Getting Older

We’re all getting older, of course, and with that process it becomes ever easier to use drinking as a way of “putting in time waiting to die,” as one of our former clients put it.

The temptation, particularly for those of us with a history of drinking, even if only moderately and socially, is to allow alcohol to medicate all sorts of conditions, and for drinking to expand to fill newly available space.

And, no, you don’t have to be 70+ for this process to occur.

Many women find that drinking increases dramatically in their early 50s. For many of you, child rearing is over, running a household has declined in terms of time and effort, and a retiring spouse is driving you crazy.

For men, retirement has produced a vast wasteland of empty hours, disappearing attention and recognition, and a dearth of interests.

Yes, we recognize that these conditions aren’t necessarily gender specific, and we certainly see clients where there is plenty of cross-over in the roles and changes and conditions.

None-the-less, unavoidable changes that occur for all of us, with advancing age, invariably result in us selecting one of the two available options. We either progress or regress.

What does that mean, exactly?

Regression is the easier one to describe, as well as the one that has you reading this Newsletter. The process is one of increased isolation, boredom, inactivity, social and/or marital withdrawal, depression, and alcohol consumption.

Regression’s big attractions are that it requires no effort on your part and the alcohol provides temporary relief on a daily basis. But if that was a satisfactory way to “enjoy” your hard earned years, you wouldn’t be reading this, would you?

Progression, on the other hand, takes effort. It also requires that you pay attention to yourself, your health, and your life. It also requires making an effort to create a new life with a new focus, orientation, and interests.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe this evolution is to look at the commonly medicated conditions that age exacerbates, like depression. Alcohol’s short “buzz” provides momentary relief from depression but the lingering effect, since alcohol is a depressant, is even more depression. Alternatives include regular exercise, CBT, and dogs, among others.

Anxiety is another emotion we tend to anesthetize, and alcohol works really well for that. But, again, so does exercise, meditation, CBT, and activities of various sorts that engage you.

We could go on through the other conditions – loneliness, boredom, loss of roles, retirement, physical afflictions, and so on – but we think you probably get the point.

Progression is a matter of re-engagement with life, regression is a disengagement from life.

As usual, it’s your choice. Your friendly local liquor store, beer depot, or wine shoppe will cheerfully help you stop living long before you actually succumb.

We will equally cheerfully help you live – perhaps more fully than you ever have.

Some letters are more gratifying than we could ever expect. The following, from a woman in Vancouver, is one such and we thank her for sharing in her remarkable, and full, recovery from a period of completely understandable alcohol abuse.

Hi to my favorite psychologists!

Let me tell you a tale. The first part you know: I was not much of drinker my entire life, until I began to use alcohol as a tool to escape the pain and anxiety that consumed me after my husband of many, many years abruptly left me for my now-former friend.

Some 6 months later I met B., smart, sweet and funny, avowed bachelor, who had some Asperger’s tendencies, such as no hand holding, no public display of affection. However, privately he was affectionate and devoted to me from the beginning, nearly 3 years ago. We had a wonderful summer of travel and there was some marriage discussion.

Then in August, B. was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and he literally said we couldn’t talk about marriage because he had to concentrate on fighting cancer. He began to push me away, yet maintaining just enough contact to keep me within reach. In my sorrow and loneliness, I felt I was reliving the feeling of loss and rejection that I experienced with my divorce.

I began to drink more and more until I felt out of control. I quit seeing friends and quit exercising. I just worked and counted the hours until I could have a drink alone at home, blunting my feelings to a numb level.

Then I met you two. My own life was restored. I no longer needed alcohol. I could DECIDE to not drink. I began to socialize. I went to the gym. I still saw B., but not in a clingy or needy way.

Sometime around early February, in the midst of strenuous chemo and many trips by himself to Houston, B. began to display more affection, kissing me in the airport etc. He began to talk about wanting to be with me all the time, saying that the last year was the best of his life despite cancer. March 1st he asked me to marry him.

A few days later, we sat in the oncologist’s office and found out that his cancer has been 99% eradicated, with no sign of the tumors that had been everywhere.

He arranged for a chapel and the minister and hotel himself. He laughs if I question his decision and says he is quite excited to settle in with me for the rest of our lives. Soon we are getting married with our families present!

We are as giddy as teenagers. Surprisingly, this very private person has been calling all his friends to tell them he is getting married.

No matter what happens with B., I feel I regained my life and self-control with your help. And come what may, I will be okay and will take care of myself. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.