• Val

Day 15 – The Alcohol Paradox: Part 1

Updated: 20 hours ago



Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden— but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.

Gabor Maté


The more I read about and work through my own trauma, I see more clearly how very challenging it would have been to not become immersed in some sort of addictive behaviour in order to soothe the pain and intensity of the feelings associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


As I further study addiction and trauma, the more I am convinced of Gabor Maté’s sentiment above.


Behaviours are surface level. Addictive behaviour like alcohol addiction and overeating are, I believe deeply rooted in unprocessed emotional pain. We might not always be aware of what that pain is. However, I am certain that if we are willing to dig deep enough, we can find what that pain is and then free ourselves of behaviours we have struggled for so long.


Working through our emotions is just as important for our health and wellbeing as is eating nutritious food and exercising the body.

Part 1: Alcohol for Social Anxiety


The trouble with using addictive behaviours to soothe our pain is that often what we go to for comfort ends up providing quite the contrary.


Our culture perpetuates the myth that we need alcohol for social interaction. Most of our social occasions, birthdays, weddings, music events, sporting events, work events etc., etc., are grounded in a need for alcohol as the social lubricant.


This is the founding premise whether or not we experience social anxiety. Add in an uncomfortable feeling of being in social situations and it’s easy to see why alcohol is the recommended remedy to ward off anxiety.


However, alcohol is not the answer for social anxiety. It is also not required in order to have fun, social anxiety or not!


Despite an instant feeling of relaxation through drinking alcohol due to its ability to inhibit the central nervous system, alcohol is known to increase anxiety through being a neurotoxin to the body. Too much alcohol and we may even end up realising some of our own social fears through behaving in an uncontrolled manner, saying and doing things we would not dream of when unintoxicated.

Drinking in UK Culture


One particular pop culture reality TV show that has been on our screens for the last decade is a prime example of why alcohol is a very poor lubricant for social interaction.


Episode after episode, the characters (I realise they are real people, but I would argue that for reality TV there is an element of playing up to a given character for the show) get drunk, go out, have fun, get too tipsy, fall all over the place, argue and end the night with upset. They then wake up in a house of carnage, drinking vessels and food debris all over the place, not to mention clothes taken off wherever they landed the night before, with a hangover they then have to endure the following day.


Despite this, for some reason this is the model of drinking we seem to aspire to in the UK.


There is nothing healthy about the social interactions that occur in this TV show.


It then begs the question why we still hang on to the thought that alcohol is required for social interaction.


I really like the idea of a values-based identity*, one that is not built upon external things or labels. However, I think we grow up being encouraged to develop an identity based on external things and labels.


In the UK I believe that the majority grow up with an internal image that our adult identity is linked in some way to being alcohol consuming beings.


This is historical as reaching the legal drinking age has been a significant rite of passage into adulthood in the UK for much of the 20th and 21st centuries. It then makes sense that being alcohol consuming beings forms part of what we view as our adult identity.


I think this is what many previous alcohol addicts and dependants struggle with when going sober. I have read many accounts of people who have turned to sobriety where they experience a loss from not having alcohol in their life.


As someone who has never been overly enamoured by alcohol, I still experienced this. I felt like a failure for not being able to consume alcohol sensibly as an adult. Even I had consumed this notion of human adults being alcohol consuming beings.


The truth of the matter is we are not innate alcohol consuming beings. Alcohol is a neurotoxin and is damaging to the human organism. Therefore, we should not hang our adult identity or our ability to socialise on requiring alcohol.


For anyone who chooses to significantly reduce or stop drinking, I believe there is a need to reconcile our own identity in order that we don’t experience these feelings of inadequacy for not drinking. This is where the Values-Based Identity can become a very useful tool.


* Values-Based Identity


The best way for me to explain what I mean is as follows:

  • I participate and compete in both Olympic Weightlifting & Indoor Rowing, my identity isn’t I’m a Weightlifter or an Indoor Rower

  • I experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), my identity isn’t I have PTSD

  • I am attracted to women, my identity isn’t I’m a lesbian

My identity is built on values:

  • I value health and wellbeing and want to live a long and enjoyable life

  • I value love and having nurturing, kind and loving relationships in my life

  • I value self-development and self-discovery in order to make the most of life


When I was unable to weightlift due to injury I did not become withdrawn. I sought a new activity which meant I could remain active. It was less upsetting because the injury did not damage my identity. If my identity was linked to being a weightlifter, I may well have had much more of an emotional struggle dealing with the injury.


PTSD is something I experience, it is not my identity. I therefore know I will be able to break free from its chains as I work to process the root cause of the distress.


By choosing a values-based identity I am not tripped up by or held in a particular place mentally because of external things or labels.

