Are you drinking just for fun or to be numb? Article for Audrey online

Good old wine o’clock, or gin o’clock. Or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with a tipple, but what happens when you can’t locate your ‘off switch’ when you’re drinking alcohol?

We all think we drink for fun, but if fun is sinking vast quantities without stopping, it might be time to wonder why.  Especially if we have big plans we’re not quite managing to make happen as life seems to have a habit of getting in the way. Because compulsive drinking is usually a sign that we’re afraid to face up to something that’s not making us happy.

“Over-drinking is a sign that fear and difficult emotions that we haven’t addressed are running the show,” says Rhona Clews,, a confidence coach with a background in clinical psychology. “By drinking too much we are attempting to  silence that voice inside saying “Get on with it, your life is waiting’. We’re trying to drown out the truth. And because alcohol is so normalised as a social lubricant, so socially acceptable, we can easily grab for the glass and no one’s going to challenge us”.

This is because we put alcohol under the heading of ‘fun’. There’s such a culture of drinking in Western society and if we convince ourselves we’re having ‘fun’, then what harm can it do? But any form of mood alterant used in a compulsive way is a sign we’re not happy. Says Rhona:

“Any stimulant used excessively – whether it’s coffee, sugar, alcohol, adrenaline, whatever – is a sign we’re not able to handle the truth of who we are and what’s going on in our life. We try to drown out that internal voice that tells us the truth by using mood alterants – and usually a cocktail of a few. However because it’s actually our authentic self speaking to us we can’t drown it out because it’s bigger than any destructive behaviour. It doesn’t matter how much booze we throw at it, it can’t be silenced”.

And it’s even louder the next day. And you feel even worse because you’ve woken up with The Fear. “As well as the persistent voice asking you to look at what’s going on, you’ve also got a big layer of shame and guilt hanging over you. If in your hungover state you find yourself compulsively binge-watching box sets, grabbing for comfort food and avoiding your to-do list – well that’s just more stuffing down of your emotions”. But you can’t keep avoiding those feelings. You have to get honest.

“Shame and guilt are like mushrooms in that they breed in the dark. So switch the light on and bring these secretive behaviours out of hiding”. Tell a friend what you know you are up to so you’ve said it and someone’s heard you. “And set bottom lines around the substances you are “using”. Not many people can open a packet of biscuits and just have one and it’s the same with alcohol. They are addictive and even if only intended to be consumed in moderation it’s pretty hard to have them in that way, especially if we have difficult emotional stuff in our lives that we’re not addressing”.

And rebuild your belief in yourself. “When you’ve been on a course of destruction one of the main things you’ve lost is faith and trust in yourself. So you need to rebuild that through ‘esteemable acts’. These involve setting yourself small, achievable goals like going for a run or posting a letter and following them through. When you think ’Right, I’m going to post that letter’ and then do it, you then think ‘I follow through on what I say I’m going to do. I’m a trustworthy person’.

In this way you rebuild your confidence one action after another, showing you can trust yourself. “When we’ve done the opposite of what we intended – e.g. said we’d have one drink and ended up sozzled – it’s important to restore our faith in ourselves, because if we lose it we can’t carry that faith over into other areas of our life. Integrity is built step by step. That’s why 12 step programmes have the adage “one day at a time”.

Words: Marina Gask

Originally featured at Audrey online: