Week 8: The difference between want, must and should


There are three internal songs that run through my mind – should, want and must.

Should is the loudest. Should wrangles you into believing you aren’t good enough and that your decisions are not aligned to some greater version of yourself defined predetermined paths. Shoulds prod you into thinking you’ve failed. They point and laugh. You can’t win with shoulds.

Wants are freeing and uncontrolled. They sometimes lead you to joy, but also recklessness. The key to wants is to know how to read them – which are surface wants and which are deeper. They trick you sometimes, though. You may think it’s shallow but only later, when it hasn’t subsided, you understand it was the crack that led to a must.

Must speaks to who you are as a human. They reveal your core. Musts don’t follow any other direction than the one in your heart.

Most of my daily anxiety comes from deciphering the shoulds from the musts and sorting the wants into the light or heavy. I once read about the crossroads these mixed directions create, but even in knowing I am not alone in the tug-o-war between should and must, this essay didn’t lead me to enlightenment. Either my must isn’t loud enough or I don’t trust it not to be a should in disguise.

I often don’t know the difference between who I should be, who I want to be and who I must be, let alone what I should, want or must have for dinner. And, I don’t even know where to begin to designate the difference.

The end of the year has prompted a shift in attitude. Instead of frantically trying to decide what I should, want or must do, I’ve taken an apathetic approach. I pick a destination and go with it. I don’t care that my decisions might disappoint others or that I am stepping off my true path. It’s not that I’ve reached some level of trust with myself, I’m mostly too exhausted with this mental struggle to care anymore.

This weekend, I should be cleaning my house. I should be making a decision on grad school. I should be writing and convincing friends to read my book for feedback. I should be making amends with friendships gone astray, I should be working hard to bring others some kind of joy.

But I am not.

Instead, I am following the wants. Some may be shallower than others, but, again, I don’t care. I honestly don’t know how to get to must right now, and that takes a level of skill that I haven’t quite obtained, so I am going to start practicing by listening to my wants over my shoulds. Maybe I will eventually find that must.

There are some wants I know how to say no to, such as the not constant but persistent urge to drink. During the funk that’s prevailed the last week or so, I’ve had moments where I’ve uttered, out loud, “I want a drink.” Those around me replied, “No, you don’t,” as if I had the cup to my lips and was about to undo the vow I’ve made to sobriety in one swallow.

It’s foolish to ignore want. It’s unwise to feel that yearning bubble inside and then push it back down because it’s not the right or proper kind of desire. A want is a want, whether it is good or bad or decent.

I did want a drink in those moments, that’s the truth, but so is my commitment to sobriety. Just because I haven’t had a drink in nearly two months. doesn’t mean the want vanishes. It’s there, hanging out in the corner, speaking up anytime it might think I will listen. I hear that voice, but I usually let it speak without a response. I don’t ignore it, but I also don’t turn to it and agree to oblige. I let the want linger in the air until my mind is on some other craving or worry.

Do I want a drink? Yes.

Should I drink? No.

Must I drink? No.

One of the driving forces behind this year-long challenge is that I wasn’t sure where the line between must or want existed when it came to my drinking – must I drink or do what I want to drink – and I was terrified that at some point I had crossed it. The only way to determine if was there was a point was to get sober and try to find it with clear eyes.

It’s going to a lot of practice to translate shoulds, musts and wants, but when it comes to drinking I know where, at least for now. That’s something and it gives me a little hope that deep down I do know what is best for me.

The hardest part of sobriety: Last night E and I had a lovely dinner, decorated our newly bought Christmas tree and watched Christmas movies. It was a night made for glass of red wine or a hot toddy. We did use our wine glasses, though, his had juice and mine La Croix.

The best part of sobriety :My friend and her roommate had a chocolate party this weekend and all the guests brought a chocolate treat. Not having wine or a Christmas-themed beer allowed me to use those saved calories on more desserts.

Stray observations (random thoughts I have that I don’t want to blast on to social media, but still want to say out loud on the internet): While making dinner I had a question about one of the ingredients on the recipe list. Instead of asking Google, I started to call people who I thought might now. The first two didn’t pick up and the third tried to and the call failed because the reception in my kitchen is poor. She immediately texted to see if I meant to call or did so out of accident. I called a fourth and she had answer and so did the third person, who I communicated via text. It’s funny how we don’t call each other anymore, that we would rather interact with a computer than the people we love. Maybe I can start expanding this idea of more actual human connection in other ways.


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