There was the time I woke up shivering and fully clothed in the driver’s seat of my car. I was parked outside my house, the sun was rising and I had no idea why I was there or what had happened the night before.

There was the time I woke up alone on top of the bed at home (again, fully clothed) and had to steel myself to face my boyfriend and 14-year-old son, not knowing exactly what I’d done the night before, but remembering being carried from the car into the house under a black night sky with my son under one arm and my boyfriend under the other.

And, there was the time I woke up at a weekend event, surrounded by friends, music and dancing, so hungover that I carried on drinking wine for breakfast so that I could get through the day. The paranoia and self-consciousness I felt the next day at an important work meeting was almost unbearable.

There are countless “mornings-after” in my life and they all share the same features:

  • Fear (of the blank spots in my memory, of learning what terrible things I’d said or done)
  • Shame and guilt (about how I’d behaved, of who I’d become when I was drunk)
  • The hot taste of stale alcohol in my mouth, nose and throat and fumes seeping from every pore in my body
  • Raging hangovers that had me pinned to the bed, unable to function
  • Anxiety and panic attacks, sometimes debilitating and always terrifying
  • Low levels of self-confidence and high levels of paranoia
  • A drive to drink again to help me feel better.

There is always a cost and benefit to every behaviour, action or decision we make, no matter how big or how small. The unhealthy relationship with alcohol I had developed was costing me dear. It was getting in the way of me being who I wanted to be and stopping me from creating the future I wanted.

So, if it was costing me so much, why did I keep going back to drinking, even when I’d decided, for so many “final times”, that I was going to stop drinking for good?

This is a question that troubles many people, who (just like I did) recognise the damage that alcohol is doing to them, their lives and their loved ones and decide to cut it out of their lives, only to find themselves reaching back for the bottle again. People tell me that they can’t understand why they’re doing it again when they know it causes them so much misery. They feel locked into an automatic pattern of behaviour that they seem to have little control over.

One of the reasons we go back to drinking again, even though it costs us so much, is that we haven’t fulfilled the positive intentions behind our drinking in other ways.

What do I mean by positive intentions?

There is a range of costs and benefits to our drinking that are sometimes hidden. Buried at an unconscious level. Even when we consciously think we want to stop drinking, somewhere at an unconscious level, there’ll be a part of us crying out for the benefit we used to get from drinking. If we haven’t identified what that benefit is and found another way of getting it, we’ll sabotage our own efforts.

Some of the benefits alcohol gave me initially were:

  • More confidence
  • A feeling of “fitting in”
  • Higher levels of enjoyment
  • An escape from uncomfortable emotions.

By the end of my drinking days, alcohol wasn’t really doing its job properly anymore. The main benefit alcohol gave me at the end was the ability to cope. To get through. To tolerate people I didn’t really want to be with. To feel normal.

The positive intentions behind unhealthy levels of drinking are usually to realise these benefits. We need to find alternative ways to fulfil those intentions so the unconscious part of our minds doesn’t need to sabotage our efforts to stay sober in an attempt to meet them.

For instance, in order to deal with the positive intention to feel better about myself (so I wouldn’t need to escape myself or any uncomfortable emotions), I needed to learn to love and accept myself. In order to deal with wanting to feel more confident, I needed to find other ways of developing self-confidence. I needed to accept it was okay to be quiet and shy sometimes. I needed to learn that being unique and “not fitting in” was a good thing. I needed to be happy with being me.

It’s only by unearthing the positive intentions behind our drinking that we can meet them in other healthier ways. When we’ve dealt with them, we remove the need to reach for alcohol to fulfil them.

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