“Understandable” Self-Medication With Alcohol?

I hesitate to keep reminding you that many of us have found ourselves over-indulging with alcohol for perfectly good reasons.

I will start with myself and branch out from there. In 1979 my 5-year-old daughter was kidnapped by my former wife who had disappeared from our lives three years earlier.

My daughter was missing for five years and I had neither help nor recourse. In those days, child kidnapping by non-custodial mothers was not a criminal matter.

Are you surprised to learn that after a couple of years of futile efforts to locate her I turned to alcohol for solace and escape?

This story is simply a variation on trauma-induced alcohol use of the sort we hear about every week whether it’s deaths from Covid, auto and other accidents, molestations, rapes, and any number of other horrific events. And the events don’t have to be all that unusual as many a post-divorce drinker seeking solace and/or understanding can attest.

And if the escape only lasted for 6 months or a year it would even be, perhaps, helpful as well as understandable. But as many are about to discover as the pandemic restrictions ease, drinking habits developed during lockdown may be harder to kick than they were to acquire.

There is another common problem with trauma-induced drinking. The drinking itself prevents any healing from the trauma. Far too many people wake up every morning to the feeling that the “events” that occurred one, two, ten years ago feel like that happened yesterday.

Healing, to whatever degree is possible, takes time and alcohol stops the clock.

Escapist drinking also makes you vulnerable to exploitation, whether by family members, “treatment” and “rehab” hucksters, “programs” and cults. Defenses down the wolves will show up.

While your current usage levels may be understandable, and the temporary relief welcome, please remember that real relief comes from healing, coping, adapting, and changing. Yes, you can postpone this by continuing to medicate – and over the past 15 years we’ve had four clients choose that route even though death was certain – but why not do what every ex-smoker has done and accept the short term discomfort of growth, change, and adaptation and end up with a life, not a bunker?

Understanding “Regression”

We all know that alcohol is a drug – one that relieves anxiety, for example, but one which also creates depression. What is less know is that alcohol also induces “regression.” But most people don’t know what regression is, or how it affects us, so here is the nickel tour.

To regress means to behave in a manner beneath our maturity level. Anyone who’s been to a frat party, beach party, or other alcohol-saturated event will recognize the concept. With sufficient alcohol, we revert to an earlier stage of development.

Now comes the double whammy. Drink long enough and you can lower your functional level to that which matches that of cult members, in this specific case, AA, whose leading members, like founder Bill W., function at a 4 or 5-year-old level, sometimes lower.

So here you are, having lowered yourself to a pre-school level, or at least a preadolescent one, and been coerced into attending AA or one of the zillion 12 Step “rehabs.” For a while, you actually fit since you’ve reduced yourself to the cult’s mentality.

But what happens when you sober up?

What happens is you revert to your previous state of adult maturity where you most definitely do not fit with the cult. BUT, and it’s a big “but,” you have been so indoctrinated and brainwashed you are afraid to leave.
Don’t fit? Afraid to leave? What’s to be done?

Too many people return to drinking while also continuing to attend AA. Makes sense, in a twisted way. Keep yourself reduced to the cult’s level so you don’t have to face leaving the cult, which also encourages tour drinking by telling you you’re not responsible for it (you’re “powerless,” remember?).

Of course, the other solution is to simply stay grown-up, slip out the door, get a life, and don’t look back upon your AA time as anything more than a detour, one that maybe helped you stay sober to get back on the road.

As noted in the first article, excessive alcohol use may be reasonable for a while. Now it’s time to get back to living. Really, it’s not all that difficult.