Hope is Not a Strategy

Part of the torture of alcohol use disorder is the internal dialogue. You know there’s a problem. You wish you drank less. But as problems go, it’s not a big problem, right? You don’t need to be perfect. Just better.

Sometimes, you get lucky. A new strategy, distraction or the influence of another person interrupts the downward spiral for a while. Your new bestie isn’t a big drinker. A project has your full attention. You cut way back or even stop completely.  You feel good—in control—relieved to have it behind you.

I once stopped drinking for almost two weeks by accident. An unexpected circumstance delayed happy hour. By the time I could “relax,” I decided to skip it. It was surprisingly easy. Why don’t I do this more often? I skipped another day. And then another. It seemed my secret prayer had been answered. I remember telling my friend, “Not drinking feels amazing! We’re heading to Napa Valley this weekend and I’m dreading all the drinking. I’ll be glad to get back on the wagon when I get home.”

It was three and a half years before I found the wagon again.

Fear is Not a Strategy

Most women struggling with alcohol use disorder are high achievers with a solid grasp of the real world. We know what it takes to succeed at work and in our personal lives. Problem-solving is what we do. Willpower is how we do it.

And that’s why many of us suffer in silence for so long. We search for the right combination of alcohol and discipline. We work hard to avoid negative outcomes—DUI, domestic conflicts, health problems–even the admission that we drink too much is shameful.

The problem is that fear-based motivation is a double-edged sword.

I was afraid to skip the wine in Napa and embrace the sobriety my body craved. I thought not drinking would ruin other people’s fun and my image as a healthy and happy “normal” drinker. What “everyone else” thought was more important than the reality of my own experience. I was afraid to be honest.

Fear inflames the effects of excess alcohol. I wasn’t just chronically hungover—I was chronically disconnected. I had come to believe that no one—including my partner, family and friends–really knew or cared about me.

In reality, I was the one refusing to know and care about me. I was hiding my struggle and ignoring and neglecting myself.

The journey of sobriety usually begins with the desire to escape fear and shame. That’s normal. We feel bad and we want to be better—especially in the eyes of our loved ones. But most of us soon discover that drinking was but a symptom of the real problem—the inability to process our emotions. We were using alcohol to hide, avoid, distract and numb ourselves—even from the good stuff.

Trading One Addiction for Another

Once the alcohol is out of our system, we find ourselves in a bit of a coping-skill void. Sobriety doesn’t cure fear and shame. If we don’t learn how to manage these emotions, we end up trading one addiction for another or just going back to the devil we know best.

Unconditional love is the antidote for fear. Love for yourself—as you are in this moment. Love for your body—as it is right now. Love for your life—that you are breathing and moving and being. Acceptance is the antidote for shame–acceptance of all your strengths and struggles–past, present and future.

Cue the eye-rolls. I can feel your skepticism through space and time. And you’re right. Hollow mantras of love and acceptance do not cancel feelings of fear and shame. But they are a place to start. Emotions are triggered by internal thoughts—not the outside world. Thought processes and belief systems are learned. Through repetition. They are adaptable—with awareness, intention and practice.

The truth is that we’ve been told what to think and how to feel our whole lives. We’re taught to manage our behavior to fit socially acceptable norms. We’re taught to feel shame when we fail, and to fear what other people will think if our humanity is exposed. Unfortunately, good behaviors done for the sake of being good don’t negate painful emotions. They produce self-righteousness. Conditional love. Addiction.

Approaching whatever is happening in your life with unconditional love and acceptance is a skill you can learn. Emotions alert you of the conditions you’re placing on yourself or allowing others to place on you. Once you see the story, you can escape it. This takes a lot of time and effort. But so does not doing it.

Choose Your Hard

Do you think it’s even possible to love and accept yourself no matter what—to feel worthy without needing to prove it? If that’s a tough question, go broader. Have you ever known (or even heard about) someone who loves and accepts themselves despite their circumstances?

Then it’s possible. For you too.

You may or may not actually need help to quit drinking. For most of us, it’s nice to have our hand held. It’s nice to have someone teach us about best practices and common pitfalls. It’s nice to know we’re not alone. However, getting help to learn how to love and accept yourself is very important. You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.

Accepting help may feel like a worthless luxury to women who are used to handling their problems (and everyone else’s) on their own. But prioritizing the needs of other people while denying your own is  . . . well, it’s denial—no matter how necessary it seems. Addiction to alcohol is the tip of the iceberg. Addiction to self-destructive behaviors that cast you in the role of victim, martyrdom, savior, scapegoat, etc. is the real issue.

Being nice to yourself does not mean splurging on things you can’t afford or indulging instant gratifications. It’s the opposite. Transformation requires time and space, grace and compassion—for yourself. Change is hard! Taking responsibility for what you feel is key to unlearning fear and shame-based thoughts and behaviors. It’s the opposite of thinking that you’re the problem. Taking responsibility allows you to become the solution.

The first thing I do with my clients is address the biggest obstacles to self-care—which includes helping them to stop drinking. Once the path is clear, the real work begins. I teach women how to use their emotions as guides, instead of disregarding them as inconvenient. The truth is that emotions aren’t negative or positive. They are biochemical messages that require our attention—as urgent as urine or heart palpitations. Emotional hygiene is a skill that should be taught in kindergarten. Instead, we’re taught to ignore our feelings and seek approval. (And that’s why most of us are fried by the time we’re 35.) 

Acts of self-care create feelings of self-love—it’s an upward spiral. It’s a process. A practice. A skill. If that sounds daunting, your first self-care assignment is to find a coach or a therapist to support and guide you. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

How to Overcome Alcohol Use Disorder

To overcome alcohol use disorder you must admit that alcohol is causing more stress than it's worth. It's not fun anymore. Drinking too much is a form of self-neglect, not self-care.

group think sobriety

Don't surrender your autonomy to group-think sobriety. Exchanging one set of limiting beliefs for another won't set you free.

Internalized oppression

Is your inside voice a bully? Internalized oppression from patriarchal, elitist and racially-biased "standards" causes fear and shame.

Becoming a Non-Drinker

What's the difference between "recovering alcoholic" and a non-drinker? The words you chose have a big impact on your experience of sobriety. If you don't like what you feel, change what you think.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Do you wish you drank less but find it difficult to stop once you start? Are the legal experts in your head constantly debating the problem—and what you should do? That's alcohol use disorder.
You’re not alone. Many of us have been duped into using alcohol as a consolation prize for neglecting our needs--and then criticized for becoming dependent on it. I was able to quit drinking after 30 years without AA, rehab or willpower. My energy, vitality and joy have returned. I help high-functioning drinkers experience sobriety as a superpower, not a disease. 

Uncertainty is torture.

Coaching gives you the clarity and confidence to move forward.

We will determine where you are, where you want to be and what you'll need to get there.

Join with Colleen