How will I cope without alcohol?
I used alcohol as the panacea for all life’s difficulties.
Overwhelmed? Wine slowed my racing thoughts and softened my shoulders down my back.
Anxious? Wine released the death-hold grip I felt around my throat.
Sad? Wine helped me forget for a little while.
Lonely? Wine felt like a friend.
Wine was my go-to after a hard day, which happened to be every day, for a few years.
I thought it was helping me cope. I'd had two babies less than 15 months apart. I'd recently immigrated, leaving my family and friends behind. I was trying to juggle babies, the household, working and studying all at once. I was also dealing with mental health issues.
While everyone has their own unique set of things they need to cope with, we all have our hard things. And if we’ve been relying on alcohol to cope, the thought of getting through life without it is terrifying.
I want to acknowledge that fear; it’s REAL. But here are four reasons why you'll cope better without alcohol than with it.
1. You’re distracting yourself instead of addressing your issues
Drinking to cope is like band-aiding a wound that needs stitches. While the band aid is on, the wound doesn’t look that bad. You can’t even see it. But the wound is still there and what it needs is stitches, not a damn band aid.
When you drink to deal with something, you’re not dealing with it. You’re distracting yourself from it; numbing yourself from it for a little while. When the drinking is over, the thing is still there, and you haven’t done a thing to address it.
Take me for example. The wound I was band aiding with alcohol was having too much on my plate, and not enough support and connection. When I distracted myself by drinking, I woke up the next day having done nothing to address these things. So I was overwhelmed again and would drink again that night.
If I’d stopped distracting myself from the hard things with wine, I could have addressed the root causes. I could have deferred my studies to a later date. I could have gotten a cleaner to help around the house. I could have started seeing a psychologist sooner. I could have put myself out there more to make new friends. These things would have helped to stitch up the wound.
So, instead of drinking when you’re going through hard things, ask yourself:
What am I feeling? And why?
And then, what do I need to do to support myself here?
When you ask these questions, you end up with a plan of action. One that addresses things, instead of distracting you from them for another day.
2. You’re making yourself fragile
Alcohol drains us physically. It makes us tired (even one drink is disruptive to sleep!). It makes us anxious. And if we overdo it, it makes us feel sick, eat crap, and skip exercise. Not exactly the ultimate state with which to take on life’s challenges.
Alcohol is a mood-altering substance, meaning it changes the way we feel. And if we use it to avoid emotional distress, we don't allow ourselves to practice sitting in our emotional discomfort.
Why is this a bad thing?
Because sitting through and bearing our uncomfortable feelings helps build our resilience. We learn that our feelings won’t kill us, and that we are strong, and capable. Every time we pour a drink when we feel we can’t cope, we’re literally robbing ourselves of the opportunity to prove to ourselves that we can.
And beyond that, when you’re worried that you might have a drinking problem, drinking can train-wreck you emotionally. Every time you promise yourself you won’t drink and then you do; every morning you wake up and realise you drank more than you intended; those moments when you realise you can’t remember what happened; and those times that you feel ashamed because you said, did, or didn’t do something… all these moments slowly but surely chip away at your self-belief, your self-esteem, and ultimately your emotional resilience.
As time goes by, you doubt yourself and your abilities more. And you trust yourself less. Meaning, you end up less confident and feel less capable to handle the things that life throws at you.
3. Drinking prevents you using effective coping mechanisms
When you reach for alcohol to cope, you may fail to develop other ways to cope with distress.
Practicing mindfulness, meditating, breathwork, exercise, getting enough sleep, developing close relationships, seeing a mental health professional and so on, can all fall in the ‘too hard’ basket when opening a bottle of wine is just so easy.
4. Drinking delays you getting help
Because alcohol delays us dealing with our hard things, it also often delays us seeking the help we really need. We use alcohol to soldier on, thinking we can ‘sort ourselves out’ on our own, when the reality is, we need help.
Finding a good mental health professional and getting the support you need, is something that can save you a lot of pain if done sooner rather than later.
When you take the alcohol away, the reasons why you drank don’t magically disappear. There can be a pretty hairy limbo period between quitting and using healthier coping strategies (which ultimately lead to you being much better equipped to cope).
This limbo period is a time when a lot of people think sobriety is too hard and go back to drinking. If I can give you one piece of advice here it would be – DON’T. As they say in AA ‘don’t quit (sobriety) before the miracle happens’. Stick it out because sobriety gets better with time, while problem-drinking generally gets worse.