“…Alcohol! The cause of… and solution to… all of life’s problems.”
– Homer Simpson
For fans of “The Simpsons” television show, this line is classic Homer – a good dollop of wisdom coupled with a complete lack of interest in changing. Both sad and funny.
Aaah, the eternal paradox of alcohol. Alcohol has caused so many problems in my life, and yet, when I’m feeling bored, anxious, sad, lonely, overwhelmed, happy, celebratory, excited – in other words, feeling anything – it seems a reasonable and even perfect solution.
I drank eagerly for 12 years, from age 14 to 26. Then I stopped drinking for 23 years and 3 months (not that I was counting). Eight years ago, I started drinking again and saw that I was still eager for that drink. Eager for the buzz, the camaraderie with other drinkers, the easing of tension, the release of whatever negative feelings I was having.
But the problem with drinking is that it’s a temporary fix for my permanent problem – the inability to sit with feelings, whether good or bad. I always want to eliminate the bad and enhance the good. If I’m sad, I want to be less sad, if I’m happy I want to be more happy. And alcohol does fix that – for a little while.
But in attempting to fix a single problem, alcohol has caused more problems. Like blackouts where I remember nothing. How did I get home? What did I say on the phone? How did I embarrass myself? Who can I call who will tell me what I said or did and not judge me? Or brownouts, where I kind of sort of remember parts of the occasion, but not quite. So many hours trying to piece together missing time and agonizing over what I do remember.
I’m lucky to be alive after all the times I’ve driven drunk. I’m lucky to still have friends considering what a demanding and needy person I was during the days of my heaviest drinking. I’ve thrown up more times and in more places than I can count. I’ve spent mornings struggling to put on my mascara because my hands are shaking and my head is spinning. I’ve showed up to work drunk, either freshly so (which got me fired), or still drunk from the night before. I got pregnant and had an abortion as a consequence of a drunken one-night stand. I’ve wallowed in angst for days after an episode of overdrinking. These are all problems.
So why would anyone with those experiences ever pick up a drink again, especially after such a long period of abstinence? I could say, well, my new husband likes to drink, so it must be his fault. Or I’ve matured and it’s no longer a problem like it was in my wayward youth. And those explanations are valid. I like to drink with my husband. I do have a different perspective and maturity after decades of abstinence. But when I’ve had a few too many and am regretful the next day and asking myself why why why, the answer is always the same: I like to drink. I just like to drink.
But if I want alcohol to be more of a solution than a cause, I have to learn to manage drinking. Or at least give it a shot (pun intended). And that has been happening – I’ve been slowly and steadily learning, growing, and changing. One of the most impactful strategies I’ve used is getting support. Just knowing that there are others who have the same challenges is such a gigantic relief. And there’s such a wide array of organizations these days to let me know I’m not alone. That’s been incredibly beneficial for the big picture.
For the little picture, the day-to-day goal of not overdrinking, one of my best tools is having periods of abstinence. Abstinence clears my head and gives me the all important reminder: I don’t NEED to drink. I don’t HAVE to drink. It’s such a valuable reset, helping me to break the habit. I have so much pride in myself after a period of abstinence. I’ve accepted myself for who I am (someone who likes to drink and who can easily overdo) yet rejected always giving in to self-defeating sabotaging behavior. I become confident that my life and myself are just fine the way they are and all my feelings are gifts that don’t need to be ignored or enhanced.
It can be tricky drinking again after a period of abstinence. The first few years after I started drinking again were littered with overdrinking episodes. But in time, with support and time spent abstaining (a day, a week, a month, whatever), I’ve found my tolerance for alcohol is reduced to the point where I simply can’t drink as much as I used to. And my tolerance for the physical and emotional consequences of overdrinking is also reduced, to the point that I’m actually able to think ahead to those consequences and not take that first (or next) drink.
Abstinence can be a way of life or one of many management strategies for problem drinkers. The most important thing I can say about abstinence is that there is absolutely no downside to not drinking. None. It may not feel that way when life hits me hard or I’m just plain bored or feel desperate to change my feelings, but the physical and emotional benefits of abstinence are always – and I can’t emphasize “always” enough – greater than the temporary, and often dubious, benefits of drinking.
Post Submitted By: Nora Desmond, MM Forum Member