A Mistaken Equation

X fois....l'inéquationWhat if I had it all wrong, but was confident I had it all right?

What if I thought the process of life was to add, but realized later the process was to multiply?

I spent my life professing that 5 + 5 was 10, only to discover I was supposed to multiply the 5s. The answer isn’t 10 at all, it’s 25. How could I have missed this? How is it I believed the process was addition rather than multiplication? How can it be that this 90° rotation in a symbol could have been so endlessly overlooked?

This is what it felt like to see that alcohol and I would never mix. I was no longer saying I wanted to be sober because I was shoulder high in unwanted minutiae. I was saying I was done with alcohol because nothing (permanently) good came from it. It’s the post-trigger awareness. It’s done, I’ve seen it, there’s no turning back. I had chosen sobriety even if for the day.

It’s a radical moment. For some it comes before we stop drinking, for others it comes later through the agonizing repetition of not drinking. Whenever it shows up it’s clear, crystal-clear.

“I’ve had it all wrong and I believed I had it all right.”

Knowing what I know about how I behave when I drink, why do I continue to drink? I continue to do it because my mind tells me I need to. It’s the way I survive my crazy world. The thought of not drinking seems more petrifying than continued drinking.

I continue drinking. I still see the ‘+’ sign.

It appears that some approach sobriety with little to no effort. Do not be fooled. It was hard for every person that achieved it. It was confrontational in the private moments when no one was looking, when no one would notice. We got through it, despite ourself.

We got through it because the process would never again be ‘+’. It would forever be ‘x’. No matter how much we craved that drink we would not put it to our lips. We put anything, everything, between us and booze. We did life anyway, anyway other than what we had previously done.  It didn’t matter what we did as long as we didn’t drink. Get through the day without a drink. And then get through another, and another, and another.

When we are new to life without alcohol the best day is a day when we don’t drink.  The best that can happen is to see that alcohol inside of us will never be the solution we had once thought it to be.

That moment we can no longer pretend we don’t have a problem. This is the trophy moment.

And if we are one of the fortunate there will be many new flashes along the way when the equation changes once again.  It is not the last “aha” moment in life, but the first of many.

If we are new to not drinking we needn’t solve it all today.  We need only not drink today. We’ll see more of the equation as the sober days add up.

We ask for help. We get a support group. We open our mind to the possibility that we’ve been seeing life in a way that doesn’t serve us, doesn’t serve those we love.

When the equation changes, so does the solution.


Lisa Neumann is the author of

Sober Identity: Tools for Reprogramming the Addictive Mind

and a life skills coach for recovering addicts .

22 Responses to “A Mistaken Equation

  • What a powerful… I was going to say…speech, yet it is one! Today was not one of my best-mood-days and this is truly uplifting, just reminds me how lucky I am to have been gifted with that turning point of no-looking-back-abstinence.
    I just had to change alcohol to food and it spoke to me. I can imagine anyone with any addiction changing it to theirs and finding their comfort.
    Thanks for yet another amazing post 🙂

    • The kind words are always welcomed, especially from you! You are so gifted in your writing that ‘reaching’ you means i must be doing something right. You have the same affect on me. Just the other morning I woke to your wonderful poem and it changed my whole day. 🙂

  • This is a wonderful and powerful analogy. I will shamelessly store it in my own sobriety tool kit and will gladly use it when I think it’s the right tool for the moment. Yes, we get through it despite ourselves and many of us have a network of support.

    • I love it … a new tool for the tool box! I feel rather blessed to have the support network that I do. I am so grateful for those of you who do come and comment, because many are too scared to type a word. When you share your feelings you help so many. So, thank you for your being part of my recovered life. 🙂

  • “If we are new to not drinking we needn’t solve it all today. We need only not drink today. We’ll see more of the equation as the sober days add up.”
    Oh good– I was always a bit slow with equations.

    • Don’t worry, no ‘timed tests’ for you (although I believe you’d pass with flying colors). And I do see the days adding up. Glad to have you in my recovered life.

  • And in my equation drinking was never, ever the right answer. Great post. 🙂

  • Katherine
    11 years ago

    Lisa…once again you have written an incredible post! Things in my life while drinking were only “adding up” slowly and mostly being “subtracted”, always feeling like I couldn’t “multiply” the good in my life. Sobriety changes everything…X 100! You are so right about when the sober days “add up”, the equation changes!

    • I love how you expanded this idea of the equation. Your comment is like a sequel post. The “subtraction” of drinking is perfect. It’s so nice to be on the other side of the equal sign (=) and like the solution we’re seeing. Thanks for commenting too. You always give me new thought to chew. xox Lisa

  • Brilliant…simply brilliant.

  • “It appears that some approach sobriety with little to no effort. Do not be fooled. It was hard for every person that achieved it.”

    Absolutely true. Yes, we see and hear those who are in and out of recovery, who visibly struggle, who verbally rail against the process of sobriety, who oscillate between wanting sobriety and not wanting it. Then we see those who seem to glide into it effortlessly. Right…lol. I too *seemed* to glide into it. I didn’t fuss, didn’t muss. On the outside, at least. I railed against The Creator, screamed inside of me Why? Why Me? and have thought of moving back out there. Under cover of darkness. And hell, I *showed* my struggle in my active alcoholic days – the mental gymnastics and spiritual crushings I took between drinks was painful.

    I love what you say about the ‘+” and the ‘x’. When things shift, we see things so completely different, so against the grain of us, that we wonder why we ever thought 5+5 was 10? I also have found that in my recovery, I have found addition through subtraction – letting go of many things has actually added to my life. Strange, but true.

    Wonderful, wise words Lisa…thank you for this.


    • You are the second one to comment on subtraction being addition. I’ve not thought of the equation in these terms, nonetheless, it is absolutely true. I love when I have a brand new thought. Again, how is it I’ve spent my whole life not knowing these things. Thinking these things. Always a joy you are. Me

  • Great post Lisa! The cool thing about sobriety (if we choose to look at it this way) is that we get the chance to examine all the things we thought we had right but no longer work for us. Or, as you were so instrumental in helping me see, that the facts are the facts but they don’t necessarily mean what we think they mean. It’s a constant state of second chances to see things differently, to live differently and to make different choices.

    • I love your gain: “the facts are the facts but they don’t necessarily mean what we think they mean.” It’s an axiom that took me 40+ years to learn. Even reading your comment tonight reminded me that I have given everything in my life its meaning. It’s such an empowering, yet confrontational, perspective. Thanks for feeding it back to me. Remembering the tool of ‘2nd chances’ the ‘choose differently’ has been a saving grace. I’m so glad we met. Your sobriety is beautiful.

  • Great post! I used to think I was good at math, but it turns out that, like many, I was getting the whole thing wrong. Many thanks for sharing this!

    • We see so much of self when we read each other’s thoughts. Thank you for commenting. I will be over to read your blog and see what you’re up to. I’ve rarely read a post that didn’t have some meaning for me. I have wonderful friendships in the sober blogoshere. Much of the time I’ve blogged I’ve felt I’d gotten it wrong. Turns out I’ve got none of it wrong. Just learning to blog, coach, write, be a mom, exercise, whatever etc. at the best pace I know how. No better or worse than anyone else. So hang in there wherever you’re at on this journey and know that you are loved. Loving me where I was at was the best gift of all.

  • There are posts that ring with a note so simple, pure and true that you never forget it and it becomes a layer of who you are. This is one of those posts. Thank you Lisa.

    • Oh thank you so, so, so much. You are the reason I write. I so hungered for someone to tell me what to expect. What to look for … what, where, when, why, how??? I just wanted someone to trust that wouldn’t lead me down, yet another, wrong path. My sole and (soul) purpose is to help. You made my day. Lots of love my friend, lots of love. Lisa

  • Thanks for sharing 🙂 xoxox

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