I wrote previously about beliefs and how the meaning we take from events, influences our ability to control drinking. It may seem like beliefs have nothing to do with taking control of our drinking, when in reality it can be the key to not just drinking too much, but to leading a happy life.
Brian’s story shows how our beliefs can even be a matter of life and death.
I knew Brian as a sensitive, gentle, intelligent man. Despite leaving school unable to read, he now enjoyed reading and poetry. Patrick Kavanagh was his favourite. He could discuss politics and any kind of music you’d mention. Because of his rough time at school and home, he was really scared he was
“A bad person who was going to hell.”
In all his time in the mental health services, this belief had never been challenged or addressed. It’s easier to throw drugs at people, despite it costing more in the long term.
When the boss changed in work, Brian could not cope with the new boss’s style, he got too stressed and he left on disability. Life went downhill from there. His kidneys failed and he went on kidney dialysis.
He was admitted to hospital with a chest infection. Brian had no health insurance. However because the doctors thought it might be TB, they put him in a private room to prevent other patients being infected.
We all thought this was terrific, because now he had peace and privacy and would be able to sleep at night without noises and interruptions.
Let him die
But then Brian became unconscious. He stopped talking. Drips were inserted. Even when he was brought down for his regular kidney dialysis, Brian never appeared to wake up. The Doctors called a case conference, where we all came together to discuss Brian. At the case conference, the Doctors suggested nothing more could be done. They wanted to stop kidney dialysis which meant Brian would be dead within the week.
Natalie saves the day
We were all so upset, nobody could talk. I could not get any words out. I wanted to ask how somebody who walked into a hospital with a chest infection just two weeks earlier, could suddenly get so ill, and be allowed to die. But I was too upset to talk.
Luckily we had a friend, Natalie, with us who was able to ask that question. So the doctors decided they would do more tests and keep going with the kidney dialysis.
Brian wakes up
The test for TB is clear. Brian is moved from the private room into the main ward. Next day he wakes up and starts eating breakfast. He gets up and walks around. Soon he is well enough to be released home. It really feels like a miracle.
None of this made sense
I asked Brian what had gone on. How come he had been so ill in the hospital and then got better?
His answer, to use a cliché “made my blood run cold”.
When he was put in the private hospital room, he assumed he was put there because he was dying. So he decided he might as well get on with it. He always knew he would die young. It was one of the reasons he drank too much.Then, when the doctors put him back in the main ward, he realised he was not dying and decided to live.
His beliefs nearly killed him
I was horrified and in shock for days after hearing this. None of us had even thought to explain to Brian why he was in the private room. We assumed the doctors or nurses had told him. We also assumed he would like it. It brought home to me how powerful our beliefs are and how they can control our physical bodies. Brian’s belief that private rooms were for people who were dying, nearly killed him.
Beliefs about alcohol
Which brings us onto our beliefs about alcohol and our ability to control drinking. All around us we’re surrounded by messages that drinking is essential to a happy life. We’re conditioned to believe, that every event needs drinking, every time we’re stressed we need drink, every time we’re happy we need a drink and so on. Advertisements are all around us linking drinking to happiness.
We even believe that becoming an adult is all about having your first drink.
What are your beliefs about alcohol?
So when we’re surrounded by all these messages, is it any wonder we find it difficult to control drinking? So a good tip is to identify your beliefs about alcohol. What does alcohol mean to you? For example
- Drinking helps me to relax
- Drinking means I’m less nervous meeting people for the first time
- Life would be boring without drinking
- I’d have no social life without drinking
- People would not like me if I’m sober
Control Drinking by looking at your beliefs
Once you’ve listed your beliefs on a sheet of paper. Then you can take action. Challenge these beliefs. Would life really be boring without alcohol, or would you start doing new more exciting activities? Sky diving anyone?
Are there other actions you can take which help meet the needs drink currently satisfies?
For example, developing a social life which does not involved drinking. You’ll find some suggestions here.
Or maybe using meditation to relax.
Control drinking by changing your beliefs
So a key part of your control drinking toolkit is changing your beliefs about alcohol. Then it becomes easier to actually control drinking. For many people there’s also a second part to beliefs. The beliefs they have about themselves. For example, I’m not good enough.
We’ll deal with this in a future post as these can also really impact on people’s ability to control drinking.