrate this is if someone has an online pornography addiction (my apologies to anyone in SLA for my inexperienced treatment here!).  Sure, there are things that I could do to stay away from clicking onto those sites: keep the computer in a public space in the home, have my computer at work voluntarily monitored, remove data sharing from my phone plan, avoid any pictures with sexual imagery, jog whenever the urge to watch pornography pops up, limit my time on the computer, etc. And this might work, to some extent.  But if I am a true online pornography addict, this probably wouldn’t last too long.  The buildup might be too great and the temptation too strong.

Filth!

Filth! Provocative! A Caligula-like Orgy of The Senses!! Oh, why won’t anyone think of the children?!

And while those things might be useful in the immediate sense of cravings, it doesn’t tackle the real issues behind the addiction.  In this case, perhaps this would entail creating a new sexual ideal for oneself, understanding what it is that brings on the need to view online pornography (emotionally, psychologically, mentally), discerning the difference between physical need and spiritual / psychic relief,  building a healthy sense of self, breaking down the urges and what they really mean, etc.  In other words, tackling the bases causes for wanting to view certain things online, diffuses the need for having those little rules and restriction.  Sure they can help at first, but long time recovery no doubt would help ensure that if I were alone at home with a computer and no one to check up on me, I wouldn’t have the desire to watch online pornography in the first place.

And the same goes to the drinking.  Nothing changes if nothing changes.  If I just put the plug and the jug and do the same things I was doing before, hanging out with the same people, playing in the same playgrounds with the same playmates, thinking the same way I have always thought, keeping the same attachments to alcohol that I always had then nothing is changing.  If I don’t seek a perspective change, an emotional and psychological shift, a spiritual lift or reaffirmation, a new way of living, an acknowledgment that what I have done in the past no longer works, an internal and external renovation of sorts, then I toying with that plug…I am wondering why it is that I am jonesing for the firewater, wanting to self-medicate with the hooch, turning to something I innately know is harmful yet I know no other alternative.

Get the ladder!

Get the ladder!

For this alcoholic, I needed everything at my disposal to get the desire to drink lifted from me.  I didn’t have the ability to just not drink.  It was so ingrained in me and so strong the urge that death would have been my next stop on that train.  Just staying away from booze wasn’t an option, although I was careful where I hung out and who I hung out with early on.  I had to get to the root of why I drank and why I sought solace in the bottle.  Just putting it in another room or using mental gymnastics or having just mocktails or chanting inspirational thoughts or playing hide and go seek with my alcoholism just didn’t solve the drink problem.

Listen, putting the plug in the jug is the very first step in the journey.  I can’t be on a path of sobriety while drinking – that’s fairly obvious.  But keeping the plug in the jug is a whole different story, and just because I say it often enough doesn’t make it so.  This is so much more about keeping the liquor away – this is about a whole new way of looking at life and changing how I see myself in the world.  This is about finding that love within me, the self-forgiveness, the ability to share and hug with reckless abandonment and to stake my claim for me, to advocate for a new life and a new approach to others.  It’s about jumping onto a new set of tracks and without having a destination, riding the rails of life and enjoying the view.  With a ginger ale in hand and a warm smile in my heart.

24 responses to “Put The Plug In The Jug And Other Hokey Pokey’s

  1. I have heard the expression often, but never gave it as much thought as you have (which, come to think of it, is probably true for lots of things!). What you write makes a lot of sense, and I’m sure there is an audience in our blogging community that needs to hear this post. Like you, I stopped many, many times, but without a plan in place to stay “stopped,” I picked up again and again.

    Thanks for being of service, Paul!

    • Thank Josie – my interpretations and thoughts on slogans change over time. I am not sure how much my thoughts on this one will change in the future. There are those who put the plug in the jug works…and then the next thought of course is if they are truly an alcoholic, or a problem drinker. Methinks that our rooms have a lot of non-alcoholics…just problem and heavy drinkers…but that is another post for another day 🙂

      Thanks for being here!

      Paul

  2. Great post (and the pic of you with the orange/green broom – it’s a black and white photo lol). In all seriousness – I think the whole perspective of stopping being one thing but staying stopped it the BIGGEST thing. For me, I think this unplanned move that I am undertaking, has allowed me to look at life in a new light – like a fresh start where I won’t hold memories of drinking alone in the new place because it won’t be a practice I start there – EVER. My reasons for drinking were mostly out of boredom, loneliness and it led to self-loathing, lower self-esteem and nothing really good. As you say – nothing changes if nothing changes… and I am ready for change. Thank you for another great blog!

