Memories of drinking can make you miserable

Memories of drinking may be making you miserable. At this time of the month, when the credit card bills hit, and it seems ages to the next pay day, it’s very easy to get down.  Thinking about those wonderful times when we were drinking freely seems very attractive and tempting.

Euphoric recall

It’s very tempting to start back into old habits as we remember being happier then. Padraig O Morain describes this as “euphoric recall”. It means we recall drinking as really fun and pleasurable, with the world in full colour and happy laughter everywhere. Life was a carnival.

Dying for a drink

These memories then kick off cravings for a drink. We literally feel we are dying for a drink. The trick is to remember, these memories are only one part of our drinking. The other part of our drinking is the reason, why we took action to start controlling drinking. The memories of hangovers, arguments, lost time, too much money spent, or unwanted sexual contact. If you have n’t written down  the reasons why you want to manage your drinking, it’s a good time to do it now. You’ll find help here.

Cravings

Cravings can feel like the end of the world, but they don’t last and are usually gone within 20 minutes. Knowing it’s normal to have cravings and having an action plan to deal with them really helps. You’ll find more help on this here.

Change your beliefs around alcohol

If we think people have more fun with alcohol, then we’ll feel totally miserable if we’re not drinking. Our Irish culture encourages us to believe that people who drink always have more fun and enjoy themselves more.

We’ve often written about this. We admire the people who can hold their drink and are the life and soul of the party. We rarely hear about the downsides of drinking.

So make sure your internal beliefs about alcohol reflect the reality of drinking and are not euphoric recall.

Photo by Siri from Pexels

The missing link to a balanced lifestyle


Many of us really strive to achieve a balanced lifestyle , such as healthy diet, doing some exercise and seeking a good balance between working life, family and friends. Even having a few drinks, once in a while seems okay.

What if there is no reason?

But, what if the frequency and the amount of those drinks start to increase considerably for no apparent reason? When drinking starts to become something we look forward to more and more, maybe is a good idea to stay mindful and try to understand what is causing it.

Behind every excess there is something lacking

There is a saying:

Behind every excess there is something lacking’.

Sometimes we get into a spiralling drinking habit without even noticing it. It’s not by chance. We all know that alcohol alters chemicals in the brain which produce temporary and artificial relief. It also may feel like a de-stressor, and it can be tempting to turn to it. Perhaps, it would be a good start to ask ourselves if we are trying to compensate for something. Or what would be the missing link to our goal of a balanced lifestyle.

Drinking takes over self-reflection

When drinking takes over self-reflection, we miss a wonderful opportunity to get to know ourselves more and to get in touch with our needs. If we don’t address them, often a knock-on effect happens in other areas of our lives. Things can become so entangled in a pattern of behaviour that finding the root cause will require a real loving and committed effort. The good news is, it can be done.

Find the missing link

It’s worth working towards finding that missing link. It can be some pattern from childhood or something that happened recently, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it is calling for your love and care. Why not try to look inside for the real answers? You might be surprised.

Editor’s Note

The Irish parenting culture from past generations did not encourage looking at or understanding our feelings. This can lead to real problems leading a balanced lifestyle as adults. The research shows behind every problem alcohol use there is a cause or reason. It can be trauma, grief, anxiety or adverse childhood experiences. For more information click here.

Baby steps help find your way back home

Recognising all our baby steps towards managing our drinking is essential. We focus on the blow out we had, rather than on all the baby steps of progress we’ve made. What if I say you are a wonderful person? Would you believe me? There is so much going on in our lives that we usually underestimate how well we are doing.

It’s easy to blame ourselves

When it comes to alcohol misuse, it is easy to be harsh on ourselves. We live in a culture where excessive alcohol consumption is often related to celebration and fun, which disguises the real danger of it.

(Editor’s Note, Just see Grandmother takes her first brandy for a good example of media bias towards alcohol).

A quick fix habit

The same toxic culture where alcohol is often used to cope as well. Then, it turns into a ‘quick fix’ habit.

The bad news is that with time, the essence of who you are, becomes diluted in it and it gets harder to find yourself again.

