The other day, my mum made a comment which I found greatly upsetting. And, guess what? I wanted a drink more than anything in the whole world (and yes, I would have quite happily sold my mother for it). Since about the age of 17, whenever my mum upset me, my response was to drink. My mother doesn’t like conflict – if you pull her up for her behaviour things go about as far as they can (she once didn’t speak to me for two weeks when I was 20 because I did confront her). Because I grew up unable to express myself around her and because I was scared of her reaction if I did confront her about anything, I learned to drink in response. The diluted my feelings of rage and hurt and disappointment. Reaching for the bottle became a knee jerk response which, in the short term, successfully took care of my emotions.
So, when this hurtful comment hit me like a blow to my stomach the other day, my first thought was, ‘I need a drink!’. But, instead of finding the nearest corner shop, I went and cried, I went to the gym and pounded out my anger, and I discussed how hurt and upset I was with my partner. In short, I acknowledged my feelings. I allowed myself to feel them. And I dealt with them in a non-self-destructive way.
And I think that’s the key point here. Nobody else MAKES you drink. Yes, you might, like me, have used it as a solution when you’re around certain people who treat you badly on occasion but the choice to drink is entirely yours. You don’t NEED a drink – you just want one because it’s the easier option. Sorry if that sounds harsh – I know that choosing not to drink is so damn difficult at times – but it is true. It’s easier to wash away your feelings in a haze of alcohol than it is to sit with your feelings and experience them in all their rawness. Drinking, in the short term, is always the easier thing to do but once you’ve fallen into that trap of self-destructive behaviour, yet again, the aftermath is so much harder to deal with than if you choose to experience the emotional rawness in all its honesty.
If other people trigger your ‘I need a drink’ button, and they have done for a long time, how do you respond in a different way? First off, you need to have a rule which is:
Nobody else can make me have a drink. Try saying it out loud! This goes for those people who try and force you to have ‘just one’ at the pub too! Absolutely nobody can make you drink. You drink, its your choice. It has nothing to do with anyone else.
Secondly, we all face horrible situations and, unless you want to keep hurting yourself by drinking, you need to find other ways of dealing with these situations. Do you want to react in a way which is damaging to your health and self-esteem? Or do you want to reach in a way which honours you as a precious adult who needs to take care of him or herself? Again, you choose. If you feel hurt are you going to hurt yourself more by drinking, or are you going to look after yourself?
Thirdly, you need strategies in place. If you’re not going to drink in these situations, what are you going to do? Do you have someone to talk to? Does going to the gym or having a walk help? Would a nice bath, movie, or book give you the nurturing you need? Identify alternative responses to these situations which, unfortunately, are always going to crop up from time to time.
It takes a lot of effort, but no matter how old they are, patterns of self-destruction can be replaced by patterns of self-respect – you don’t need a drink, you need to give yourself a hug and support and to validate your feelings.