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The Problem With Booze


- My experience with giving up alcohol, and why my life is better sober. -

 

Firstly, I am not an AA member nor a sobriety cult member. I am not here to convince you that you should give up drinking, but I am here to explain why it could be the right choice for you. I just want to put this out there first though and say that I don't think booze is bad for everyone. I think that for some people, it is entirely possible to have a healthy relationship with alcohol and live their lives as casual drinkers without ever feeling that their drinking is anything other than totally in control. However, I do think that booze is bad for some people. I think that some people drink for the wrong reasons, turn into different versions of themselves when they drink, and tend not to have an off switch once they start. If you suspect that you are one of these people... read on.

 

When people think about giving up drinking, the focus tends to be on what is being lost. They might be focused on all that they are giving up when they put down the bottle. For example, after work beers with your colleagues or wine club with with your friends. The loss frame of mind focuses on the negatives of giving something up and accentuates the importance of these things. Having this approach to the idea of giving up alcohol is totally normal but is not exactly helpful nor is it accurate.

For every point made about something that is being sacrificed when we give up drinking, there's a counter argument that looks at what we gain when we ditch the booze.

Your logical mind knows this is the truth. While your emotional mind gets hung up on all the good times you've had with alcohol, your logical mind knows that your brain is self-selecting arguments in favour of continuing to drink. After all, it's much harder to change a habit than it is to just stick with doing the same thing day after day. So in order to help cut booze out of your life, we need to look at the whole picture. The good and the bad.


The best way to do this is to start looking at your decision from a gain perspective. What are the benefits of cutting alcohol or whatever your substance of choice is out of your life? Think about it realistically and honestly. Will giving up alcohol benefit your physical health? Most of the time the answer will be yes. Will you have more money to invest in other, healthier, more rewarding and sustainable hobbies? Will you be able to devote more time to your career or passion?



The answers to these questions wholly depends on how frequently and how much you drink. If you are a casual social drinker, then the chances are alcohol is not having a significant impact on your life. But if your alcohol consumption has crossed that blurry line between casual and not-so casual then it's likely that it might be causing problems in your life.


There is no one way to determine whether or not you have a problem with alcohol. The only person who knows the answer to this is you. If you think you might have a problem with alcohol... then you probably do. If you have considered quitting drinking before... then it is probably not the worst idea. I know when some people see the words "quit drinking" they are immediately turned off. Some people think that they might just need to cut back and they reason with themselves that they don't need to cut it out completely. I am not here to tell you this is wrong, but there is a reason that abstinence is so strongly advocated for. The primary reason being; it works.


If you are reading this and have previously tried and failed to control your alcohol consumption, you are not alone. This is nothing to be ashamed of or feel badly about because the truth is, alcohol is a highly addictive substance. Especially if you have been drinking for a long time and your reason for drinking is to make yourself feel better. You become emotionally dependent on the substance, as well as chemically dependent in your brain and physically dependent in your body. You get so use to having alcohol in your system, it can become almost impossible to function without it. The most extreme example of this are delirium tremens, caused by alcohol withdrawal in severe alcoholics, and can be fatal.


When we use alcohol to self-medicate, whether it is for stress, anxiety, depression or low self-esteem, we become emotionally dependent on this substance as a coping mechanism. All other forms of coping take a back seat because.. well... let's face it; drinking is easy, it's socially acceptable, and it's a whole lot easier and cheaper than going to a therapist.


Unfortunately, it took me a while to realize that quitting drinking was the only way for my life to get better. And then once I did realize this... it took me even longer to actually make those changes.


It's one thing to know what's making you unhappy. It's a whole other thing to actually initiate changes in your life to cut out the habit that is the cause of this unhappiness.

From my own personal experience of self medicating with alcohol, I've been able to identify some core problems with using alcohol as a coping mechanism.


1. Once the effects of booze wear off, you feel worse

I don't need to tell you how much hangovers suck. But when the hangover is a combination of the physical brutality of your body going through severe dehydration and alcohol withdrawal, and you are mentally being hit with the reality of your problems without the warm buffer of booze... this makes for a really terrible time. For myself, the hangovers were shitty, but the realization that I had, once again, lost control and drank too much significantly added to my self-loathing. To make matters worse, the things that I knew I should do to make myself feel better... like exercise or meditate felt almost impossible because my body and mind felt so strongly abused from the previous night. This is where the cycle begins because the one thing that I knew would work, was to have another drink. The ol' hair of the dog. Every time it was guaranteed to work, except once again, I was starting on another drinking binge. These episodes would go for days at a time until I eventually had to spend a day in bed. Needless to say, the effects of a drinking binge wreaked havoc on my mental health. I felt incredibly lazy, fat, fuzzy, puffy and so desperately ashamed that I would vow to myself that this was it... that I was quitting drinking for good. Unfortunately, this was a routine I had to repeat countless times before I finally got so sick and tired of feeling like shit, I made the promise to myself to stay sober no matter the cost.


