I usually opened a bottle of wine because I was feeling stressed and wanted a quick way to relax.
Often it had been a grueling day maneuvering between hurt/angry divorce parties and particularly zealous attorneys.
Just as likely stress was due to my personal life. My hormonal teen kids challenging me or squabbling with each other. My new husband telling me I’m doing it wrong. Other family members wanting attention.
I used to think if I could stop at half a glass, or even one glass, then I’d be at the perfect place.
I’d get the benefit of how alcohol calms me down as it eases into my bloodstream, without the negative consequences of drinking too much.
The problem was I never stopped at one. After drinking the first, the thought of having more alcohol meant more numbed out bliss and I no longer cared what came later. Here’s what happened when I drank too much:
· Dehydrated, tired and groggy the next day.
· Feeling like I failed as a mom and wife by not being meaningfully present the night before.
· Ashamed that no matter how many times I said I wouldn’t, it was the same, night after night.
When I finally made changes, they were gradual. Slowly, when I drank, I had less. Feeling better physically, I began putting more time in between nights I drank. Over time, I shifted from intellectually knowing I was better off not drinking much, to feeling and believing it on a subconscious level.
Yes, I worked with a coach who specializes in overdrinking. I was surprised how quickly things changed.
In hindsight, and having coached clients to stop overdrinking since then, I learned three things:
1. Feeling bad because of what’s going on in our head is unavoidable.
Looking back, it was me who was telling myself I was failing as a parent and messing up my kids. It was me who was turning over and over in my mind that I was messing up this marriage too and would end up alone, a cat lady allergic to cats. It was my brain telling me that I was going to be destitute if numbers in my business were down that week.
Each of these thoughts caused me to reach for the bottle.
Everyone has scary thoughts pop into their head. This is normal.
2. Drinking too much delays and then multiplies the negative thinking.
Alcohol drowns out background noise in our head, temporarily.
Thoughts about being a bad parent, messing up, being rejected and abandoned didn’t go away when I drank too much. They were only suppressed when I was drinking.
When the alcohol wore off, I had new thoughts about messing up and not being good enough, only this time they were about messing up with drinking and not being good enough because I drank too much.
In this way, beating myself up about drinking too much overshadowed fears and shame about my relationships, behavior and ability.
Feeling bad about drinking became a distraction from other problems in my life.
3. Allowing yourself to feel bad sober gets easier and eventually feels less bad than simply trying to avoid feeling bad.
Read that again.
It’s a hard sell. It sounds good. But in reality, we don’t believe avoiding feels worse than feeling. Until we’ve experienced it multiple times.
Fortunately, you start to notice it’s not so hard to allow yourself to feel bad around the same time you’re feeling better physically from drinking less.
Something clicks. We start to get it. Momentum builds and we want to go further.
I believe this is why a lot of clients, myself included, start off wanting to cut back to one or two drinks multiple times per week and end up deciding they would really rather not drink much, or often, at all.
—Julie Ernst, CCJD
P.S. Visit www.julieernst.com to take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.