I Drank to Hide My Longing
When I lived in California, near San Francisco, I gave myself a yearly one-day trip to the city, just me. At some point in that day, I would stop in a hotel or restaurant that was way out of my budget just so I could sit at the bar and have a martini. I didn’t want the alcohol though. I know this now because I have done the same thing sober and feel perfectly content with water and lemon in a martini glass. Eventually, this got me wondering, is alcohol the answer.
My San Francisco trips were about wanting something I had longed for all my life but that couldn’t be found in a fancy alcohol-filled glass. I wanted to feel emotionally and financially secure. All my life I had seen television ads that displayed long elegant fingers, diamonds, and martinis as something the rich had, and I wanted my life to be like that.
Is Alcohol the Answer?
My San Francisco trips, with a swig of vodka, allowed me to feel that at the moment, but as soon as I left to return to my normal life, sans sophistication, that feeling went away. At home, my life felt empty, but I couldn’t identify exactly what was missing. In my dis-ease, I found myself chasing alcohol to cover up the pain.
Our Thinking Leads to Alcoholism
Our brains are a mystery. They master amazing tasks, but we can’t always rely on them to tell us the right thing. Sometimes, they spin and manipulate the facts to give us what we think we want. They hide our deep longing behind illusions that satisfy us at the moment. They let us feel emotions as a source of motivation. Then they help us make decisions based on our desires and emotions. For some people, all this thinking leads to alcoholism.
The Four Capacities of Personhood
Kain Ramsay says in his Mindfulness Practitioner course that we have four core abilities. The courts use these capacities of personhood to determine whether or not people are qualified to testify. They have been used to determine the rights of fetuses in the case of abortion, and against animal rights. These the four capacities of personhood include,
- To think and to reason
- To experience deep Longing
- To experience deep emotion
- To choose and set direction
Unfortunately, these personhoods get all twisted around in our heads turning our four abilities into a means of suffering. On the other hand, by understanding the four capacities of personhood and how we naturally let those capacities run wild, we can learn to practice honesty so that when we ask the question, “is alcohol the answer?” we can see how it is not.
Breaking Down the 4 Capacities
1. To Think and Reason
People tell me I think too much. In part, they are right. I overthink all the time. On the other hand, as a former critical thinking teacher, I believe that most of us don’t think enough. We don’t deeply examine important issues. Rather lazy, underthinking allows us to accept things as they are told to us or as we experience them. Then we proceed to negatively process those things. That’s overthinking the wrong things
For example, I had a great marriage until I started drinking. I might have seen the connection if there weren’t so many other things going on at that time. I had lost a massive amount of weight, was entering menopause, and had just finished earning my degree. I went from full-time student to thinking, “now what.”
Overthinking Leads to Pain
I started overthinking. I became so obsessed with my problems and the empty feeling inside that I would lay awake all hours of the night trying to mentally fix them. Thoughts of feeling abandoned ran through my head non-stop. My thoughts yelled so loud and so often that I used alcohol to silence them.
Instead of asking myself, Is alcohol the answer? I underthought how it was affecting my life.
Part of me knew alcohol made my problems worse, but the other part of me liked the relief it gave. In my indifference, I struggled with both wanting to quit drinking and not wanting to quit drinking at the same time.
2. To Experience Deep Longing
Longing is the thing we want. Most of us pay attention to the longing without understanding that underneath that lies a deep longing for something entirely different.
My trips to San Francisco were about sophistication. They were about longing for a life I didn’t have. Unfortunately, while I felt relief at the moment, alcohol didn’t actually satisfy my deep longing, so I had to continue chasing it in order to re-experience the feeling.
What I Really Wanted
When I got sober and started discovering my authentic self, I learned that it wasn’t really sophistication that I was searching for. Buried under that longing was my deep longing to feel acceptance and love from a father who wasn’t able to give it. In those hotel bars, I could imagine meeting someone who would love me, take care of me, and keep me safe. In those bars, I could imagine never having to struggle to survive.
Try This When Asking, Is Alcohol the Answer?
At the core of every human, there is one main deep longing. That’s happiness. We all just want to be happy. Unfortunately, shallow longings do not make us happy. Gratitude and inner peace do.
To get to my core desire, I like to play the why game. To do this, I ask myself why I want something. Whatever the answer is, I then ask why I want that. And I keep doing this until I finally get to my deep longing.
For example, I wanted the feeling I got when I drank a martini in a fancy place. What was that feeling? Sophistication. Why do I want sophistication? It will bring me love. Why do I want love? So I feel like I’m good enough. Why do I want to feel like I’m good enough? So that I am accepted. Why do I want acceptance? To feel loved. Why do I want to feel loved? So I can be happy.