The road back can feel scary

The road back to yourself can feel scary. New skills are required. Keeping ourselves with what feels ‘familiar’ might give us the illusion of safe predictability. However, when we choose to turn back to ourselves again, we give ourselves another chance to reconnect with our thoughts and feelings. Accepting, learning and healing them is huge. It is an act of self-love.

We all struggle

We all struggle, and misstep quite a lot. But we also do great things. Each one of us has our unique learning journey and we all do the best we can. Rediscovering yourself is key. After all, when we try to numb or block painful thoughts and feelings, they keep coming back.

Alcohol blocks all feelings

We need to learn their lesson. Also, alcohol does not come with a ‘sense of discrimination’, so when you block painful feelings you also block all joy.

Yes, pain is real and so is joy. But, when you allow your experiences to flow without any blockages, whatever they might be, you start to find out the real you. By taking baby steps, being gentle to yourself with self-compassion, you will find your way back home.

Editors Note

For more tips on managing feelings or just feeling numb, click here

Is perfectionism robbing you of pleasure?

An interesting article by Padraig O Morain on perfectionism recently. He states perfectionism robs us of pleasure in our own successes. We’ll always find the extra thing we could have done, so we focus on that, rather than what we’ve achieved. It also stops us starting or finishing things because we can’t guarantee it will be a success.

Perfectionism starts early

Padraig uses the example of the child coming home with 90% in their assignment and the parents joking- asking

“What happened the other 10% per cent?”

If this is constant the child learns they need to be perfect to receive love.

Social media does not help

The constant feedback from social media of people with perfect lives and perfect bodies does not help. People socialising, who can drink as much or as little as they want without hangovers or making a fool of themselves.

Perfectionism is the enemy of managing our drinking

Nowhere is the enemy of perfectionism more obvious than in our approach to alcohol. Most approaches focus on not drinking at all. For some people, this is exactly the right approach, (for example Mc D– though he does not blame or criticise himself when he drinks) but for others it’s totally wrong, for example Lisa, found it did not work for her and even made her drinking worse.

I’ve had one so might as well go the whole hog

One drink is seen as failure. So once one drink is taken, sure might as well go on a binge.  So instead of praising ourselves for reducing or not drinking over the last while, we give out to ourselves for drinking. Unlike Mc D we don’t see it as an opportunity to learn.

Padraig quotes the psychologist Aaron Beck who states

“All or nothing thinking is an unhelpful habit- this is the attitude that if one thing is wrong, everything is wrong”

Demanding perfection makes us miserable

We’re never going to be perfect. We’re human not machines. So demanding perfection is just going to make us miserable.

Perfectionists find it difficult to relax

Perfectionists also makes us less enjoyable company. It’s much easier being around people who accept their own imperfections and don’t try to be perfect all the time.

I always remember returning to Dublin after a work trip and the boss suggesting a cup of tea in her house. When we went in, the house was untidy, there was a clothes dryer with underwear in full view. But she just moved it out of the way, laughing and we had a relaxing and enjoyable chat over a cup of tea.

 The perfectionist in me would have been embarrassed and apologising for the house not being tidy.  I would have been unable to relax. So the chat would not have been as enjoyable. So I learnt a lesson. It’s ok when your house is untidy to have visitors. I do not have to be perfect.

So praise yourself, you’re making an effort

So if you’ve read this far, accept you’re making an effort. You might never have the perfect life. But that’s ok.

As Padraig quotes

“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have and looking for it where they will never find it”

So in managing your drinking, strive for progress not perfection.

You can read Padraig’s full article here.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Are childhood experiences making you drink too much alcohol?

In our last post we wrote about  adverse childhood experiences   (ACE) and the  big role it plays when  people drink too much alcohol. It can get worse around Christmas when there ‘s so much pressure to play “happy families” . How the experts see ACE is shown below.

drink too much alcohol

In this post we’ll go through how to find out if this is a possible cause of an alcohol problem.

Was your childhood mostly ok or pretty difficult?

A good question to ask yourself was your childhood ok or was it pretty difficult?  Are your first childhood memories mainly happy or mainly sad? Do you even have many childhood memories? Many people block out difficult childhood memories.

Make sure you separate out how your parents treated you, from how you actually feel. As we talked about here, you may feel your parents provided all the basics. However if they did not allow you to talk about your feelings, this is now seen as childhood emotional neglect and counts as adverse childhood experience.