    • Great stuff, Helene. Stopping is easy…the saying stopped is the tough one. I found that I felt the same as you – the loneliness, the boredom, etc. and the drinking fed into those things, which started the whole circle going. Breaking the cycle was very important for me, and seeing things in a different light.

      I look forward to reading more about your new chapter in your journey 🙂

      Blessings,
      Paul

  3. You hit the nail on the head for me. When I first got into recovery, hearing things like “put the plug in the jug” gave me a false sense of security. I honestly thought, as I sat in rehab, that if I just stopped boozing it up I would be cured, my life would be all rainbows and unicorns. Clearly, it didn’t work out that way. I had to have a COMPLETE heart change when it came to almost everything. And life still isn’t all rainbows and unicorns…although I do catch glimpses of them now. 🙂
    Thanks for a great post!
    ~Jami

  4. My experience with recovery is that the slogans help as quick band-aids yet for those struggling with living life on life’s terms (see another slogan) the quick sound byte just sounded too shallow to encompass my problem. I have learned to go deeper and yet i am still running from myself and falling into other traps, the trick I am discovering is to not run from myself, to start loving myself. Thanks Paul for sharing and continue your journey to deeper understanding.+++

    • Thank you for the wise and kind words. You clearly know where I am coming from, as I do you. I used to have a whole kind of love / hate relationship with slogans, and my position on them in general has softened. I see it as you see it – a quick band-aid that might help the newcomer just get through another day or days or weeks or more. In that regard, I can’t hate them. But when they are seen as the panacea for alcoholism, that is where I get a bit annoyed. Inventory time, I know…lol.

      Keep digging deeper and loving deeper. Thank you for sharing your wisdom here – I am a better person for it.

      Blessings,
      Paul

  5. Very nicely expressed..I’d say that@ getting to the root problem or cause; is the way to solve any major problem..Just dealing with the symptoms isn’t enough..2 thumbs UP on your write…Wishing you continued good luck on your journey

    • Thanks Berna! Thanks for the kind and warm comments. And you’re right – we need to get to the root of stuff, not just deal with the outside symptoms. Wise words.

      I have just started looking at your blog – lots of positivity there 🙂

      Blessings,
      Paul

      • I love keeping it real Paul..True to my lifes’ experiences..Thankfully I’m in a phase of life that my glass is always half-full..I’m a new follower so I’ll be checking in often to read you…:)

  6. I can always be heard telling my clients “stopping is easy, (for so many of them its even easy abstaining and be largely without triggers while in treatment) , , the difficult part is stopping those old behaviors, learning how to “do life sober” , how to lose the inflated ego,, etc etc. ” Therein lies the struggle.
    Living life on life’s terms is a daily hurdle for the addict!
    Great post

    • Thanks Dawn – you are right about the old behaviours creeping in. That’s still a thing for me, and probably most addicts / alcoholics. Keeping my spiritual life intact and ongoing and growing helps to keep the old ways of thinking and behaving from coming back.

      Thanks for the wonderful comments 🙂

      Blessings,
      Paul

  7. Somehow I never heard that one before. It sounds most geared towards early sobriety, when we would least be interested in hearing it. Slogans used to irritate me to no end, but lately some bring comfort (“time takes time” for one). No end to the surprises.

    I lol’d at the ‘put the cap on the crap’. Beautiful poetry.

    • I think that the slogans are truly meant for those new to the rooms, not necessarily new to the program. But if it works…it works. But it only works for so long. I have nothing intrinsically against the slogans, but when some folks swear by them and tell other dying alcoholics that the slogans will save them…well, then I need to have a chat with someone…lol.

      I am ok with time takes time…I use it 🙂

      Thanks BBB – love when you comment.

      Blessings,
      Paul

  8. Just put the plug in the jug. And don’t drink between meetings. No matter what.
    (nails screeching against a chalkboard)
    Oh God, Pauly, you’ve hit on one of my most irksome peeves. Like you, yeah-yeah, I know, it’s not usually the epicenter of their spiel, but a newcomer doesn’t always get that. Ah,excuse me, Mr. Don’t Drink No Matter What, but what happens if I’m one of those alcoholics who can’t NOT drink…no matter what? One of the hopeless variety, I think possibly mentioned in The Big Book. Should I just try to use more will-power?
    Really irritates me. I don’t know why.
    Maybe because it’s totally opposite of what The Program is about. Maybe that part.
    So your words are like soothing balm. Thank you for uttering them. You totally nailed the deal.
    Speaking of nailing the deal–“I drank alcohol because I liked the effects. It made me feel like I wasn’t me any more, because I hated me, and didn’t know how to handle life. That’s pretty much it.” Dude. That’s gold. That was so succinct, it made me burst out laughing.
    Totally can’t relate. Feel sorry for you though.
    Once again, masterful piece, old chap. Expertly blended.
    Bravo.
    Oh,here’s a new old saying I just made up-“White knuckles are alright, until you learn to let go.”
    Letting go now.
    Much love,
    Marius

    • Hi Mr. G – what a blessing to have your etchings carved into the cyber stone here. Love when you stop by, stir up some of that helmet coffee of yours, and have a good ol fashioned chin wag, ol fruit.