Knowing Deep Longing Is Important
As alcoholics, we either desperately want to drink or want to not drink because we think one or the other will make us happy, but if we give up on both of those longings in search of our deep longing, we can finally end our suffering.
All I really wanted was to feel happy. Is alcohol the answer to that? No. In fact, alcohol took most of that away from me. Happiness is found within and accessible to everyone who looks there.
3. To Experience Deep Emotion
The truth is, most of us don’t have any idea how we feel at any given time. As children, adults tell us how to feel and how to act when we feel. Big boys (and girls) don’t cry. Making too much noise because you are happy? “Shhh, inside voice.” “Cheer up. It’s your birthday.” As a result, we learn to conform to what we think is an acceptable feeling.
Later in life, when we have no one to tell us how to feel or give us permission to feel, we attach the label “fine.” The world is walking around in a state of “fine” because it’s easier and less scary than identifying and exposing our true feelings. More importantly, when it comes to negative feelings, the ones that were most often discouraged by our parents, many of us simplify the confusion by only relating to the easiest feeling, anger.
Hierarchy of Emotions
Some emotions are just easier to feel. For example, when my son died, my most prevalent emotion was anger. In fact, it was much easier to be angry at his dad than to feel my own shame. Shame took a long time to feel because I was afraid I’d have to admit that I had been a bad mom. When I finally did do that, I had to face the reality that because of my drinking, I wasn’t available for him. That hurt.
Finally, I allowed myself to feel the loss and grief at the thought of never seeing, touching, or having a conversation with him again. Each time my emotions went deeper, I felt more and more pain. That last feeling, loss and grief, was the hardest because it meant that I had to accept his death, and I didn’t want to do that.
Whenever you feel a negative emotion like anger, try on the feeling just below it. Ask yourself, “Is there a plausible reason to feel fear?” If so, allow yourself to feel it and then repeat the process going the step lower to shame and guilt. Each time, you will get closer to your deep emotion.
4. To Choose and Set Direction
Often in our confusion of the three first capacities of personhood, we end up ignoring values and instincts. For alcoholics, this also means ignoring the big question…
Is alcohol the problem?
This also leads to poor decision-making skills.
During active addiction, most of us don’t think enough about why we drink. For me, the easy answer was to relieve stress, get out of my head, and feel better. Any reason worked as long as the reason supported drinking as the answer. When I started probing deeper, however, I realized that underneath my desire to drink, was the need to understand and heal from my childhood trauma and to face my emotions. I didn’t just need to heal from the molestation and abandonment. I also needed to heal from never feeling heard, being afraid to feel and share my emotions, and the constant fear that I would disappoint people.
My focus became my longing to be loved. I worked so hard to prove my worth by living in the perfection trap. When I started realizing that nothing was making me happy, instead of looking directly for happiness (I had no idea where to even begin), I looked to numb my hurt with alcohol.
Emotion = Energy + Motion
Our emotions are important. The word emotion means “to move.” How we feel dictates how we react. Emotions motivate us to do one of three things—approach, avoid, or attack. If we don’t know how we feel, we also don’t know how to react or what to choose.
My emotions encouraged me to approach alcohol because it made me feel good. It worked so well that I learned I could also use it to avoid my feelings by numbing them. Finally, I ended up attacking everything that made me angry, including myself by drinking.
And all this led to Dukkha.
What is Dukkha?
Dukkha is the Buddhist word for suffering.
The cause of deep suffering is deep longing and not getting what we long for. When we don’t use our ability to think in the right way, we are often lead to approaching negative situations with alcohol. This leads to numbness (the ability to feel deep emotion) that helps us avoid the situation but then leads to self-hatred and the ability to choose more alcohol.
On the other hand, if we can better understand our four capacities of personhood and how our happiness is displaced, we can end our Dukkha (suffering) by ending our longing and going straight to achieving deep longing. We do that by bypassing all the crap that gets in the way, the house, the money, and the awesome prince charming husband, the mislabeled emotions and go directly to the path that leads from Dukkha.
According to Buddist belief, that path is inside you.
Is Alcohol the Answer? — No Way
When I stopped drinking, I knew the answer to the question, is alcohol the answer? In fact, it made space for me to start asking new questions like, “how great can I make my life?”
And guess what, I started on the journey of making my life great.
If you would like to start asking, “how great can I make my life?” instead of “is alcohol the answer?” contact me for your first coaching call FREE. Together, we will take a little time to find out why you’re holding on to a solution that no longer works and help you find one that does.