I don't really know how to get started. I have visited the SR forums before, looking for posts that I could find helpful and relate to. Today, suffering from a horrible hangover, having missed work and literally just thrown up the apple that I thought I could manage to settle my stomach, I'm thinking I never want to go through this again. These are the things I'm feeling, both physically and emotionally:
-nausea. I feel too light-headed to stand up, and can only manage a couple of positions lying down without my stomach turning
-blotchy, irritated skin, with sweat oozing from every pore as my body desperately tries to push out the abuse of the three glasses of wine and five pints of beer that I had last night
-last night's makeup that I was too drunk to remove
-guilt and shame that I did this to myself again, and that I am ******* up my life
-anxiety because I don't remember the conversations had, or getting home
There's probably a lot more that I haven't described, but I'm sure the above is enough to convince you of the reason I'm here. I binge drink. I have trouble stopping once I start. To elaborate on yesterday, I was with good friends, as in people that I feel comfortable with, have fun with, and trust even when I’m sober. My boyfriend also came out (he drinks but always stops at three or four at the maximum. . I was in a safe environment, with the right people, who were also quite drunk, and I’m sure they would say that we had a perfectly fun night. YET it’s not worth the hangover, and I strongly dislike the idea of being out of control or unlike your usual self. I think we all behave differently when drunk, and hardly anyone is better for it. Also, I have also been similarly drunk before, NOT in a safe environment, NOT with the right people, NOT being able to look after myself.
I first got drunk on New Year's Eve when I was thirteen. I think I had three bottles of cider and threw up. *wahey* The shape of things to come... Well anyway. Up to the age of sixteen, I dabbled in alcohol only occasionally, but was mostly not that bothered about drinking, though if I did drink, I would almost always want to drink to get drunk. I would not necessarily spell it out like that, but I didn't see the point of one drink. To be honest, not sure I still do (more about that later).
I think the bingeing started in college, around the age of sixteen. For various reasons, I lost my self-confidence completely at this age. By eighteen, I was going to bars two or three times a week, drinking up to eight beers a night, blacking out regularly. My parents had never liked the idea of me having even one or two drinks as a teenager, but now I could tell that they were truly worried about me, as I was legally allowed to drink and go to bars. They would get angry with me a lot. Despite their good intentions and the understandable worry, I found their behaviour controlling and it added to my anxiety. On many drunken nights, I opted to not tell my parents that I wasn't coming home, or where I was, or with whom, because I was too scared of their reaction and the blame. This obviously caused immense tension at home, with my parents losing sleep or refusing to speak to me in the following days. This added to my guilt and made me hate myself even more, leading to more anxiety, depression and drinking. (For the record, my parents are lovely and always wanted the best for me. They are not abusive and I had no rational reason to "fear" them. They were only being authoritative in the hope that it would work. Unfortunately, I think I needed love and understanding, and to talk through my issues. My parents have also lost a child at a similar age that I was then, though not through drinking, which means that they have sometimes been slightly overprotective of me. However, their worries about my drinking were completely justified. I had friends at the time who also drank heavily, and their parents didn’t seem that bothered about it. I also used to think that everyone does it, which was supposed to make it normal. It may be true that it is culturally accepted and even encouraged in certain countries, but that doesn’t make it healthy or “normal”. It’s still a malfunction, an addiction, the absence of the tools that allow you to deal with the ups and downs of life in a productive way.
Fast-forward to today. I’m 25 now, and will be turning 26 in October. For the past year or so, my drinking hasn’t been as bad as it used to be, and every night out hasn’t necessarily been a terrible one with regrets the next day. I would normally find it hard to stop at one, but have been leaving it at three or four and not suffering a horrible hangover the next day. Have been to work slightly hungover, but not sick and I haven’t missed any days because of alcohol prior to today. It’s a considerable improvement to calling in sick at least twice a month in my old jobs (I’ve been at this job for eight months now). For the first time, my relationship to alcohol seemed to get less obsessive, and I found myself saying no to it quite often, or even leaving it to just one drink when I noticed that I didn’t like feeling “under the influence”. Until recently, I was also thinking about it less.
