Deprivation vs Indulgence

For many of us, drinking has become a major part of our “reward system.” Whether it’s seen as compensation for completing a difficult or trying task, or celebration for winning or commiseration for losing, the list of ways we have factored alcohol into our lives’ events is astonishing – especially when we attempt to eliminate it.

A long gone client offers a fairly comprehensive example: “Ohio State (which he’d never even attended) lost! I must drown my sorrow. Ohio State won! I must celebrate. I haven’t seen my friend Joe in 6 months! I must mourn my loss. Joe! You’re here! Let’s go get a drink! My wife and I haven’t had sex in months! What a bitch! I’ll show her and get drunk! Take that! We had sex for the first time in months! Time to celebrate!

There was absolutely no event in this man-child’s life that didn’t call for getting drunk.

While few people operate at this extreme, most of us have over indulged ourselves at events or upon occasions. Whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day, our birthday, a professional accomplishment or failure or any holiday from Halloween (remember when that was a kids’ holiday?) to Groundhog Day.

Regardless, when we stop over-medicating we quickly discover what we’d been using alcohol for, and that unexpected deprivation leads many of us back to another bottle.

We have nothing against rewards. Do something well, win the whatever, endure the unendurable, escape death, heal from illness or accident? We’re all in favor of appropriate compensatory rewards. Buy the new shoes, suit, skis, golf clubs, membership or whatever contributes to your sense of accomplishment.

But don’t let feeling deprived because you’re not drinking anymore drag you into false despair and a return to self-medicating.

But, also, don’t fail to reward yourself appropriately for accomplishing a very difficult life transition. Indulge yourself as frivolously as you want with the money you previously wasted on wine, vodka, scotch, beer or whatever your drink(s) of choice happened to be.

That can be a lot of money, too. One client was drinking 2 bottles of chardonnay a day and her wine merchant had conned her by saying “You can’t have a problem if you only drink good wine.” Need I add that “good” wine started at $100+ a bottle?

Creating an Invisible Protective Bubble

We have seen a lot of clients whose alcohol use escalated as both a protection from and FU towards an abusive, controlling, unbearable spouse. And as an aside, no, these spouses aren’t any more apt to be men than women. At least in our work this isn’t a #MeToo issue.

In the first instance, sufficient alcohol really does provide a protective bubble against the abusive, controlling, withholding, demeaning spouse or partner. Short of physical violence, it’s works to blunt the impact as one removes oneself into alcohol’s warm embrace.

This strategy is enhanced by its effectiveness as an “FU – try and control this you SOB/Bitch!”

Of course, as usual, this fixes nothing and the usual route is for the abuse and drinking to escalate in lock-step until something irrevocable transpires.
Ending this seemingly irresolvable conflict can take a couple of paths. A common one is for the drinker to join AA which is an even better escape and FU than drinking. Of course that comes a great cost to the joiner but if you want to continue an alcohol focused life it’s certainly an option.

“Leave me alone! I’m working my program!” “I have a disease!” “I’m powerless!” “If I relapse it’ll be your fault!” and other such nonsense, as well as escaping into mindless meetings, provides both the bubble and the FU at no more effort than escaping to your nearest bar.

Suppose, however, you’ve had enough of childishness? Then the answer becomes Assertiveness Training, which we do a lot of. When you quit demeaning yourself with guilt and shame, and begin to stand up for yourself, it’s surprising how things can change. Combine it, particularly for women, with classes in kick boxing and pistol shooting and a spouse or partner will become the one who needs to shape up or ship out.

Many stay demeaned and abused because they fear the “ship out” option will be the consequence. You need to carefully weigh the cost/benefit balance. But do that with logic, not irrationality. That’s where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy applies.

I’m sure you’re not surprised that we teach and facilitate both CBT and Assertiveness along with a host of other coping and life enhancing skills, options, and perspectives.