How many reasons did you have up your sleeve?
I had many – these are just 10 of them:
- Feeling stressed (drink would relax me)
- Feeling anxious (drink would calm me)
- Feeling happy (drink would intensify the feeling and take it to the next level)
- The sun shining and everyone else outside having a good time (I could join in)
- Being bored (drink would give me a buzz and make things enjoyable)
- Feeling angry and frustrated (drink would help me calm down and feel better)
- Having an anxiety attack (drink would alleviate it)
- Having to endure company or a social event that I wasn’t comfortable with (drink enabled me to fit in and pretend to be someone I wasn’t)
- Feeling shy (drink gave me confidence)
- Wanting to treat myself/have something to look forward to (drink was the carrot I could use to get me through challenging situations)
Now, the thing was that all of this worked to start with. Drink really did all these things. We wouldn’t choose to use it if we didn’t get something from it. Drink was so effective that I used it more and more.
But here’s what happened after the instant gratification in each of these 10 scenarios:
- Stress – whatever was causing me stress was still there the next day but augmented by the extra burden of a hangover. I hadn’t worked through whatever the issue was and didn’t have strategies in place to deal with it in future. The effect alcohol was having on me caused me more stress from the guilt, anxiety, paranoia and low levels of self-confidence it brought on.
- Anxiety – my anxiety levels increased gradually over the years of sustained heavy drinking until I felt anxious most of the time I wasn’t drinking.
- Happiness – I’d lost touch with what real authentic happiness and joy were. I only knew an alcohol-induced heightened state of false high that couldn’t be achieved without drink. I couldn’t imagine having fun or being happy without drinking. But it was taking longer and larger amounts of alcohol to reach that state – and, in the end, it became rare for me to reach it at all. Plus, I wasn’t feeling happy most days because I was struggling to overcome the hungover symptoms from the days before. I did myself out of so much enjoyment because I was feeling so crap and unhappy most of the time.
- Joining in with a good time – I didn’t ever give myself the chance to relax and enjoy myself without drink. I didn’t know that I could socialise and have fun with other people without drink because I never had. This was a skill I had never learned. Each time I drank to socialise I was embedding deeply-rooted unconscious beliefs that I need alcohol to have a good time. And, as with feeling happiness, eventually the experience of having a good time with alcohol became more and more elusive until I became anxious about social events – they had become an ordeal rather than a pleasure.
- Boredom – how many days did I spend bored stupid lying in bed recovering, feeling awful, unable to honour commitments and simply getting over hangover after hangover. Escaping uncomfortable feelings like boredom through drinking ironically caused way more discomfort than if I’d have just gone through the original feeling.
- Anger and frustration – similarly to boredom, alcohol simply plastered over these uncomfortable feelings which meant they seeped out in inappropriate ways while I was drinking. I didn’t have control over managing them healthily and dealing with the issues that were prompting them. Being short-tempered and having high levels of irritability became the norm for my hangover/recovery days.
- Anxiety/panic attacks – like general anxiety, the number of anxiety attacks I experienced increased over the years that I was drinking. This is no surprise now that I know how alcohol impacts sleep and brain function.
- Uncomfortable social events – Drinking stopped me from building a better relationship with myself. It stopped me from building the kind of self-confidence that would help me feel comfortable being myself and enjoy connecting with people at social events. All it did was help me run away from myself and pretend to be someone else for short bursts of time. When I was drinking, I didn’t make healthy decisions about what to do with my time and what company to keep. So, I often found myself in situations with people who I wasn’t comfortable with, who I wasn’t naturally drawn to. I then needed more drink to cope.
- Shyness – like anxiety, anger, boredom and all the other uncomfortable feelings I was trying to avoid - was simply hidden with alcohol and ultimately ended up worse as a result. I ended up feeling more self-conscious and less self-confident most of the time because drinking led to me feeling ashamed of myself.
- A treat – ah, what a great treat! Alcohol was doing me so much harm, yet I fell for its “instant gratification” charm. If only I’d know years ago that all I had to do was spend some time learning other habits and using other, healthier treats and rewards. If only I’d known it was that easy.
Every single one of these excuses to drink failed to achieve its intended goal. In fact, most of them achieved the opposite.
The truth was that what I was really doing with drink was:
- Running away
Through facing up to the things you want to avoid, through riding through discomfort and through learning to love yourself more, you get to achieve everything you thought drink would bring you. It just takes a bit of practise. The new sober you will discover that whatever it is that you’ve tried to run away from with drink is not so bad. It’s not as bad as the consequences of using drink. And, the rewards for living an alcohol-free life are better than you could have imagined!