The Sobriety Project: The Watcher at the Gate

At the beginning of the semester, my Freshman Composition students read Godwin’s “The Watcher at the Gate.” This essay explores the voice in our heads that offers input when making decisions. Most writers grapple with this inner critic, especially during the first draft. Ever start writing and begin having negative thoughts, encouraging you to delete mid sentence or rip the page from the notebook? Godwin’s essay isn’t limited to writing; the Watcher connects to everyday life. Students may hear that voice discouraging pursuit of a difficult class or when pursuing employment: “You’re going to bomb the interview-you’ll never get the job!”

Successful people learn when to trust their Watcher’s judgement and when to ignore. Writers (should) ignore their Watcher when generating new content but encourage criticism when revising and editing earlier drafts. The Watcher can assist job seekers critique cover letters, resumes, and interview prep, but should “take a hike” when it’s actually time to meet potential employers. Unfortunately, the Watcher can also encourage poor decisions.

Over the years, my Watcher developed a nightly taste for wine. In fact, most days around 4:30, she enquired about the drink du jour: “Better to ease into sobriety—just one glass tonight.” Or “Is there a bottle of white in the fridge? If not, white wine pairs well with ice cubes.

Successful people learn when to trust their Watcher’s judgement and when to ignore.

During the first phase of sobriety, I needed to use the same advice given to students and ignore my Watcher (at least when it comes to drinking). I was also unsure how to deal with these afternoon urges, so I posted to an on-line support group:

Anyone struggle with the urge to drink near the end of the workday? Helpful strategies would be appreciated.

Within an hour, I had a collection of suggestions and support. Here are a few gems:

Change your routine!!!! Being aware of that trigger means you can stop it. Get a new AF drink and smash them until the new routine works. Keep busy, meditate….Read some quit lit, unlink alcohol from what you do.

• Oh yes! That’s my craving time!! I distract myself and have a plan in place of what I’m going to do when I walk through the front door.

• You have to create a new routine. Right now drinking is how you wind down after work. You must find another outlet.

Little changes to my routine helped make the first phase of sobriety a reality: Taking the long way home, stocking the fridge with sparkling water, and talking with Chad about my struggles (just to name a few).That first week or two was an anxiety-filled mixture of joy, planning a new journey, strong cravings, and feeling like a failure because I let alcohol claim such a large role in my life. In the first days of sobriety, our thought process can sabotage positive efforts. Remember, the Watcher serves a purpose. When a task requires attention to detail, embrace your inner critic! However, when pursing new challenges, like sobriety, the Watcher is best ignored.

Thanks for reading!

(Art work by Kay Nielsen)



  1. Yes, and the Watcher still chimes in from time to time about the possibility of a drink.. we need to watch the Watcher! Great post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s