Remember, please, that we don’t abuse alcohol because we’re dumb, weak, or diseased, we abuse it because it works – until it doesn’t. For the next two weeks we’ll look at a couple of the ways we often see this play out.
Recipes for creating alcohol abuse:
#1: Take Conscientiousness and Add Passivity
Highly conscientious people tend to take on more responsibilities than we can handle, eventually exceeding our carrying capacity. If we are also passive, rather than assertive, we may find ourselves using alcohol to blunt the anxiety the overload induces.
We may also use drinking as a passive aggressive way of punishing others for not helping or to allow us to act out aggressively towards other’s impossible demands.
In either case we would be a lot better off speaking up, negotiating a more equal balance in our lives, work, marriages, or wherever the inequity exists. That might actually result in some workable solutions. If not, it would at least better define the problems you need to cope with in a more productive manner.
Most of our clients show a strange dichotomy where they are quite successful, and assertive, professionally, but revert to passivity in personal relationships. This results in power imbalances between responsibilities and decision making that often leads to passive-aggression directed against the dominating spouse.
Again, alcohol abuse “works” in terms of punishing both yourself for not stepping up, and your spouse since they can’t control it, but it ultimately leaves you without any credibility or an equal say in decision making.
In these cases the answer is simple, though, as we know, the process is not. Assertiveness training along with motivational and other support to re-balance the relationship in an equitable manner will result in a reduced need to misuse alcohol.
As always, part of the trick is to defer repeating old habits, and installing new ones, long enough for the benefits of altered behaviors to appear.
The rule is that it takes about a year for relationships to evolve a new “normal” – but many of the benefits will appear long before that.
Change is scary, but stepping up from passive to assertive is also exhilarating, and relief from depression and anger will begin almost immediately.
But how will my spouse respond?
Most spouses, partners and significant others generally assume that when you quit drinking, nothing else will change. Life will go on as before, except you won’t drink.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Consider for a moment that your drinking effects everyone around you – as they will be the first to acknowledge – BUT, so will your not drinking.
If you are going to replace passivity and passive-aggression with assertiveness, your spouse – and children and others close to you – are going to have to adjust to a new emerging balance of power within your relationships.
A lot of people, at least in the short run, didn’t expect to lose power when you stepped up, or to add responsibility when they lost their favorite scapegoat – you and your drinking.
But that is what happens.
Consequently, when you work with us we encourage a “go slow” approach. Practice assertiveness in small matters first and move on to larger issues when you’ve earned some credibility.
You and your partner will most likely go through a period of adjustment where you swing from passive to aggressive before settling into the unfamiliar assertiveness.
They will vacillate between wanting to support you in leaving alcohol behind and then sabotaging your efforts in order to get back to the old disfunctional – but predictable – balance and roles.
Generally over time this plays out to better and more intimate relationships unless the differences, particularly in maturity, are too great. How that develops will be the topic of next week’s Newsletter and that too will contain a surprise or two.
Until then, find us by calling or writing with comments or questions…