      Yes, I do have some issues with some slogans. I have felt odd for mentioning that, as if it were anti-program, but in the end, I am with you – many are truly anti-program, and that is where the irritation comes in, I guess. I sort of have a thing for something that has saved my life. Call me strange that way.

      You are right that a newcomer gets overwhelmed easily and can be confused with all the jargon and recovery speak at first. I was, that’s for sure. Mind you, I couldn’t stop my body from resembling a Vita Mix for the first few days, and my brain had a lush layer of shag over it, so getting any information at all, let alone recovery talk, was tricky at best. I just wanted to not die. Simple things.

      I dig that new / not new saying of yours. Needs to be transmitted to space like an Elvis song for aliens to hear and shake to. Speaking of gold, that’s the stuff that glitters.

      Thanks for being here. You make this alkie smile.

      Hugs,
      Paul

  9. Off the coattails of your comment on my blog … What I feel when I read you: Creator has filled the void that alcohol used to (try to) fill. A Course in Miracles (my spiritual path) says we have only one issue/problem as humans: “We think we are separated from our Creator.” My recovery gave me back my right to know, love, and communicate with my Creator. What an excellent trade-off.

    Excellent post! Lisa

    • Bang on, Lisa! My wife is very much into ACIM, and upon cursory glances and talking to her about it, there seems to be many similarities in the program and ACIM. Obviously ACIM goes much further and deeper into other things as well (that book is massive!), but it seems that there are some core similarities. But for sure, what you said is so very much in line with how I see things. Yes…what a trade off indeed!

      Thanks for enlightening me and the rest of us, as usual.

      Blessings.
      Paul

  10. “Just don’t drink” is pretty much an invitation to white-knuckle. As you mentioned, I liked the effects of drinking. If I drank, I could say things I never felt like it was okay for me to say while sober yet still be accepted. So a huge part of my sobriety has been ceasing the white-knuckling (I happen to be one of those who is super good at white knuckling, which is actually unfortunate because then I get dry drunk) and reaching out to a HP or people in the program, and finding that acceptance I so desperately sought. I needed to learn how to live when I WASN’T drunk, and that wasn’t just solved by white knuckling. It’s only been recently I’ve dropped the grasping and found humility… if I hadn’t, I think I would have gone out sooner or later. Perfectionism and white knuckling has too much pressure involved and I would have exploded.
    Just don’t drink doesn’t change anything… what changes things is humility and an HP… at least in my experience.

    • Ha ha…another pet peeve slogan – just don’t drink and go to meetings….yikes. I agree wholeheartedly with what you said here – totally on the ball and on the beam. Perfectionism is a killer, and trying to exert self will onto something that inheritance dismantles self will and uses it for it’s own good is just folly. At least for an alcoholic like me. My HP keeps me sober…not cute catch phrases. But if it works for you for a few hours, a few days…then rock on. But we look longer term here (did I mention that I also don’t go too much on the “One day at a time” expression? LOL – that’s another post)

      Thank you so very much for your insightful thoughts here.

      Love and light,
      Paul

  11. I love your writing – it’s just great… elocution epicentre…detergent commercial actor & all that. Really great!

    I haven’t heard ANY of these jingoisms!! Obviously I’m not hanging out in the right places.

    Re “just stop drinking” and that counsellor – my God, how we try, but try. My son, annoyed with me, said “Why don’t you just DO” and it seems a very valid, simple question. I could not explain why after being so repulsed by myself that I did not recall words or actions the night before, why I drank again.

    Choice, choice post – bloody fantastic. I have not understood why I seek to drink. I was in yoga the other night and preoccupied – my body was doing the yoga but my mind was preoccupied – with thoughts of icy cold vodka and lime juice. How refreshing that would be after yoga, etc. It is not entirely unknown for me to go from yoga to a drink. My theory has been to replace one habit with another. I am presently on a challenge at the yoga centre ‘do 30 yoga in 30 days’. I am insistent on doing it daily. Since last Saturday when it started, I’ve done it daily but for Thursday, and done it twice on two days. THAT DOESN’T FIX THE ALCOHOLISM and the thoughts of, now does it.

    So this was an extremely interesting post. Choice, choice. For I do not know why I sabotage/kill my self.

    Cheers 🙂

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