Q: I am currently stuck in a rut of drinking too much every evening as a way of coping with low self esteem, self hatred and food issues (I had an eating disorder for many years and although weight stable and fine I use alcohol to cope with the fact that I have to eat). I am worried about how to stop drinking without the other issues becoming overbearing. Should I be tackling other issues first, alongside or after trying to stop drinking so much? Would you recommend drinking less each night, having some days off or going cold turkey?
A: Hi Veronica, it’s great to hear from you.
You ask some really good questions here and it might be helpful for me to deal with them one-by-one. I have a funny feeling my answer is going to be a lot longer than your questions!
Let me start by saying I’m not a medical professional so I can’t give you any medical advice but I can share my thoughts and responses to the issues you’ve asked about. Hopefully, this will give you some options to consider and a clearer idea of how you want to approach things.
Firstly, the low self-esteem and self-hatred that you’ve been experiencing… these can be debilitating and are usually at the root of unhealthy and addictive behaviours around food, drink, drugs, etc. Just about every person I’ve ever worked with who’s had a problematic relationship with alcohol has also had a problematic relationship with themselves. I’m not saying this to try and diminish what you’re experiencing but to reassure you that this is a very common issue and can be resolved.
So, what do you do about it?
As a general rule (and you might already know this) alcohol acts as a barrier to any kind of self-improvement. If you want to gain self-esteem, have a better relationship with yourself and lose the hatred, an unhealthy relationship with alcohol is only going to get in the way.
It was only when I removed alcohol from my life that I was able to actually work through some of the issues that had been affecting my self-esteem and had been getting in the way of me being able to connect more healthily with myself. After some counselling, coaching and mindfulness (using a lot of the techniques that are in the Guidance Programme) I was able to be happy with me and this has had a massively beneficial impact on my life, my relationships and my future. It’s now commonly understood that drinking too much makes many mental health issues worse, even though it can feel like it’s bringing instant relief.
So, moving on to a direct answer to your question 😊, it’s definitely advisable to stop drinking before or alongside dealing with the self-esteem/self-hatred issues. The alcohol prevents you from being able to connect fully with yourself in a healthy way.
The other thing to bear in mind is that you’ve been using alcohol to self-medicate. It’s obviously been helping you to deal with the other issues. So, when you take it away, if nothing else is in its place to help you deal with the other issues, you’re likely to self-sabotage. You really want to set yourself up for success.
Many people find that following the Guidance Programme is enough “therapy” for them to get sober and work on themselves to address self-esteem issues at the same time. It provides you with all sorts of tools you can use to improve your relationship with yourself and help you build a sustainable and liberating sober life so that you don’t have to rely on alcohol anymore. Other people find that it’s helpful to actually get some therapy, counselling or coaching if they have deeper-rooted and more stubborn issues to deal with. This makes sure they’re replacing the “alcohol medicine” with something else. Others find that simply by building other healthier habits that improve their self-esteem and confidence (like sports, clubs, groups, volunteering) is enough to help them replace the alcohol habit.
The important thing is you have a plan to replace the alcohol with something else. Something helpful and something healthy that will improve your relationship with you. I can’t tell you what that should be but you can decide from the options I’ve just described what might work best for you. Definitely work through the programme though – when you do a little bit each day it will make you feel much better about yourself overall.
Secondly, in response to your question about whether to drink less, stop drinking on some days or go cold turkey, that will depend on the amounts you’ve been drinking. If you’ve been drinking dangerous amounts and think you have an actual physical dependency on alcohol (where your body reacts badly to going without), going cold turkey without medical supervision can be dangerous and it’s best to get medical advice if this is the case. If you’re confident that it’s more of a psychological thing and you’re able to stop drinking for periods of time without noticing too much physical discomfort, then going cold turkey is an option you can consider. This worked for me – I just wanted to set a date in stone and become a non-drinker after that date. But different things work for different people and it’s important you choose a way that will work for you.
Some people find that it’s easier to quit completely than it is to cut down as it takes away any thought or decision-making about how much or when to drink. Some people find that it’s easier to wean themselves off it gradually. And, some (although these numbers are much lower and I only know of a few people that have done this successfully) manage to moderate their drinking and continue with alcohol in their lives. I’m guessing you’ll have a good idea of which of these options would work best for you. Below is a link to a blog that goes into more detail about this.
If you do decide to stop drinking completely, it’s a good idea to plan for it in the best way for you. Choose a day/date, make a plan, do something symbolic and just do it. Or, plan to wean yourself off glass by glass night by night. Read the blog, give it some thought and let me know what you decide to do.
Thirdly, regarding using alcohol to cope with the fact you have to eat, I’m not really qualified to give you any advice on this. It might be that it’s best for you to see a trained medical professional to let them know what you’re planning to do and to make sure that you have something in place to help you if find it challenging to cope without the alcohol.
One way that you could do things is to:
- Check in with a specialist regarding your food issues and let them know what you’re planning and get their advice
- Decide what’s the best approach for you to stop drinking: cutting down, introducing sober days and increasing them or going cold turkey (if you need to see a medically-trained person to safely go cold turkey, then do)
- Make a date, make a plan and do it
- Use the Guidance Programme to check-in every day, motivate yourself, stay on track and equip yourself with all the tools you’ll need to build a better relationship with yourself
- Find healthier habits to replace the alcohol habit with
- Stay in touch with me and check-in every day
- Review things as you go along and if at any time you think you need it, seek out some kind of therapeutic intervention to help you with the self-esteem/self-hatred issues
This is just one suggestion for a way forward – you’re the best judge of what will work best for you. If you have any questions about any of this, do ask – I’m happy to stay in daily contact if it’s helpful.
Stay in touch and let me know what your thoughts are.
(And, well done for reaching out to me – I feel quite humbled that you were willing to share some of your story with me).