The part that keeps you drinking

Over the years – before finally being able to take control – I wanted to stop or reduce my drinking more often that I can remember. A night out which resulted in an argument with my partner, waking up with a furry tongue or being too tired to go to work often made me seriously question the amount I was drinking. And I would resolve to do something about it. And then…

I wouldn’t. Despite waking up that morning feeling full of the joys and motivated enough to take action, by the time the sun was going down (or well before, depending on the time of year), I’d cave and get the wine in. Why?

Psychologically, it’s called ‘cognitive dissonance’ – an internal conflict which kicks in strongly when a person’s beliefs contradict with the situation and evidence which is in front of them. Cognitive dissonance is stressful and it’s often easier to go with the old ways and beliefs than to go for a full on challenge. When you add the addictive nature of alcohol to the mix, and the strong psychological and physiological drive to continue with drinking, you can understand why it’s very difficult to resolve this conflict by simply going with the ‘positive’ or sensible decision.

With the help of my therapist, I managed to have a good look at the part which kept me drinking – despite how many alcohol free options I had in my fridge. This drinking part believed that life was difficult and that I found it difficult to cope. It believed that alcohol was a magical fuel, which could allow me to work harder and faster than other people – whether I used it to help me paint a room, get through the really boring task of preparing the family meal or access my creative side when I wanted to write something. Alcohol also acted as my red medicine, numbing me to the depression and anxiety which crept up on me on a daily basis. This drinking part not only believed that I couldn’t get through the day without booze, it also believed that I wasn’t really good enough to get through life without booze. I would look at other people and feel ‘different’. Despite having a great mix of experience, qualifications and good feedback from people, I had an underlying belief that I couldn’t really have THAT great a life – and I used alcohol to keep me down, where I belonged.

So despite my logical voice telling me that I could achieve more if I didn’t drink, that I would be healthier and have more opportunities and that I had loads of good reasons to stop, I kept drinking because I believed I didn’t REALLY deserve that amazing life and I couldn’t cope with what life repeatedly threw up at me.

During the early days of stopping it was very hard to override that part. It needed a lot of reassurance that it would be ok, that I would look after it and that I didn’t hate it. I appreciated that it had tried to help me overcome earlier difficulties from my childhood by identifying a substance which it thought helped me cope. There were days when I was exhausted from the effort of communicating with this part instead of using alcohol to feed it or shut it up.

Eventually, I learned that it was possible to get through the day without alcohol. That it was ok to be upset or anxious without having to drown these feelings. I learned to communicate and comfort that part of myself, to listen to it and to look after it in ways which were healthy and nurturing. By increasing my awareness, the self-destructive drinking part slowly transformed into a part which could express when it was sad or stressed, and which was responded to with kindness and attention.