Take the quiz

To see whether ACE was a feature of your childhood try this quiz here. The top score is 10 so the nearer you are to 10  the more likely  ACE is a problem when you drink too much alcohol.

No one has ever mentioned ACE?

30 years ago we did not talk about ACE and we just described people with a drink problem as a heavy drunk or as an alcoholic. Society saw them as wicked people. Now we know people don’t drink too much from wickedness they do it out of woundness. (Link here)

Many  mental health services ask

“What’s wrong with you” 

rather then

“what happened you”

As we saw from high flyer Emma’s story, she blamed herself and none of the services she got asked  about the sexual abuse she had a s a child.

So knowing you have ACE, the key thing is to forgive yourself for the problems you may be causing in your life.

“You can’t give what you have not got.”

Dealing with ACE

Awareness is key. Accepting  it’s more difficult to make good decisions when ACE is involved. So treat yourself with more compassion. Living life with ACE is a bit like running a race when everyone else starts ahead of you. So even being in the race is an accomplishment.

The good news is once we become aware that our childhoods were difficult, and our drinking is a response to it, it becomes much easier to control our drinking.

Does ACE mean I will always drink too much alcohol?

The answer is a very definite NO. There are people with high ACE scores who do really well in life generally. Very often there was one single person in their life who loved them unconditionally or they developed awareness of the impact of ACE.

Don’t give up

So if you’re feeling low, or you drink too much alcohol don’t give up.  Be kind to yourself and recognise that even reading to the end of this email is progress.

If you’ve found this post  useful you might also find Lynn‘s Ruane book “People like me” which is raw and honest about her own adverse childhood experiences and how she overcome them. It recently won the An  Post Irish Book award for best non fiction book.

I’m just a bum, a heavy drunk

I’m just a bum, a heavy drunk.

Maybe that’s the way you’re feeling after Christmas? Despite your best intentions you drank too much. Too many hangovers. Too much making a fool of yourself.

Or maybe you got through Christmas without drinking too much but you found it lonely and depressing? Yep, you’ve got the home, the relationships, and the job. But something’s wrong. All that pressure to be happy, when you’re really not happy?

 

There‘s a common cause

Before Christmas, I was at two very inspiring events both of which focused on a problem that could explain both why we drink too much and why we’re not happy. In fact they could explain many of the problems in our lives.

 

Adverse childhood experiences 

How we were brought up can explain a lot about how we act now. We’ve written before how we may not even be aware that our childhood is still having an impact on how we behave. While it’s obvious if we were physically beaten as a child, it’s not so obvious if we suffered from childhood emotional neglect.

The experts call this issue adverse childhood experiences, or ACE. You can see how the experts look at these in the picture below.

heavy drunk

 

What does ACE do?

So the experts say the more ACE you had in your childhood the more likely your brain development has changed. This is because your brain has produced more cortisol which activates the fight/flight/freeze response.

The fight/flight/freeze response switches off the thinking part of the brain to ensure all our energies goes into dealing with a threat. So when we’re feeling a threat, we literally cannot think.

 

How ACE affects us

For example, an angry looking dog approaches me looking like it’s going to attack me. My brain quickly goes into fight/flight/freeze as I decide whether to fight the dog, run away or just freeze hoping the dog will ignore me.

My brain forgets about everything else. I don’t remember the childhood experience that has made me scared of dogs. I can’t even see the dog is actually looking at a 2nd dog behind me and is no threat to me at all.

 

Everything else gets forgotten about

So while the dog is there, I remain on high alert. I’m no longer thinking about getting home or collecting  my daughter as I promised. My whole focus is on survival. I don’t have time for anything else.

This lovely YouTube video spoken by kids explains how our brains freeze beautifully.

 

The long term impact

If you’ve experienced a lot of ACE then your brain’s  ability to deal with the normal up’s and downs of everyday life is less than other’s people. You’re either on high alert when you react to everything or you simply shut down anytime you feel overwhelmed or triggered. So making good decisions and following through on them is much harder for people with ACE.

People with ACE are much more likely to have problems with drinking. Their brains are more likely to be   in survival model which means they can’t think and make good decisions.