Last night and today’s hangover isn’t typical for me, but it does still happen occasionally – maybe every three months. Overall, alcohol has been less appealing to me and I’ve occasionally felt “in control”, without obsessing about controlling my drinking. I would kind of just naturally stop at the point where I noticed I was tipsy, and would not want to go further. I wouldn’t feel that desperate need to continue drinking, that horrible sense of disequilibrium. I just wouldn’t fancy getting obliterated.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve drank more often that I would like to, probably about twice a week. Until last night, I wasn’t too concerned because I wouldn’t overindulge or get past the point of tipsy. Last night feels like a massive step back, and I’m not sure what triggered it. I’ve been working on some personal growth stuff this spring, and for a time felt like new windows of insight were opening everywhere, and I was able to observe and understand my behaviour better. I was feeling calm and centred and, for the first time in a long time, positive about life and the future. When I felt good in my sober state, I found that my desire to drink disappeared by itself.
Yet recently it’s started to come back and I don’t know why. It’s very quiet at wok at the moment, with not much to do, and I’ve found that I’m losing motivation. Me and my boyfriend also went on a trip that we were looking forward to for a long time, so maybe there’s also a sense of it being over and not having a next thing to look forward to.
I’m starting to think that maybe it is impossible to predict how much I will drink, even during good periods. Maybe there will always be the risk that I won’t stop once I start, but then I DO believe that ultimately it’s a choice. I don’t believe in powerlessness over something, and not being an active agent in the decision-making process. Some of us have nervous systems that perhaps make it harder to be in control, whether it’s due to genetics or conditioning, I don’t know. I’m reading a very interesting book at the moment on how the dopamine system works, and I found the perfect explanation. Dopamine produces a reaction that can be described as a promise of reward, without ever actually rewarding us. Ain’t that the binge drinker! Dopamine does not give long-term happiness, it makes us feel short-term pleasure that can be ultimately unsatisfactory. But because our brain tells us that if we keep doing that thing, whatever it is, we will be rewarded, it’s hard to stop unless you actually know how it works. Once you have an ingrained understanding of the actual consequences of an action, and not just what your brain tells you, you will be better equipped to make the better choice.
ANYWAY. Back to drinking. Even if I was to be able to moderate my drinking, I’ve started to think that maybe I don’t want to. It’ll probably be easier to make a firm choice instead, and choose complete abstinence. I have realised that I don’t enjoy the sensation after having just one or two (apart from red wine, which I have always been able to enjoy with dinner, leaving it to one glass, though I rarely do drink wine with dinner). A drink or two tends to leave me feeling agitated and not being able to focus. I either want to sober up or keep drinking, it just feels like a limbo state.
I also like the idea of experiencing the world with all senses. The pleasure in going to the park is being able to smell the grass, feel the sunshine, walk barefoot. I don’t like the idea of dulling my senses. In fact, when I need to feel more connected and grounded, alcohol does just the opposite. One may feel like we connect with friends over a drink, but I have noticed that I enjoy feeling connected to someone and knowing it’s not fake. With the right people, there should not be any need for alcohol.
Touching on that last point. I drink socially but I have also drunk alone in the past, usually out of anxiety or avoiding responsibility (deadlines were a big one in university – though I got a first and came out top of my field in the end! Geez, what a waste to drink all of that away.) The situations that can trigger a craving are usually some of these:
- avoiding responsibility, procrastination
- feeling sad, depressed or lonely
- feeling like I’m missing out
- feeling like somebody whose opinion matters to me does not like me
- feeling good or excited, especially in the summer (I automatically start thinking drinking beer in the park when the sun is out. This is how yesterday started as well. I need to develop healthy habits and find some new outdoorsy activities.)
I’m quite good at noticing these triggers these days, and have developed better ways of dealing with them, but setbacks happen, clearly. I want to know whether it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, which might even mean long periods of abstinence, without the abstinence and thus alcohol becoming the centre of my life and my attention. What I don’t want to do is to commit to spending the rest of my life thinking about alcohol, even when I’m not drinking it. All my efforts to cut down or quit have been ruined by the mere fact that it’s all been about the booze. I’ve had much more success with focusing on why I don’t want to feel sober, rather than why I want to feel drunk. I read a book called “Unhooked: How to quit anything” by F. Woolverton and S. Shapiro, which gave me better understanding about the underlying causes of my drinking.
This is quite a long post, so congrats if you got to the end of it. It’s probably reminded you of why you no longer drink. I hope that the kind souls here can offer me some support and advice to get started, and convince me whether abstinence is the way. How do you do it? Do you have to think about booze in order not to drink it, or has the happiness brought by abstinence erased that desire and you’ve automatically stopped thinking about it or craving it? What I do know is that it can’t be a willpower battle, because I’ll be destined to lose. Alcohol simply needs to lose its appeal, and it will do that if life itself feels more rewarding. I've already had a glimpse of how that feels, and I want to continue on that journey. Can you help?
Thank you for listening!