Why do I drink?
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
Often the question asked when waking up after the night before. The dread, the panic, the anxiety. Why do I drink? Why do I drink SO much? Why didn't I come home earlier?
Isn't it fascinating, that a behaviour, a decision, an action, taken so regularly can cast SO much doubt on your mindset. A decision we can take days pondering over and then press repeat come the weekend after.
Look, for me it wasn't like every time I drank, I regretted. No, no, no...It was more that over the decade and a half (especially the most recent half), I would go through this reoccurring battle of self-doubt, self-inflicted torture of piecing things back together after a heavy session/weekend/holiday on the booze.
This very question, "why do I drink?", is something I wanted to explore deeper when I stopped drinking. I think I became obsessed with it, getting the answer, getting my answer to what led me to drink, and drinking excessively for that matter.
I think it took me six months to get the clarity I needed. Six months of searching within myself, six months of self-reflection, six months of NET therapy (which I would highly recommend to anyone looking to find an informal way of digging deeper under the surface of your emotion well being). What I found were four main drivers, or triggers as I've been told to call them. And with each, I'll try and explain the clarity I got. Here goes...
1) "Because I'm feeling happy/sad/frustrated/excited"
Something good happens....drink. Something bad happens....drink. This was my default. My stress release. My mechanism of solving all life's problems. I drank.
Whilst it's argued that drinking can relieve stress... it's normally only temporary. Its the case of kicking the can down the road (excuse the pun). What essentially happens to the body and mindset when alcohol is consumed, especially during times of heightened emotions (sadness, happiness, frustration, excitement etc.), is that these feelings are dialled up to 100mph. This can essentially last until the body has completely detoxed the alcohol from its system. At that time, the body will crash back down to "normality". Now imagine doing this over and over and over again. It gets tiring. I know it did for me.
So what is the alternative? Look, for me, it was finding other channels, other tools I could use to manage these heightened times of emotion:
Exercise! Let the power of endorphins work their magic. For me it was surfing, the ocean, the salt water, it's my place of healing;
Talk! Just let it come out. Look, this can be professionally (via some form of therapy), with friends/family, support groups or if none of those seem appealing, write it down! Allow the pen and paper be your voice and listening ear;
Relax! Now in its simplest form this can just mean stopping, allowing yourself to rest. Taking this further, I tried exploring yoga, meditation, reading and listening to music. Whatever allowed my mind to stop the chatter and turn down the noise.
This is usually the obvious one. The achilles heel. Lets start by defining willpower... "the ability to control one's own actions, emotions, or urges and having strong determination that allows one to do something difficult".
Now flip that on its head and that was me for much of my twenties. F**k, I had none of it. Zero "willpower." I would often be referred to a "yes man"... an "easy target for persuasion"... a "party boy".
I knew if I was to make such a significant change, than I would have to learn/develop/build on my own willpower. And I needed a truck load of it! Now here's the bad news I was told when discussing this with my therapist at the time. "There is no easy way to break a habit, no short cut, no magic trick that will suddenly allow you to have all the willpower in the world. You have to train it."
Some of the below are things that helped me, but overall I can tell you, it takes repetition.
The first step in self-control is to set a goal. Make it long term and then break it down into a few short term goals (i.e. not drinking for a month can be longer term, not drinking at this weeks work event is the short term). This allows you to get quick wins. Quick wins in repetition creates a build up of your willpower.
Self-control is like a muscle. It can become fatigued by overuse, but it can also be conditioned and strengthened through exercise. Start small, don't overload yourself and take on too much, too soon. As like the previous point, don't rush into going on the bucks/hen sober straight away. Instead, try something with a smaller group, less crowded environment. Allow your "willpower muscle" to feel tested but not overloaded.
Reward yourself along the journey. Achieved a Friday night off the booze? Treat yourself Saturday morning to a breakfast out, buy that thing you've been wanting for a while now, go do that spa day you've been eagerly wanting to do. Some of decisions you will need to make to create willpower, will feel negative at first, feel like you're missing out. Combat these with positive ones. Remember, repetition of doing this will soon shift the way you think when having to make those difficult decisions. I got a new puppy when I hit 12 months off the booze.
Finally, strengthening your self-control in one area has a flow on effect in other areas of your life. For me it made me more decisive in work. Helped me perform better. With confidence. Take time to reflect on this over the first few weeks/months. Witness the difference in how you operate, the positive situations you're finding yourself in.
3) "To be a better version of yourself"
Now here is the biggest lie you have ever told yourself. We've all done it. We've all felt it. That smug rock/pop star feeling when out drinking. The aim of getting more and more intoxicated because I'll be funnier, wilder, people will prefer this version, people will love this version.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions which unfortunately tricks the masses in false self-belief, instead of having the comfort that with or without drink, you're f**king awesome.
Yes there will be the awkward moments at the start, overthinking what you will say, how you will act. Jeez, I even felt awkward of what to do with my arms when I started socialising without drink. How silly does that sound!
Push past this awkwardness and you will be greeted with the same funny, semi-wild legend that you are. I found I had even more energy than I did before. Trust the process that people will like the real version of you. And the ones that don't, well question why they were even in your life in the first place and watch as you sieve through the ones that matter and the ones that don't.
I generally think if you asked the majority of people you know, drinking and getting drunk would probably be their number one hobby. Their favourite pass time. Look if you choose to enjoy a wine/beer/or whatever else every now and again, I don't think there's a huge problem in that. Its your choice and we're all entitled to making those choices. But when it consumes 95% of your free time or when your weekly plans are organised around it and enviably everything you do is shortly followed by the reward of getting sloshed, how sustainable really is this? When does the same trap start to get boring.
I used to drink excessively due to boredom. I was bored that I worked a 9-5, I was bored of the fact that I couldn't find a deeper purpose, I was even bored when I drank....so I drank some more.
One of the more surprising things I found even after just a couple of weeks of not drinking, was how much more I was doing. How much more fun I was having. I became better at surfing, I read more, I listened to podcasts, I learnt to play the guitar (something which had been a goal of mine from a young kid), I went to more places, I became passionate in things which I didn't even realise I had been passionate about. I even talked more, danced more, met more people when I went to a social event...and I remembered it all. One of the really satisfying things I've taken from my whole experience, is being able to look back six, twelve months and notice all the "new" things I had experienced. Now does that sound boring?
I think we'll leave it there today. Thanks for reading.