We are socialized to think of having drinks as something celebratory, and social. To younger people, the idea of “partying” and having a good time is often synonymous with drinking. For most people (but certainly not everyone, because some people have problems right out of the gate), their youthful drinking experiences are usually associated with things that are and/or were fun. For some, however, as youth fades, the drinking continues, but the good times don’t necessarily follow, sometimes ending up in things like DUI’s, and even loss of one’s driver’s license.
The idea that there might be something “off” with a person’s relationship to alcohol usually starts with an initial thought that his or her drinking needs to be reigned in a bit. By the time somebody starts thinking that way, or otherwise considering the possibility that his or her drinking has grown troublesome, it almost certainly has. This kind of thinking follows a process, because nobody goes from believing everything is fine one day to suddenly concluding that they have a major drinking problem the next.
In the real world, this usually starts off when a person begins to get a kind of nagging feeling that maybe he or she ought to slow down a bit, and/or not drink as much, or as often. This almost always comes about as a result of some kind of problem or problems. Whatever else, nobody thinks about trying to control their drinking because it’s working out so well. Instead, these thoughts come to mind after a person has been experiencing trouble of some sort.
Many people, though, never even get this far, and just plod along, drinking and running into trouble over and over again. Unfortunately, this can (and, for many people, does) go on forever.
Others at least pause long enough to wonder about their drinking a little, right after a DUI arrest, whether anything comes of that or not.
As much as some people never stop to think, others never get beyond just thinking about their drinking, either, falling into what is called “the paralysis of analysis.” Among this group, plenty or people are able to dismiss their concerns (or the concerns of others) and rationalize their alcohol consumption, while others will tell themselves that they will take some steps to get a hold of things, but always put it off until “tomorrow,” or some later point.
For all of the clinical analysis and explanations we could get into about this, a client of mine once put it this way: A normal drinker never has to think about limiting his or her drinking before heading out. If the person goes to meet friends, he or she may have a drink or 2, or even 3. Normal drinkers, though, don’t have to worry about those 2 or 3 drinks turning into 6 or 7 (or more).
Once things like that start happening, the fact is that such a person isn’t a normal drinker anymore.
In other words, by the time someone even has to think about cutting back their drinking, it’s already a problem. For example, it is assumed that, by the time anyone picks up a 2nd or 3rd offense OWI, they have at least thought about their drinking enough from their previous case(s) to promise themselves they’d try and control it in a way to avoid another drunk driving arrest, even though the “control” thing never works.
Moreover, nobody tries to cut back on or otherwise limit their drinking before it becomes an issue. By the time a person gets around to wondering if there is something amiss with their relationship to alcohol, it’s a pretty sure bet that they’ve already racked up all kinds of problems. As we noted before, a very common response to these early thoughts is to rationalize away one’s concerns for any reason other than their drinking.
Until, for some, that just doesn’t work anymore.
For the lucky few, there comes a point – a kind of lucid moment – when it becomes clear and undeniable that the common denominator to all of their problems is, in fact, alcohol. This is often described as an “a-ha” moment, or a kind of “epiphany.”
Very often, this kind of sudden self-awareness comes on the heels of some emotionally significant event, like a divorce, an arrest for some criminal charge. For others, they simply get tired of having to bum rides, or drive on a suspended license, because they haven’t had one for a long time, and all because of drinking.
While a person can have this kind of flash of self-insight at the most unexpected of times, one thing is for sure; it never comes too soon.
As we noted before, nobody ever even thinks about trying to limit or quit drinking because it’s working out so well. For those who do eventually connect the dots between their drinking and their life’s problems, it’s important to seize this kind of moment when it happens. This can be a point where everything turns around – or not.
If you’ve had any thoughts like this breakthrough to your consciousness, then don’t reflexively dismiss them, or put them off. Instead, be grateful for the opportunity to self-assess and the chance to actually do something.
It’s worth repeating: by the time a person starts to wonder if his or her drinking may have become a problem, it almost certainly has.
This is not to say that a person’s life must be spinning out of control before he or she feels the need to reprioritize their relationship to alcohol. While an “a-ha” or “epiphany” moment usually follows something emotionally significant, what is serious to one person may not be to another, while a thing many would consider “minor” to one might be overwhelming to someone else.
