The Sunday Shameover
For a single bleary-eyed moment everything is fine; you’re in your own bed and you turn over and catch a few more zeds; it’s Sunday after all ... then, as the first waves of consciousness invade your dry-mouthed slumber and you try to squint through matted false lashes into the daylight, it hits you – BAM! – last night was SATURDAY NIGHT. You snatch your head round to check the other pillow, it’s OK – you’re alone. You lift the quilt to find you’re mostly undressed but with one strappy sandal still stubbornly cuffed to your ankle. Shit – where’s my PHONE/WALLET/DEBIT CARD? Assuming they’re all accounted for, there’s a momentary reprieve before the questions rain down and the dread sets in.
It’s a familiar checklist: how did I get home? How much did I have to drink? Who did I talk to? How much money did I spend? Did I snog someone – or worse? Did I take drugs? Who did I text? OMG did I post anything on Insta? Did anyone else post anything Insta? Do I have a problem? Am I an alcoholic?
You pop a couple of painkillers and wash them down with a can of Coke and head for the sofa with a banana hoping that the combination of ibuprofen, sugar and potassium will counteract the effects of last night’s combination of white wine, lager and sambuca. As the Nurofen and Netflix blur the pain and the shame, you take comfort in the sure-fire knowledge that this was the LAST TIME. You solemnly swear those familiar words: never again – again.
And at the time you really, really mean it. That sickening self-loathing and panicky paranoia makes it hard to deal in denial so you suck it up – you know what you have to do. Maybe you make a mental list: No more drinking during the week. No more drinking on an empty stomach. No more mixing drinks. No shots, period. It’s OK, you think: you’ve got this.
Monday morning you put on your suit and professional face, and forget all about it. Cut to Wednesday: it’s after-work drinks in the pub with colleagues (it’s a regular thing – you can’t let them down), and you’re hatching a plan to meet early doors for cocktails at the weekend and thinking that you must remember to stock up on Coke and bananas.
Einstein said that repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity, so it’s no wonder that being trapped in an endless cycle of behaviour, shame and denial is driving us mad, sad, depressed and despairing. So why do we do it? More importantly, why do you do it?
It relaxes me
It gives me confidence
It makes life less boring
It makes me less boring
I don’t want to be the only one not drinking
It takes the edge off
Whatever we think, our reasons for drinking are merely justifications for doing something we know is fundamentally bad for us. (And before you start on about antioxidants and health benefits, check out the actual research rather than the highly suspicious multimillion-dollar industry marketing take on it.) Alcohol is addictive and harmful to health: physical, psychological and emotional. In order to carry on consuming it at the rate we do despite overwhelming evidence of the harm it causes requires a special sort of denial – one that happens on a national scale.
Those of us who grew up in the UK have always understood that alcohol is a legitimate response to the slightest elevation of human emotion. Shock is medicinally treated with a stiff brandy. Good news deserves champagne. Bad news is handed a serious whisky. Networking requires G&Ts all round! Hard work is rewarded with a cold beer. Sadness is talked through over a glass of wine. Groups raise their shot glasses in the spirit of friendship and how else might one celebrate a rare sunny day if not by sipping a refreshing rosé or downing an ice-cold pint of lager? Finally, when was the last time you shared a romantic bottle of mineral water?
See, it’s not your fault! Even if you grew up with teetotallers, you will have unconsciously absorbed the subliminal messages about the role of alcohol as if by osmosis – it has been everywhere you’ve looked, the answer to every heightened emotion, your whole life.
Improve your core
Fitness experts talk about how essential core stability is to every-day health and wellbeing. If we develop core strength, we can trust our body to support itself without relying on external muscle groups that might not bear the strain and pull or tear. It takes time and effort but those who are fit at 40 are more likely to be fit at 70 – it’s called playing the long game.
We have the same understanding in psychotherapy: exercising your psychological core means strengthening your emotional resilience and developing an internal structure for coping so you don’t have to rely on external means for support. If we don’t exercise, we risk living with an unstable physical core. If we block our emotions with substances, we risk living with an unstable emotional core.
Mind how you drink
I’m not advocating abstinence for everyone (although it is the only way forward for some) only that if you develop your core by genuinely being curious about your emotional responses, by facing your feelings and meeting the challenges of life sober (more often), then you’re less likely to allow your fears and insecurities to make your choices for you.
If we don’t want to get fat, we’re careful about what we eat. We educate ourselves about calories and macronutrients. We measure our unique responses to various food groups so we know what to eat more or less of. We log our eating into apps so we don’t take our eye off the ball, which we know we’re prone to do. Treat alcohol in the same way and you’re on to a winner.
Big little lies
There is pleasure in drugs (like alcohol) or we wouldn’t take them. But to fall for the bullshit that surrounds alcohol leads to the very shame and denial cycle that steals YEARS of our lives (in hangovers, low self-esteem and regret, not to mention heart disease, diabetes and cancer). The alcohol industry protects its own back and promotes the idea that YOU’RE the problem, not the alcohol. The marketing campaigns aim to separate the drink from the drinker, so it doesn’t have to take any responsibility. When they succeed in shaming us, we drink more. Win-win for them.
See alcohol for what it is – and what it isn’t
A mood-enhancing drug
A short-term coping mechanism
A quick fix
A false promise
A trouble maker
Alcohol is not:
A short cut to social confidence
A self-improvement strategy
A remedy for anxiety
A panacea for boredom
Rachel Morris is a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner with 22 years' experience
Recommendations and support:
This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray