There are loads of reasons why I used to drink too much. Every interaction between myself and another is a transaction. And alcohol can be part of these transactions. A couple of years ago I was meeting up with an old friend (and my first drinking buddy ever) for the start of a weekend together. I got a text, “I’m on the plane. Are you getting a drink on the train? I’m only going to if you do!”. At the time, I didn’t fancy a drink, but here’s what I did. I texted straight back with, “Of course! Can’t have a journey sober. Enjoy your wine!”.
This happened at a time when I was trying to moderate, and I genuinely didn’t want to start drinking at 3.00 on a train…but I did. So what was going on? I opened that mini bottle of wine because I wanted to create a positive social transaction between myself and my friend. I guess I felt that I was showing her I was that same, fun old person she’d always known. That I hadn’t changed. And I was showing her that I would join in with her desire to drink on the plane in order to make her feel happy.
We get so used to acting in certain ways that we don’t stop to think, what the hell am I doing here? These ingrained social behaviours can have a major impact on our drinking. It may be that we have heavy drinking friends who we feel might shun us, or feel disconnected from us if we refuse a drink. It might be that we’ve been programmed to think that we can only be a fun person to be around if we’re drunk. We use alcohol in social ‘transactions’ all the time – to make other people feel happy, to create social cohesion and to retain the status quo, amongst other things. Without even wanting to, we find ourselves engaging in drinking behaviours simply because drinking is so entwined with these transactions.
I was aware over the course of that weekend with my friend that I wasn’t enjoying drinking. I’d been managing to cut down quite a bit, and found it a chore to drink so much. I knew I’d have a raging hangover. I’d moved on from that type of binge drinking. But I hadn’t been prepared and I couldn’t think of another solution to do anything other than what I’d always done – which is drink.
Within transactional analysis, changing your transactions with other people can have a major effect. Sometimes the people accept your changed behaviour and sometimes you lose that person as a result of those changed transactions. One of the most difficult things about stopping drinking is the fear of the effect it could have on those near and dear to you, whether it’s boozing every Friday night in a group or snuggling up with your partner over a couple of bottles of wine and a box set. If alcohol is an intrinsic part of your relationships, it’s difficult to focus in on what YOU need while you still want to have the same positive transactions you’ve experienced before.
If stopping drinking is important to you – whether for health reasons, self esteem, or simply because it’s preventing you from living your fullest life – you need to start focusing on you, and not how your drinking may effect some social relationships. I can’t guarantee that some relationships won’t fall by the wayside. But I can guarantee that you’ll learn about what you want and how to look after yourself instead of putting other people’s needs above yours.