In the world of recovery, this feeling of having had enough is called “hitting bottom,” and it is well accepted that everyone has a different bottom. As DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, we’ve dealt with people who’ve had their wakeup call after a 2nd DUI, and others who, after racking 13 DUI’s, have continued drinking and gone on to get their 14th. What matters is that a person eventually reaches the point where they just can’t take anymore, and know something has to change.
For those who are lucky enough (yes, this it’s a good thing to have these kinds of insights), there will come a time when they’ll begin to see a connection between whatever difficulties they’re having with their drinking, and will then decide to do something about it.
For a lot of people, the decision to take action begins with “baby steps,” like trying to control, cut down, and/or limit their drinking. Although these tactics never work in the long run, some people do manage to reduce their drinking for a while. Whatever else, any reduction in drinking is usually accompanied by a corresponding reduction in the problems caused by it, so that’s a good thing.
It is not a coincidence that the first step in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) contains an implicit recognition of this flash of self-insight “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Captured in this somewhat esoteric language is the idea that a person just knows, in their heart of hearts, that something isn’t right about their drinking. For as analytical as we’re being here, this is as much a feeling as anything else. And to be clear, the 1st step does not mean that one’s life is “unmanageable,” like some out of control drunken bull in a china shop. It simply means that a person’s drinking has gotten the better of them, and, as I noted above, that they’ve just had enough.
One of the other big takeaways from AA’s first step is that there is no middle-ground when it comes to drinking. Once a person has crossed the line from being a normal drinker to having issues, the only way to “get a handle on things” is to simply give up alcohol for good.
This message is not unique to AA, either: every credible school of thought holds that the only way to deal with a drinking problem is to NOT drink.
Although we could go a lot deeper into it, this isn’t going to be a piece about AA. To be sure, it is a great program, but for as much as it is right for some people, it’s not necessarily a good fit for others. However it works (or not) for any particular person, though, it is beyond dispute that AA is to recovery what the Model T is to cars: the idea from which everything has grown thereafter.
We cannot ignore that there are certain concepts, beyond just not drinking, either “founded” in AA, or so closely attached to it as to be part of it, that are really foundational to recovery, and helpful to anyone wondering about their drinking:
For example, AA has a saying (it actually has a lot of sayings, and we’ll get to a few more of them in this article) that, when a person decides to give up drinking, one of the most important things he or she should do is to “avoid wet faces and wet places,” meaning to stay away from drinking friends and places they used to drink.
A person can’t get sober by continuing to hang out with their drinking pals, or going to the bar, and trying to limit themselves to soft drinks.
This builds upon another AA saying: “Hang around the barbershop long enough, and you’re going to get a haircut,” which is kind of an old man’s way of saying that, unless you cut ties with whatever connected you to drinking, sooner or later, you’ll pick up again.
This is about more than not just about going to the bar, however, because the idea of getting away from drinking situations can require people to avoid activities where drinking plays a central role. This can, (but doesn’t necessarily have to) include things like bowling, softball, or even golf.
The reason I note that this doesn’t apply to everyone is because we’ve met some bowlers, ball players, and golfers who participate in those activities competitively and specifically exclude drinking from them.
Even those who aren’t competitive, however, and who do these activities for fun, after realizing they need to change who they hang around with to get away from “drinking environments,” find ways to stay involved in them with non-drinkers.
In other words, you don’t have to give up golf because you give up drinking, but you may have to give up the drinking friends with whom you golf.
As I write this article, Coors beer is airing a commercial that promotes its product with the title “The Official Beer of Going Golfing Just to Drink Beer.”
A lot of people may not think of their socializing as being “based” on drinking, but the fact is that drinking is often really a core part of it.
It’s easy to see in retrospect how the cloud of problem drinking does a good job of blinding a person to both common sense and what was otherwise incredibly obvious. Often enough, except for “secret drinkers,” by the time a person comes to the realization that he or she has a problem with alcohol, they’re usually the last to do so, with everyone around them having reached that conclusion long before.
AA has a saying that describes this feeling of finally having had enough as being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
When a person finally does get around to recognizing that drinking isn’t fun anymore, and then connects the dots between alcohol and all the other problems in their lives, he or she will “feel” this in their gut every bit as much as they’ll know it in their head. At that point, the idea that “something just isn’t right” moves beyond mere words, and the person simply cannot deny the simple truth that drinking just isn’t working anymore.
This is when they realize that all the thinking, and attempts to manage things and plans to cut back or limit drinking haven’t worked.
Now, it’s time to quit for good.
We’ll stop here for now, and finish up in part 2.