2 . Once you start drinking, it is often very hard to stop

This point is important because I feel that, no matter if you have a drinking problem or not, everyone has said to themselves "just one drink tonight", and next thing they know they are waking up with a brutal hangover and little recollection of the previous night's events. The problem is even with one drink your judgement is affected and your inhibition goes out the window. It becomes way harder to say no to a second drink when you are fully encapsulated in the pleasuring effects of the first drink. Additionally, the places an individual normally drinks (like a bar for instance), are full of triggers and signs that tell you to keep drinking. The bartender is smiling at you raising an empty pint glass in question, silently goading you; "another beer?". The person you met there says something like, "you got somewhere better to be?" . Even the voice inside your head is encouraging you; "It's just one more. One more and you'll go right home after". The bar is warm and dimly lit. The music is peaceful and you are having a good time. All this stimuli is telling you to keep drinking, despite the good intentions you had walking in there to only have one beer. This second issue here is the main reason that most of the time, complete abstinence is the best way to kick your alcohol dependency. I will get back to this point shortly.


3. You are not coping with your problems, you are numbing yourself to them

While drinking may temporarily numb you to whatever emotional pains you might be feeling, alcohol is ultimately a depressant and as the saying goes, what goes up must come down. Drinking is nothing but a bandaid for your underlying problems. When we consume alcohol, as our blood thins our senses dull. Everything that seemed so overwhelming suddenly feels so much more manageable under the warm blanket of booze. We distract ourselves with the people we socialize with. We fall under the spell of false confidence and maybe even rope in a sexual interest, to boost our self esteem. Needless to say, once the alcohol wears off and reality sinks in, our problems come rushing back to us, often more magnified than they were before the attempt to self-medicate.


4. Society deems alcohol as a totally acceptable coping mechanism

We've all either said it ourselves or heard someone else say it. "I need a drink, today has been the worst day ever", or something along the lines of "let's drown our sorrows." Even mothers have created a culture where wine o'clock or special mummy juice suggests that mothers need alcohol to cope with the responsibility of raising children. Typical Friday night drinks after a long work week are a nod to the fact that most individuals feel the need to use alcohol as a means to wind-down, relax, and process the previous work week. Having a drink on a Friday evening or mothers enjoying a glass of wine is not problematic though. What is problematic is the way society advertises alcohol as a suitable coping mechanism. Imagine if, instead of unwinding at the end of a work week with a glass or wine, we started doing cocaine instead? Imagine if mothers got together during the week to hit crystal meth instead of having cocktails? The bottom line is that alcohol is a mind and mood altering substance. The fact that it has become so normalized as a tool for coping with everyday life is perhaps one of the reasons we are seeing such a spike in alcoholism and alcohol related health issues.



What this also means is that there are triggers everywhere! Individuals are no match for a smart and witty marketing ploy and whether you realize it or not... those Budweiser commercials are more effective than you think. Companies have poured millions of dollars into advertisement to brainwash us into believing that we need their product. Hollywood glamorizes booze just as they use to glamorize smoking. You have these extremely influential artists making music and music videos, and they are constantly referencing alcohol in the context of getting wasted. Young listeners are growing up thinking that this type of behaviour is okay, even "cool". It goes as far as the labelling on the bottles of alcohol you are buying at the liquor store with the catchy names and trendy graphics. You feel like you are buying into something that will make you more interesting, cultured, beautiful, fun... more desirable.


To stand up to alcohol culture is to rebel and go against the grain. Where drinking itself use to be the rebellion,during prohibition or when you are not legally old enough to drink... these days drinking has become so normalized, that abstinence is now the rebellion. When people learn that you don't drink or that you are quitting drinking, the reaction is almost always the same; "Why?" As if we are obligated to explain to each and every person why we make the choices we do regarding our own bodies. Often when we begin to explain our reasoning people feel like you might be judging them or suggesting that they are wrong for consuming alcohol, which is another tricky situation to navigate. Sometimes these people get defensive and try to rationalize their own drinking to you. Whatever the case, I often find it better to avoid discussing it with people who are heavy drinkers, or are currently drinking at that time. Also, whatever your reasons are... you don't need to justify it to anyone. If you are still in the early stages of sobriety, you are extremely vulnerable. If you discuss it with people, especially those who themselves may have a drinking problem, they might try and talk you out of it or talk down on your decision. It is best to surround yourself with others who support your decision and also have a healthy relationship with alcohol themselves.


In a time where we are expected to always go with the norm, sobriety is standing up and saying "No". Sobriety is saying "I choose my mental health and my ability to thrive." Sobriety is realizing that no drink is good enough to sacrifice our health and wellbeing over... especially when that one drink is the catalyst for a myriad of shame and anxiety.

Sobriety is badass. It takes grit to say no to alcohol.

So what has sobriety done for me other than give me this incredible insight to the problems of an extremely suggestible and consumer driven society? For one, it has given me more meaningful connections with people. I no longer waste my time hanging out with people whose only common ground we shared was a liking for alcohol and getting wasted. I spend my time surrounding myself with those I can find meaningful connections with. I have found better ways to excite and entertain myself. I discovered new hobbies like rock-climbing, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing that require a form of mental gymnastics and organic stimulation that rivals no exogenous substance out there. I think of it as organic crack.



For me, mountain sports have provided me with a sense of competency and confidence that I could never have felt from drinking. These sports require me to use my body and movement to get to my desired goal, while having to make decisions under extreme pressure, the repercussions of which may just be life altering. These sports have taught me that mindfulness and being in the moment is the key to finding joy and fulfillment in what you are doing. In a world where everything is always moving so fast, these sports slow you down.


So my advice is... find your passion. Find something that makes you feel how I feel when I'm standing on top of a mountain in the backcountry, or going through the movements of getting to the top of my next climb.

Find your organic crack, whatever it might be, and immerse yourself with it



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