I feel much better today, probably thanks to a good night’s sleep. But I’m still struggling with my tendency to beat myself up, my tendency to over-react to regressions. Like most over-reactions, the underlying source is fear. Fear that I will fall back into old habits. Fear that alcohol abuse is a temptation I’ll never really overcome. Fear that life is just a bit more than I can handle.
It’s really hard to maintain a reasonable perspective about my own behavior. That’s one reason that record-keeping is essential, because it provides an objective measure of progress over time. On my own, my perspective tends to be limited to the past few days. If it’s been a good week thus far, I start to feel like I have everything figured out; if I’ve had a rough patch, then I feel like I am spiraling out of control. It is astonishingly difficult to accept that learning new habits requires an ebb and flow, a pattern of progress and occasional regress.
What really matters is progress over the long term. Short-term regressions are useful, or so I try to tell myself, because they sometimes contain valuable information. They show me where I still need to do more work, where the cracks in my foundation may lie, where I need to get creative and challenge myself to try something different. They just don’t always feel comfortable. Oh, and I hate them.
What my ‘trigger weekend’ drinking showed me is that I am still struggling with drinking as a response to stress. This should not be a surprise to me. Drinking is a socially-accepted, widely-promoted way of handling stress. Drinking as a way to handle stress is also something I grew up seeing my parents model, which means it is hardly surprising that I found myself trying the same thing, and something my partner also tends to struggle with. In the short-term, drinking is also effective as a response to stress — it makes me feel buoyed up, cheerful, relaxed, and relieved.
Daily heavy drinking over a long period of time is a terrible way to manage stress, of course. I found that out the hard way, and have learned the lesson well. It’s not a road I plan to go down again. Nor do I think I am heading in that direction, really…which does not eliminate my occasional panic over the possibility.
Looking at the past few months, I can see that, increasingly, I handle most of the stresses in my life without alcohol. The number of things that are truly triggering to me has shrunk considerably, from “practically everything” to a few really deep-rooted issues. Those issues are known to me, they mostly consist of things I’ve been trying to deal with for most of my adult life…the fact that I haven’t magically fixed them in the past six months is a thought that should make me laugh sympathetically, not beat myself up!
I drank to cope with life last weekend. That’s the first weekend like that since…well, since January, at least. I also kept my overall numbers low, and most importantly, stopped after just three days. Next time, I will plan ahead better, and look for addition sources of help if I need them. Next summer, I will try to keep in mind that August may just be a difficult month for me in a variety of ways I’m still working to understand. This is a long-term change, and it really isn’t particularly realistic to think I’ll get everything right in the first attempt.
Beating myself up is an old habit, a bad habit. It’s also a habit that serves my old drinking behavior. A year ago, after a weekend like that, I would still have been drinking, in part as a way to cope with my own self-loathing. It is hard to learn how to move on, how to recognize that dwelling on the past doesn’t change anything, and how to focus simply on making sure I do a bit better in the future. That’s a skill I’m still trying to master, so I guess this is a chance for me to practice again.