Sobriety, Introspection, and Star Wars

By Aaron Kuchta 10/27/14

A touch of Yoda and introspection keeps self-management manageable.


There was a long while when alcohol was my best friend and roommate. It was always there for me when things got tough, when I needed a pick-me-up, or when I wanted to have some spontaneous fun.

But we got too close to each other; stuck together like a mouse on a glue trap. I wanted to be able to function like any other adult—to have a drink now and then, but not rely on the effects of drinking. I suppose that’s called, “drinking responsibly.” Most importantly, I wanted to accomplish this task alone, because that’s how I work best. I chose my own path to fix a problem that frequently gets treated with one tactic: stop drinking. Good thing there’s more than one way to cook a turkey.

Self-management is, for me, about facing the challenges in a head-butting contest. I want to find out if I can win. 

When confronting vices and demons, you have to know what's right for you, and that means a little introspection is required. If you don't know a little bit about yourself, you might as well pee in the wind and expect not to get wet. No self-awareness is like flailing in the water while a life preserver is in arms reach. It’s a basic tool at your disposal. What are you like? What kind of self-control can you muster? What kind of shit do you pull to get what you want?

For example: I’m very independent. I don't take well to people telling me how to live. I’m also an introvert. I’m much happier being alone than in a group of strangers. I don't like talking about my feelings. When I'm sick, I prefer to trudge through the muck without the aid of the pharmaceutical industry. I proudly wear my hard-earned cuts and bruises. It’s all very stubborn of me. I know it’s okay to ask for help from my support network, but I’ll hold off as long as possible. And, despite my other problems, I trust myself to know when I’m in over my head.

From that information, I can see my favored approach is always going to be the muscle through. I will beat whatever the problem—substance abuse, depression, maybe a touch of psychosis—with will power as my primary weapon.

Self-management is, for me, about facing the challenges in a head-butting contest. I want to find out if I can win. The simpler the challenge, the easier it is to win. A cold is no problem. A cut or small injury is a battle wound that requires no treatment. When things get more complex, though, I risk derailment. An overwhelming work load. Depression. Social problems. It’s the bucket of water over the witch’s head, and it’s natural to reach for comfort; for distraction; for a liquid bandage. That’s when the phrase “baby steps” comes into play. Knowing I don’t have to climb a mountain in one step alleviates the pressure. I’ll get there when I get there, but damn it, I’m going to get there.

Self-management, or really any recovery program, is all about control. Control means learning when to say no. It's knowing when to stop. Put down the instrument of poison. Tell that two-faced inner voice to shut up. Claw your way back to a sense of level-headedness. Find a way to balance the scales. Alcohol can tip the scales in the opposite direction—it relieves and soothes—but it cannot maintain balance. Don’t confuse stupor with peace of mind. Let introspection and self-awareness be the rope and harness that helps you out of the flood waters.

When I started on my path, I was obsessed with rules. Rules are great for establishing boundaries. No drinking when stressed. No drinking during the week. Purchasing alcohol can be done once a week, and nothing more than a six-pack. Ultimately, rule-setting was an unsteady foothold for me. If you can control your habits with a set of rules, that’s fantastic. If you start to bend the rules, ask yourself why. For me, it was because they felt too rigid — dictatorial rather than helpful. Not so great for the fiercely independent.

But, even when the power of the rules lessened, they kept me thinking about my state of being when I cracked open a beer. How do I feel right now? Why am I drinking? Am I stressed? Am I avoiding something? Do I really want to drink right now or do I only feel like I should? How much am I at risk of developing a new drinking pattern? All questions you would probably be asked if you were in a group setting, with the benefit of not having to be in a group setting.

Asking yourself questions helps keep you accountable, even when you stumble. And you expect to stumble. You expect there are going to be bad days when you give into old habits. Sometimes, I drink because I’m sad. Life is a learning process. You cope as best as you can. There’s no shame in taking a step back. But no matter what method you employ to take better care of yourself, all of them will tell you to pick yourself back up when you fall. Vices are not solutions. They are, at best, bandages. False protection. Introspection can help you learn from your failure and make you more resilient to the darkness that drives you to the vice.

Here comes the Empire Strikes Back reference. Yoda said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.” I’m going to commit Star Wars blasphemy and say Yoda may have been wrong. Let’s say the “dark path” is drinking. By Yoda’s teaching, anyone who’s lost control is irredeemable. No recovery method would have you believe this. Instead, other programs would have you believe that there is a Light Side called “sobriety” and a Dark Side called “alcohol abuse.” Black and white terminology? Return from whence you came, foul beast!

The Star Wars expanded universe includes anything outside of the films—books, comics, games, etc. In the expanded universe, there are beings called Gray Jedi, who utilized both light and dark powers without falling to the Dark Side, and who also rejected the teachings of the Jedi (sorry, Yoda). If we accept that there were Jedi who could walk the line between light and dark, it’s not too difficult to accept that there are people today that can walk certain lines—particularly when it comes to beverages with alcoholic content.

I'm not saying do as I do. Don’t follow blindly. Do what you need. Find out what you need. If you can’t attain the necessary control, you're looking at abstaining from something you enjoy doing, and you have to learn to be okay with that. Taking care of yourself is the top priority, and the more you know about yourself, the better able you are to make good decisions, or to recognize when you’re making bad decisions. You can’t get better if you’re not aware of what isn’t working.

I know what it’s like to feel lost, confused, and angry, and I understand why turning to drugs and alcohol can sound like such a good idea for so long. I know what it's like to listen to the critical inner voice — to know it wants you to fail, and to accept failure as an inevitability. I know the darkness that makes even the strongest run for a drink. But I also know it’s possible to pull myself away from the darkness— to stop letting the darkness define me.

I can speak to the unsure, the depressed, the struggling; the people who fall into a routine that involves willingly making bad choices. Look inside and learn something about yourself. The path of the Gray Jedi is not easy, but what path is? Don’t be afraid to fall as long as you’re prepared to pick yourself up. Han Solo didn’t give up on the Millenium Falcon when it kept breaking down, so don’t give up on yourself.

Aaron Kuchta is a writer in New York City. He has a blog. He last wrote about an introvert's guide to non compulsive drinking.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix