With a hat tip to the OM Collective’s podcast Zen and the Art of Monday Morning, particularly Episode Nine, which I listened to this morning. Succinctly put (they tell it better): 

There are two wolves living inside us, in constant struggle. One is our base nature: avaricious, jealous, self-centered. Another is our noble nature: forward-thinking, generous, outward focused. They constantly battle to see which wolf will control us. 

bad wolf good wolf

But which wolf will win? 

The one we feed. 

The provenance is complicated! A bunch of people have written about this, and talked about it. 

It’s an interesting thing to reflect on. Even when sobriety is going well, as it has been for me for a while now, it’s good to think about those two wolves. 

One wolf is short-term. It’s looking for an easy answer and a quick fix. It’s focused on itself, and what feels good. Consequences of its actions on others aren’t a priority. This wolf just wants to eat what’s in front of it. It’s bought into the myth of the lone wolf.  

The other wolf is the long-term wolf. It’s mindful of the future. It’s the play-the-tape-forward wolf, the context-aware wolf. It’s the wolf that understands that wolves live in packs.

An aside: I should probably check that my understanding of lone wolves being a myth is actually true. I feel like it’s me busting a fallacy, but it might just be me propagating a different fallacy. Yes, after some casting about, a “lone wolf” is an anomaly, lone wolves don’t stay lone wolves unless there’s something wrong, and they’re generally looking for other wolves

A second aside: it’s really hard to find writing about “lone wolf myth” without it being all about terrorists and mass shooters. The world we live in. Oy. 

It’s also easy to re-cast those roles a little bit, to see how they apply to sobriety. Because it’s simple to think of the ‘bad’ wolf as the drinkin’ wolf, and the ‘sober’ wolf as the sober wolf.  

So does “drunk wolf” and “sober wolf” parse onto this wolf analogy? Almost literally in an interesting way, but at some point the metaphor stops working. 

Because if it’s a drunk/dark wolf and a sober/good wolf, we’re starving the drunk wolf by not drinking, right? We’re literally shrinking it. Stop drinking and watch the drunk wolf shrink and leave more room for the good wolf. 

This is where it works… and stops working for me as a metaphor.

Because are we shrinking the dark wolf, really? 

The original story is about the part of you that wants to be a more selfish, angry person. And the part of you that wants to be a more giving, understanding person. 

Here’s the thing. 

don’t feel like I’m an inherently better person for not drinking. I’m more mindful, and I think I’m doing better and trying to act in better ways, but I don’t think drinking has changed my real, core, inner nature. I think I’m the same person that I was before I was drinking, and during.

So my bad wolf and my good wolf aren’t different because I’m not drinking. They’re the same. Not drinking means I’m… not drinking. But my selfish impulses are still selfish. I still get super mad at idiots when I’m driving. And my generous impulses are still generous. I still feel lifted up when I see something a friend might like and get a cheap but thoughtful surprise gift.  

This makes me hesitant about ‘adapting’ the wolves to a drink/no-drink scenario. 

I don’t think the wolves are different. 

But I absolutely do I think I’m just in a better position to choose which one to feed when I’m sober. 
Drinking me would make bad decisions about which wolf to feed. I’ve still got both wolves, and I don’t think we can ever get rid of one of them.

We can just put ourselves in the best position to make good decisions about which to feed. 

Photo by Steve, from Pexels. Modifications are mine.