So if you’re labelling yourself as a heavy drunk, it worth’s looking at your childhood to see if this is causing you to drink too much.

 

Be kind to yourself, don’t label yourself a heavy drunk 

So if you’re feeling down after Christmas, don’t despair. Don’t label yourself with negative words such as heavy drunk.  If you’re read this far you’re making progress and  in a future post we’ll look at ways of dealing with the ACE that may be the cause of  drinking  too much.

Happy New Year!

Life tips on the go – part one

Is n’t it strange the way we all know we’ve got to keep exercising to stay physically fit, but we ignore our mental fitness? Yet mental fitness is a key part of managing our drinking. The better we feel mentally the less likely we are to drink too much.

We’ve talked previously about things that help our mental fitness here and here.

 

My life’s too busy

But in our very busy and hassled lives it can be really difficult, if nearly impossible to keep doing these helpful things every day. I’ve found the last few weeks really stressful and hectic -even more so than usual. So when I came across some key messages from a book I’d read previously it really helped me. Because I’d forgotten most of them!  Just a quick glance at my one page listing and it helped me to not get sucked into all the drama around me and maintain some sense of peace amongst the chaos.

 

Life Lessons

The book is called

Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us about the Mysteries of Life and Living

It’s by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler. Elizabeth has since died after a long exhausting illness which left her totally helpless. While the topic may seem depressing, it’s anything but and well worth your attention.

 

Need some inspiration?

I first read the book about nine years ago, when my wonderful, active, loving, kind Mother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I needed something to help me make sense of the awfulness of what lay ahead. Although the book title may seem grim, the content was inspiring. I ended up listing some of the key messages. They’ve really helped me cope with the last few years as life got harder and harder. After a day with my Mother who at times became this awful demanding stranger, one or two drinks at the end of a long day, often seemed like an easy solution. But using this book I’ve found I don’t feel the need to hit the bottle.

So for the next few posts, I thought I’d just list some of the key messages from each chapter which covers topics ranging from love and power to patience and play.

The 14 topics are

life tips

 

So here are the key life tips  from each topic starting with authenticity – being yourself.

Life Tips: Authenticity- Being yourself

  1. Allow yourself to be you, not a role
  2. Accept your positive and negative sides
  3. You are unique

It’s easy when we’re targeted by all kinds of marketing, media messages, and demands on us to lose sight of ourselves. But by recognising we’re not a role, – an employee, a business owner, Mother, Carer etc etc we can be happier, because we’re less likely to become stuck.

Accepting we have our good and not so good sides is important. It gives us permission not to be perfect and think more kindly more of ourselves when we behave or do stuff we don’t like.

In the next post, we’ll continue with the rest of Elizabeth’s and David’s important life tips.

Forgiving yourself for drinking too much is vital

It may sound strange but forgiving yourself for drinking too much is vital to taking control of your drinking. Many people who drink too much often feel a deep sense of shame. People of my generation will also have a good ould dose of Catholic guilt, making things even worse.  People think about the time they made an eejit of themselves at the office outing. Or were n’t able to bring the kids to the park as promised because of a hangover. So they become buried in  shame rather then focusing on what needs to change.

 

Release your heavy burden

By forgiving yourself, you release yourself from the heavy burden of self-judgement, guilt or regret. It is this very burden that often makes people drink more as they try to block out these horrible feelings of shame and remorse. It literally becomes too painful to sit with the feelings so they drink to block out the feelings. So forgiving yourself correctly is key and you can also learn something very valuable too.

 

How to start

First of all think about the event or incident that you need to forgive yourself for. Maybe you were so lost in your own drama and suffering that you did not recognise the damage you may have caused to others. Certainly in our culture, with our acceptance of heavy drinking this may be the case. So if you did not have the insight, you have now, how could you have acted differently?

 

A key question

But maybe despite having insights that you’re drinking too much, you still continue to drink and harm yourselves or others. So a key question to ask is what you have learned from these “mistakes”. The ancient Chinese don’t have a word for mistakes. The closest English translation is “learning opportunity”.  So referring to drinking too much as  “mistakes” sets us up for a big fall. Yet, so many treatment approaches to drinking seem to punish people for making mistakes.

