Crime and Punishment?

No, we’re not talking about going to jail over DUIs or other alcohol related offenses.We’re interested in the way you may be using alcohol to punish yourself!

Many of us grew up in very punitive homes where “punishments” – whether physical, psychological, and/or emotional – were about the only form of attention we received. We vowed to escape at the first opportunity and we made good on that promise.

At least we escaped physically.

Unfortunately, growing up in a hostile environment is something we internalize as our own personal “normal.” We end up, in many cases, recreating this sort of misery simply for the comfortable familiarity of it.

We may find spouses or partners to replicate much of our childhood troubles without ever recognizing it. And we may have become so inured to being abused and taken advantage of that we don’t even see it happening.

Most insidious of all, however, is when we take on the function of doing it to ourselves.

Pioneering Developmental Psychologist Erik Erikson noted that the risk of becoming a fully mature adult is that we become “prejudiced against ourselves.” Interestingly, having a difficult childhood is one of the things that promotes maturation.

This is the sort of complicated trap that we often explore with clients using our long experience with Erikson’s student Dr. Jane Loevinger’s model of development. For many of you, this exercise begins to open up a whole new understanding of yourself and the people around you, as well as some of the reasons you turned to alcohol for respite.

The complication, however, is that we may also use alcohol to destroy other parts of our lives as well.

Just this morning a client gave a great example of this very problem. Her new home has a pool she loves to which she is adding a Jacuzzi. But, she confessed, that she felt bad about not being able to sit around on the adjacent deck with a glass of chardonnay.

She loves swimming, relaxing in the hot whirlpool, reading on the deck, but instead of allowing herself these pleasures, she sabotages herself with her focus on what she is missing!

We talked about it at length, as well as other examples from her life and those of other clients – like the women who couldn’t get past the idea that her enjoyment of her daughter’s wedding would be ruined since she couldn’t drink a toast to her at the reception!


Let’s destroy an entire celebration by focusing on a personally selected and cultivated negative that no one else would even notice.

That’s how we punish ourselves. We focus on a very minor detail, turn it into an “issue” and then use this to ruin present activities and future events. Instead, may we suggest that you focus on the events themselves and the activities you actually enjoy, especially including all of the ones that are better sober?

In case your internalized negativity is having trouble coming up with any, here are a few suggestions: walks, movies, drives, sex, reading, swimming, working out, sailing, and…..

Yes, the list is endless and comes down to anything where you are actually participating!

Time to quit punishing yourself by replicating a childhood’s worth of misery and “life must be grim” teachings.

Your Brain’s Negative Bias

Research shows that our brain has a preference for processing information in a “worst possible case” direction.

You can verify this in your own case by considering what happens when you are feeling down, depressed, dejected, rejected or any of a host of other “negative” emotions. Notice that your brain winnows through a lifetime’s worth of memories and culls out the ones that support, or exacerbate, the emotion?

Now reflect that when you are happy, joyful, pleased, or having positive emotional experiences that you have no need to ferret out reinforcing memories of other happy times. You are simply enjoying the moment.

Yes, there was a time when survival meant preparing for the worst which was probably just around the corner. But that’s not the case for most of us who read and write this Newsletter. Not hardly.

But the negativity does give us a reason to drink, which increases the depression, which paralyzes our activity levels, which increases bad moods, which gives additional motivation to drink some more.

Nice downward spiral.

One of the themes in these two articles is drinking’s effect on our activities. In other words, what are you doing? Or not doing, as is usually the case.