Overcoming a drinking problem is possible, it is not a life sentence
In 2016, I was a huge man with a huge drink problem. One of the reasons I drank for as long as I did was that I believed certain myths about drinking. Having got myself sober and helped thousands of others get their lives back on track too, I want to debunk these myths, so they don’t stop others from changing their drinking and transforming their lives.
I was at a school sports day when I overheard a father berating his son, who had come last in his race. I heard him bellowing “JUST RUN FASTER”. It struck me that whilst his advice was clear, it was also completely unhelpful. Telling someone with a drink problem to “JUST STOP” or “JUST HAVE ONE” is like shouting into the wind. If we could, we would!
This type of ‘advice’ is unhelpful not only because it doesn't work, but also as it makes the receiver feel shame about their behaviour. Shame is a terrible feeling and us problem drinkers are riddled with it. Shame keeps us stuck and makes us hide problems, because it makes alternatives feel impossible. But the truth is that an addiction isn’t about poor character traits - it is a combination of a physical and emotional dependencies. You need to address both if you are going to be able to make a lasting change. Whilst it’s comparatively quite easy to break the physical cycle, reframing how you feel requires more time and careful attention.
The very fact you are reading this shows huge strength and self awareness. I occasionally get asked, 'How can you bear to work with such broken people all the time?' My answer is always the same - I get to participate in somebody's journey to be a better version of themselves - these are the strongest people you will ever meet, and doing what I do is the best 'job' I have ever had!
By studying how our brains work, I learned our minds have 2 parts, the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is the rational one - the one that makes considered choices, weighs up the evidence and acts coolly and with care. Unfortunately, this type of thinking only accounts for 10% of our processing power. It is outgunned by our subconscious brain, which works emotionally, rather than rationally and below our level of awareness (hence SUBconscious) so we often don’t even realise it is influencing our choices. It is almost impossible to overwhelm this subconscious system with willpower - you might be able to do so for a short time but after a while, you may falter and be dragged back to old ways by a subconscious mind that hasn't yet worked out what you are trying to achieve. You might think you can fight this but it’s hard - that’s why we make impulse purchases, eat too much chocolate and don’t do enough exercise. If it was effortless to make good choices, we would all be wealthy supermodels.
Also, where is the fun in battling yourself all the time? It is much better to start co-operating with yourself!
Focusing on the 'problem' is helpful in terms of accepting things for what they are, but you need to focus on the solutions and the benefits of that to achieve lasting, sustainable change. We need to re-frame our thinking and use our brains to our own advantage. The subconscious mind prefers positive thoughts to negative ones (it's the reason we tend to assume we are cleverer and luckier than we are) . So whilst you need to acknowledge a problem in order to be able to solve it, obsessing about the problem will only see you staying stuck where you are.
Instead you need to look down the other end of the telescope. Think hard about how changing your drinking will change your life for the better. List all the things that will improve as you reduce your drinking - your health, your wealth, your sleep, your relationships, your shape, your skin, your energy levels, As you make this list, make your positives personal. Attach them to specifics in your life. Your subconscious will LOVE THIS. It will get excited about this future life and make it much easier for you to move towards it. If you want to solve a problem, think about how you are going to move past it, not the problem itself.
Nope. Whilst it’s true that many people who suffer from trauma, grief or abuse often mask their pain with self-destructive behaviours, for most people I work with, drinking is a habit that has evolved into dependence and addiction. I had counselling, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy to try and find the ‘reason’ for my drinking. What I learned was that there wasn't a single, big reason. It wasn’t because I was adopted, or divorced, or stressed at work. It was because I had become habituated to downing a bottle (or two) of wine every night. There were probably a hundred subtle, individual reasons that led to my drinking.
If your drinking is out of balance then your life is out of balance, but don’t spend too much time looking backwards. Instead, if you can look forward and get really clear on the life you want without alcohol, then every part of your life will improve. Drinking too much is a habit you can get out of, but you need to know how.
I no longer think about drinking. It’s taken me a while, but I have turned off the desire for it. I still get stressed, my life is imperfect, things still go wrong, but I have learned that solving my problems is never helped by reaching for a bottle. I’ve now helped thousands of other people better understand their drinking and then put it behind them too and get on with their lives. Some abstinence methods disagree with me. They feel that to be in control of a problem you need to confront it daily. I never 'bought' this idea and it held me back. I wanted to address the issue and move on. And I did. If you want to too, then you can find the Sober in Seven programme here
It is true that if you DON’T get serious about solving your problem then it will definitely be around forever. But if you have read this far then you are probably pretty serious. Just don’t spend your energy on the wrong things. It is the power of positive thinking that will change your relationship with alcohol and transform your life.
Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations. To find out more about how changing your drinking can transform your life, join our free webinar or online course on quitting drinking.