 

Many alcohol treatments encourage shame

I read a recent article on an Irish addiction treatment centre which uses the “Minnesota” model. This treatment model is based on the AA method and sees success as not drinking at all. The language used creates shame. Residents are asked to admit they are powerless over alcohol and ask forgiveness of others for their “shortcomings”.No mention of forgiving themselves. Residents  urine is tested for traces of alcohol. At mealtimes, they stayed quiet, apart from one lady standing up to read a few lines about the impact of alcohol addiction.

No where in the article does it quote treatment  success rates. For example, the percentage of people  attending the centre whose lives are better as a result of staying in this centre.

 

Toddlers don’t shame themselves

Watching a child learn to walk is a good example of how we should treat ourselves.  Toddlers usually crawl first, then they start taking tiny little steps. hanging for dear life onto chairs, tables, the nearest available hand. They fall down. They may cry or laugh but they get back up again and slowly they become steadier on their feet. Then they stop falling. They learn from every fall. They don’t tell themselves they’re stupid, or shameful for falling. We seem to learn that kind of thinking later as adults.

 

We don’t shame toddlers

When we see toddlers falling, we don’t give out to them. We praise and encourage. We help them up again. It’s one reason, why they don’t give up. They keep trying, until finally, we’re the ones chasing around after them and trying to keep up with their running.

 

Don’t punish yourself

So next time you drink too much, you have four choices.

  1. Do nothing
  2. Repeat too much drinking again
  3. Beat yourself up for not being perfect and being able to control your drinking
  4. Forgive yourself and learn from what happened.

Of these four choices, the one that is most likely to help you is choice 4. Forgiving yourself and learning from what happened. What happened that made you drink too much? What was the payoff or benefit to you? (We’ll cover these in a future post)

For example

You were with friends and could not say no without feeling awkward. In this case you might find this post here useful.

If your feelings drove you to drink, you might find this post  here helpful.

Or you’ve realised you can’t do this on your own and you need more help. You might find this post here helpful.

 

Try forgiving yourself for drinking too much

So forgive yourself, accept what happened. Then find the learning in what happened and you’ll be further down the road to controlling your drinking.

 

 

Lucy’s beliefs about alcohol were holding her back

Are your beliefs about alcohol making you miserable?  Lucy talks about how unhappy she was, when she first stopped drinking.

The way she saw  it,

“I was different now. I was weird, a failure – a social outcast”

 

There were no positives for drinking less

She could n’t see any of the positives of reducing her drinking. She’d grown up in a culture that adored alcohol, so not participating in that culture was really hard.

She had decided not to drink at all as she could never have just one or two. But she really wanted to drink. She saw it a part of a fun and happy life. Yes, there were health gains, but who wants to live longer if life is so rotten?

 

Lucy’s beliefs about alcohol were making her miserable

The problem lay in Lucy’s beliefs about alcohol. She believed

1)    Alcohol makes you attractive

2)    Alcohol makes you successful

3)    Alcohol makes you cool

4)    Alcohol provides you with a better social life

5)    Alcohol transforms you into a rebel

6)    Alcohol helps you deal with stress

 

Lucy’s beliefs about alcohol were wrong

When you look at each of Lucy’s beliefs you can see they are actually incorrect. Lucy realised they were lies. For example

  • Alcohol does not make you more attractive. In fact who has n’t been turned off by a drunken approach?
  • Alcohol is much more likely to get in the way of your success. Whether it’s about being a successful parent (who needs a hangover when dealing with an energetic toddler or driving the teenager to GAA practise.)  Or an important early morning business meeting when you’re tired because you stayed up drinking.

 

A better social life?

You can argue that in Ireland, social life does revolve around the pub. If you don’t drink it’s get absolutely boring listening to other drunken conversations. But do you really want your social life to revolve around drunken conversations? There are other options, which we’ve written about here

 

What are your beliefs about alcohol?

So if you’re going to be in control of your drinking, it’s really important to be aware of your beliefs about alcohol and see if they are true. Writing these down can be really helpful. You might also find our course here useful  in identifying your pros and cons of drinking.

Lucy’s full post is well worth reading and can be seen here .They also have a really nice range of clothing  and goods for people who want to show they are in control of their drinking. Click here for their shop.