The Very Real Benefits of Alcohol Abuse
One of the things we ask clients to do during the 5 Day Intensive portion of our program is to list the benefits they get from their drinking – obviously if there weren’t compensating benefits you wouldn’t be drinking, or in trouble, and you wouldn’t have problems getting things back under control again.
Typically, those benefits include things like anxiety reduction, alleviating boredom and loneliness, as well as reducing emotional and physical pain. Some of us who use alcohol as a depressant – rather than an “upper” – and find it quiets the turmoil in our brains (whether ADD or creativity or over-prescribed meds), among many other things including just putting in time waiting to die (thank you, B.B.).
That’s the first part of the “benefit exercise” because these make up your personal mosaic of uses that are going to need to be considered and replaced. To some extent, this is the easy part because this is where you can make some unilateral decisions and choices and make the necessary changes.
Then there is “Door #2” – What benefits are those around you getting from your drinking? Those “others” include spouses, children, other family members, friends, and anyone else with a vested interest in keeping you drinking. Ask any of these individuals and they will protest that they are victims of your drinking and certainly don’t derive any benefits from it. They may actually believe that, but their actions, once you quit usually tell a different story.
What benefits are they unconsciously enjoying?
For one thing, you lose your say in family decision making. No matter how valid a point you may have, on any topic, it’s dismissed because “you’re just a drunk.” The test? Stop drinking, learn to be a bit assertive, start standing up for yourself, and see how fast the spouse/family/children start trying to sabotage you back into drinking again.
Friends and family too, also have a vested interest in you making them look good in comparison. Your drinking covers up whatever unaddressed “issues” they may have and allows them to divert attention from their behaviors and ascribe all of the problems to your drinking.
They certainly don’t have any problems, nor are they a contributing factor.
Friends in particular don’t want you fixing a problem you share with them. After all, if you acknowledge a problem and correct it, what’s that say about them? Remember, alcohol reduces you and your drinking buddies down to about a 6th grade conformity level and you can’t be “breaking up that old gang” by actually maturing, can you?
It’s an interesting exercise you can begin on your own – cataloging your benefits.
Then we can help you design alternatives to alcohol, learn to assertively fend off sabotage, and to quit worrying about what others’ say.
It’s all there in our arsenal for Ending Alcohol Abuse: What Works – and it can become your arsenal too.
When Motivation Flags
Regardless of what behaviors or conditions we work at changing, motivation occasionally evaporates as life events intrude, we again exceed our carrying capacity, we find ourselves with too much unstructured time (“free time is not your friend”), or we just get a little rebellious, lazy, and/or pouty.
This is all normal – and has nothing to do with alcohol per se.
I’m no different in this regard than you are. I get very tired of going to physical therapy for my left knee that still isn’t, after 14 months, fully recovered from a severed quad tendon. I hate actively managing my sometimes erratic blood pressure. Skipping wheat, which is even worse for me than for most people, succumbs to pancakes on a fairly predictable schedule.
But, no, I have not “relapsed” just because I had a cheese Danish with my coffee this morning. Or a glass of merlot with last night’s dinner.
I made a choice that I am perfectly willing to take responsibility for. And, frankly, I have lost nothing in the process.
No, I am not going to throw up my hands in 12 Step defeat and declare that all is lost and celebrate with a dozen donuts, or skip tracking the effectiveness of my modest medication regimen, or fail to show up for my next physical therapy appointments.
Yes, that would be the AA way, but it’s not mine, or yours.
Instead we just keep on doing what we’ve been doing successfully. We may review the circumstances that led up to reverting to some unproductive choices, laugh at ourselves, decide whether or not it’s anything to be concerned about, and then continue living our lives.
Perhaps we also make a call, or an appointment, and review what we can do to better maintain motivation, regain a bit of humor about ourselves, receive absolution at no charge, and/or reorganize the mosaic of your life.
Remember, please, you chose life over a cult, and there will be bumps. But that’s all they are. Bumps.
Life doesn’t unfold perfectly and you won’t “get it right” all the time. Pretty good really is good enough. So get good at forgiving yourself rather than beating yourself.
Besides, it’s very good practice for aging well, when we all have to pay ever closer attention to damn near everything.