Alcohol and Social Anxiety


In respect of using alcohol for social anxiety, I believe it is important first and foremost to challenge this wider cultural issue of alcohol and social interactions. If we can debunk this socially constructed myth for ourselves, we can more easily begin to realise that alcohol is not the tool we require.


When we choose to use alcohol to aid in reducing social anxiety we are doing ourselves a disservice in so many ways, not just in terms of our physical health and wellbeing but also in terms of our emotional health and wellbeing.


When we choose alcohol we make a choice not to engage in a positive development opportunity. Rather than see the social situation as a negative we can choose to see it as a positive step in helping reduce our social anxiety, i.e. we can choose to learn more about why we experience the anxiety and what we can do to reduce this for ourselves.


If we use labels to form our identity, we limit our potential. If we absorb the label of social anxiety into our image of 'self', it can be a challenge to break from that and develop positive self-coping strategies. If we see it as something we experience and remove it from our identity, we can work to find the root cause in order to reduce the difficulty it causes us in our lives.


I am not saying this is easy work. Depending on the level of social anxiety one might experience, it could be a process ongoing throughout life or it could be something that is easier to resolve in a relatively short amount of time. Positive self-therapy (as opposed to negative self-medication through alcohol or other substances), professional therapy or a mixture of the two is, in my opinion, required.


By choosing alcohol we are papering over the cracks and staying stuck.


I agree with Gabor Maté who suggests that pain or trauma are at the root cause of addictive behaviours. On the one hand it is a survival mechanism, designed to help us navigate difficult feelings. However, when we allow ourselves to select negative behaviours that don’t address the root cause of the issue, we only prevent ourselves from developing and having a different and more fulfilling experience of life moving forward.


It is therefore paradoxical to use alcohol to solve the issue of social anxiety as all that happens when we do this is that we feed our social anxiety and can become more anxious and begin to need more and more alcohol to achieve the same feeling of relaxation in order to cope in social situations.

Day - 365 Day Journal 15


Reflections


PTSD Symptom

On Monday once again my PTSD symptom was triggered. I had the worst night’s sleep for many weeks. I tried meditation, self-compassion and relaxation techniques to cope, but nothing worked. This lead to me feeling very upset and frustrated. I felt as though there was no way out.


Luckily today I was supported by two of my good friends and I feel more positive.


I recognise that the hurt from the event that re-activated the PTSD response is going to take some time to heal from and hence I may experience the PTSD symptom as I work through both the pain of this hurt as well as the root cause of the symptom.


I feel grateful for this blog and for my friends around me who are supporting me.


Monday Night

Things that were awesome today:

Out on my cycle ride this morning I stopped to take a photo. As I was faffing about getting ready to ride off, a man on the track stopped to check that all was ok with me. This gave me lots of warm and fuzzy feels as at a time where I am recovering from the deep hurt caused by other human beings, it was nice to receive the warmth and empathy of a complete stranger.


Tuesday Morning

Things that I am grateful for:

I am grateful for this blog as I believe it is helping me to remain alcohol-free whilst I navigate my PTSD symptom.

Health Dashboard

Caffeine, Alcohol & Alcohol Free Beverages

0











Fitness


Low Intensity

Bike, Indoor Row


High Intensity

-


Strength & Mobility

Push and pull plus mobility and foam rolling



Veggies & Fruit


Onion

Mushrooms

Garlic

Red cabbage

Tomato

Turmeric

Cucumber

Kale

Spinach



Meditation & Mindfulness


Before bed – Guided meditation

Throughout the night – Guided meditation










Day 14 - 365 Day Journal


Reflections


Sunday Night

Things that were awesome today:

I love my mum’s roast dinner! Nothing beats it! 😋


Monday Morning

Things that I am grateful for:

I am grateful for my desire to continually learn and develop as I believe it helps me in navigating difficult times.

Health Dashboard

Caffeine, Alcohol & Alcohol Free Beverages

0











Fitness


Low Intensity

Indoor Row


High Intensity

High intensity row aborted due to high stress from the PTSD symptom and lack of sleep


Strength & Mobility

Front squats plus mobility and foam rolling

Veggies & Fruit


Onion

Mushrooms

Broccoli

Brussel sprouts

Carrots

Sweet potato

Courgette

Strawberry

Banana



Meditation & Mindfulness


Morning – Guided meditation

Before bed – Guided meditation











I ask all readers to be respectful. This is an honest and heart-felt account of the struggle I have incurred.

I thank you in advance for your respect and kindness and I encourage you to sign up to my mailing list so I can notify you about new blog updates.

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in my blogs please get in touch. Your conversations with me will remain confidential. Please note that I am not a therapist but I can support you to find a way to address any issues you may be experiencing.




Copyright 2021 Val Craft – All Rights Reserved

43 views0 comments