Today’s blog entry is from Johanna C.  Johanna has been a member of Café RE since September 2023.   Sha has been an active and supportive member of her Café RE Blue group and our Café RE chats!


Playing The Tape Forward: A Foundation For My Sobriety

By:  Johanna C. (Café RE Blue)


Through the course of a sobriety journey, we’ve become accustomed to the concept of building a tool kit. Stacking together concepts, ideas, and ways of coping that don’t include alcohol as a way to navigate to a better life and get closer to our true selves. 


There are sobriety phrases, some albeit corny or even annoying. 


For me, it’s the “grateful alcoholic” identity (ps I am getting comfortable with the word grateful as it relates to my sobriety journey). There may be one (or more) that are uncomfortable or downright piss you off. One concept that I learned from Paul & the Recovery Elevator POD, that still to this day, 3 months in (today, November 18th), on an extended 3+year effort towards an AF life, is playing the tape forward. Episode 356: Play the Tape Forward. 



It’s not so much a phrase, but a tool, a strategy.


A mechanism through which we can move through our addiction and keep saying YES to an AF life. Despite our time away from alcohol, there are moments or even extended periods of time when we feel like a life with alcohol isn’t so bad, that we can moderate. The fear of missing out is too great and the loss of that idealistic, glamorized life with a fancy glass of wine, a craft beer or a seductive cocktail with fancy elixirs mixed in, is what we want. It’s what we think we need to be complete. 


Or when the stress and sadness are too much, and we want to retreat into our safe space of numbing, alcohol is ready to accept that familiar role. The reality is, that space is not safe. There is no trust. It’s downright dangerous. 


And for those of us who have taken a step into the other side, regardless of sobriety time, see it. And the challenge now is to make it stick somehow. So…when we play the tape forward of what that life was like, it’s meant to stop us in our tracks and remember. Remember that all too familiar audio and visual representation of who we are when we’re drinking. The choices I made, the sick feeling I would feel, the events I would miss, the friends I would disappoint, the depression that would consume me – the list goes on. 


When we’re in it, we can’t see it. 


Of course, we experience and feel the booming headaches, the continuous, all-day nausea, the puffy face, the bloodshot eyes, the inner shame and fuzzy recollections of what occurred the night(s) prior.  I’ve come to realize, there is a strong sense of culture that paints that picture as an expected way of life. 


That it’s somehow funny to blackout.


Waking up not knowing what you did last night and that when we promise we’ll never drink again, it’s quite fine when we reach for the wine and wine glass the next weekend when happy hour hits. Social media is a breeding ground for insidious shit like that. We feel all of it and it sucks. But in the depths of alcohol and its tendrils that permeate every part of our being, when we’re using, it prevents any of us from seeing the other side. I’ve learned, in many ways, it’s chemically impossible. 


What playing the tape forward does is remind me. It grounds me. It calms me, in some way. For some, it terrifies them. It terrified me early on. It felt like there was too much to lose. 


Some of us feel like we would let our communities down. 


And now, after joining Cafe RE and participating actively for the last 2 months (I’m a newbie), in chats and outreaches to those who’ve lent a hand, I look at it this way: if I decide that drinking is most important now, as these feelings of re-inclusion come over me from time to time, then what does that mean? What do I have to give up? Who am I then? 

It means that I will not and cannot live authentically every moment of every day. 

That in a blink of a notice, if someone needs me, and I am drunk or drinking, I won’t be fully present.  Even though I may want to. It means that at some point, eventually, one glass will turn into bottles.  This will lead to paralyzing depression and anxiety, leaving me wondering, “How did I get here.” 


When we play the tape forward, we see the life we left.  We get the opportunity to choose an alcohol-free life every time.  A life of freedom and rid of the toxicity that drives us further and further away from who we really are.


Before I say this, please know that I am in no way suggesting to experiment.  The 8 months of “field research” that I engaged in after 1.5 years of sobriety in led me to the familiar line, “how did I get here (again)”.  It has taught me that it WILL eventually return to that point. It took some time, but I had reached that point, again, amidst a tragic loss. 


Alcohol fades our memories.


It dulls our feelings, loves us to live in gray versus technicolor. It feeds on us living in a depressive state. And that, I know (and we all know) is an indisputable fact. As I write this, I tear up with emotion. Reflecting on this 3+ year journey and the lessons it has allowed me to learn.   The space for me to, for the first time in my adult life, truly decide how I want to live.  And most importantly why I want to live that way.


I recently took advice from Laura McKowen, from her latest book ‘Push Off From Here.’ 


She writes about a practice she learned in therapy, a form of written visualization, where you play two different tapes forward (hmm… I thought there was only one…). Laura explains that you are to imagine a scenario where you would anticipate feeling that without alcohol/drinking, it would be incomplete, not fun, boring etc.

Then, with as much detail as possible, write each scenario out one at a time: one where you’re drinking as you would and one where you aren’t. Page 93 in Push Off From Here.

I chose Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Holy Shit was that wild. 


When I was drinking, those two days were ones that I would always regret, year in and year out. My first sober Christmas Eve and Day – a true milestone.  A moment I will always include in my preferred tape forward. Through this exercise, I was able to reflect on the tape that illustrates my life as an anxiety-ridden, unpredictable and obsessive drinker.  And then one where I am a present, joyful, thankful and gracious person.  One who loves spending time with their family during the holidays and cooking delicious meals, despite the stress it sometimes brings on. 


Writing it out, playing both tapes forward, as plain as day on paper, did wonderful things. It caused some things to shift. Mostly, it made space for me to be proud of the choice I’ve made to stay alcohol-free today.  It reminds me of the gifts it gives me each moment.  It empowers me to warrior on, closer to the person I already am. 


By Johanna C, 3 months sober (at the time of writing), most recent sober date August 18th, 2023. First ever sober date was June 22, 2020, a date I am proud of as well. I’ve been a member of Cafe RE since September 18th 2023.  That day was the day when I decided not to try sobriety alone 🙂


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