One For The Road
What do you associate with cocktails? Del Boy? Summer holidays? Celebrations? Decadent, sunny, shopping, afternoon with the girls?
Imagine… one sip of a cocktail and your life begins to unravel, everything that is important to you disintegrates. That’s the reality of being in recovery from alcohol use, recovery has to come first, without it, nothing else can be maintained.
I have yet to meet someone with a drink problem who identifies cocktails as their drink of choice, however it is still alcohol, even if it’s dressed up with an umbrella and a sparkler in it. If you are attempting to reduce, control or stop drinking that cocktail in all it’s frivolous glory will lead you down a murky path to other types of drinks. The voice in your head telling you to drink is far more powerful than the one telling you not to. Let’s just say you drink the cocktail and nothing happens… no negative consequences. The voice in your head says, “You’ve got this sorted, you’re ok.” You may have another or more. It may even be a different drinking episode when your drink of choice will come into play, whether it’s wine, whisky, cider or spirits.
So how much is too much? What do you classify as a “problem drinker?” I could provide information about alcohol related illnesses, units, safe drinking guidelines, but I’m not going to.
At Being Better it’s irrelevant how much or how regularly you are drinking. It’s about the impact on life areas, the problem behaviours associated with and as a result of drinking. In all likelihood these problems and behaviours will probably be amplified with a higher level of drinking. Although in our experience episodic binge drinking can create equally chaotic behaviours and negative consequences as 24 /7 drinking.
It is not unusual for drinking to increase at certain points in our lives; when bereaved, experiencing work pressure, stress, depression, a relationship breakdown, to name a few. We drink to alter our current state, to feel better or to prolong feeling good. When does it tip into becoming something else? This is the tricky part. Over the years people have said to me, “I don’t drink in the morning” or “I don’t drink spirits.” These statements are not said to mislead or minimise drinking but to preserve some sense of dignity or goodness. In essence they are saying “I’m not that bad.” Bad being the key word here. Nobody wants to feel bad about themselves and neither should they.
We live in a society where drinking is an ingrained, expected and acceptable leisure pursuit. Drinking can be justified for every feeling or occasion. Social media is awash, pardon the pun, with posts and adverts glorifying drinking. Gin and craft beer festivals are ten a penny. Conversely if someone’s drinking accelerates they can be treated with disdain and feelings of shame or guilt can be attached to the person. Also when people are making efforts to reduce or stop drinking they can be viewed as “party poopers” assessed as being “miserable.” Maybe this is about people’s own feelings of discomfort about their drinking patterns and levels. Let’s face it we can all refer to someone who is “worse” which can be really helpful when justifying our own drinking behaviours.
All this makes it really challenging to even admit to ourselves that we feel unhappy about our drinking.
When you hear the word “alcoholic” what do you envisage? For the most part people think about a male, probably unkempt, maybe aggressive, anti social, sad and desperate. Words and labels are so powerful and evoke such feelings. To be fair it’s a word that is widely used to describe someone with a physical dependency, but often denotes a sense of hopelessness.
It is the belief of Being Better that if people are dependent on alcohol, this may be psychological or also physical. I can’t stress enough the risk involved for someone with a physical dependence to abruptly stop drinking. Withdrawal from alcohol is a serious matter and can result in seizures and at its worst can be fatal. Ironically physical dependency is easily remedied by detox, which does what it says on the tin, solely rids your body of alcohol. Changing thought’s feelings and behaviours relating to alcohol is where the effort and legwork comes in.
My favourite urban myth has got to be “The registered Alcoholic.” I have heard talk of this many times, from people in treatment, concerned others and once earwigging while sat on a bus. There is a commonly held belief that a register exists for people with a severe alcohol dependency. Allegedly when on this register people are eligible for a £10 a day payment to support their alcohol use. When I have questioned where this register is housed or who is responsible for decision making and distributing payments. I have been met with emphatic responses that it is their GP and “the social” pays them. It has generally been referred to in order to convince me of the severity of the problem and therefore the inability to be “cured.”
Nobody elects to develop a dependency, it’s a wily beast that takes it’s time and slithers up on you.
Changing drinking habits is not easy, “Dry January” is a great example of this. Throughout January I listened to discussions on morning radio where people were asking to be absolved when they didn’t make it till the end of the month. There were a raft of reasons provided for this and positive feedback was given for “good enough” efforts. There was also significant airspace given for planning and preparation to “Retox.”
The catalyst to people walking through our doors is generally a result of a drink related incident, this can be any number of things and often a loved one has had enough. The reality is we sometimes make changes out of fear or because we don’t have the where with all to continue as we are.
There are countless GP surgery’s offering early interventions to people who feel their drinking is creeping up but realistically not everyone feels comfortable disclosing their drinking to their doctor and are fearful of this being logged on their records with potential consequences in the future.
A Way Forward
Keep a drink diary to monitor amounts and frequency, you may choose to include moods.
If reducing or stopping it may be helpful to keep a cravings diary and score the craving’s length and severity 1 – 10. You may identify a particular day / time.
List the reasons / motivations for change.
List what could happen in a year’s time should you continue as you are.
Take advantage of social media groups, forums, inspirational quotes.
Use Apps which track your progress.
Practice refusal skills.
Avoid lies or excuses, “I’m on antibiotics.” It becomes complicated.
Be out and proud, tell people your cutting down or having a break. No reasons necessary.
Declare your intentions to people you trust.
Surround yourself with safe, supportive people.
If physically dependent seek professional help.
There’s no shame in accessing a service, fellowship or private therapy. Do your homework and choose what is the best fit for you.
Just remember nobody wakes up in the morning with a feeling of dread and thinks “Ugh I really regret not drinking last night.”