Why Adding Cocktails to Your Emotional Mix Might Not Be Working

Why Adding Cocktails to Your Emotional Mix Might Not Be Working

A cocktail at the end of a rough day is an understandable indulgence. If it becomes routine, you might be coping for parts of your life that are out of balance.

In my experience, alcohol is a depressant. It dulls feelings and muddies our thinking. Sure, a celebration with drinks might feel exhilarating, and that’s the idea, but it might also be robbing you of some of the good feelings in addition to making your recollection of the event somewhat less sharp. In regular drinkers that is usually some of the effect, they are seeking. The goal might be stated as “relaxation” but the underlying issue could very well be unresolved feelings of anger or sadness. Sure, you might just love the taste of wine, but if you’re seeking the comfort of a bottle nightly, you might want to look at some of the other things in your life. Perhaps there are some underlying issues you are avoiding.

There have been several times in my life when alcohol played a role in my own avoidance.

In high school, for example, when my father was accelerating his own demise with alcohol, I took to drinking for entertainment and escape. It was the early 80’s so there was a bit of pot going around our school as well. Sex, and drugs, and rock ‘n roll, without much sex. But we took to our recreational drinking with gusto. I recall an afternoon, my senior year, a few weeks before graduation. The spring weather had released all the budding trees and cool breezes and a group of my friends decided to skip school on a Friday and meet at my father’s house. He was at work and his wife was traveling, so we had his large house and swimming pool to ourselves. And his liquor closet. By the end of the afternoon, we decided it would be cool to climb the radio/tv tower behind his house. Drunk and stoned we climbed about a quarter of the way up the rickety, swaying, tower. We were happy, high, and stupid. Fortunately, on this journey, nobody was hurt. I still see one of the guys from time to time and we both still remember the vivid afternoon of debauchery. It was a memorable buzz and a celebration of our closing high school career. It was also a way of self-medicating my depression about my father’s drinking.

As the year came to a close, one of my friends had a graduation party and an open keg of beer was provided. I’m not sure how the parents were not informed. I believe at that time you had to give a driver’s license or credit card as a deposit for the keg. It was a beautiful party. Great weather. We were all feeling high and getting buzzed. I left the party feeling bulletproof and optimistic. Euphorically optimistic. Halfway home, a deer decided to walk across the road in front of me. I was driving too fast. I swerved to miss the deer and flipped my car off the road into a ditch. The real magic trick was how I missed the huge oak on one side and the deeper (100 foot) ravine on the other side. I flew off the road and busted the driver’s side window out with my head. A nearby neighbor heard the ruckus and came to investigate. He drove me home. I don’t remember any of it past the deer entering the road in front of me and my tires starting to squeal as I jerked the wheel.

I was very close to death at that point in my young life, and alcohol had played a huge part in my anger, depression, and overwhelm. After my wreck, I began to see drinking in a different light. I experimented with drinking a bit more in college, nearly earning my first DWI on the way home from a bar. But I never had the same enthusiasm for beer after that. And over the course of my college life, I started giving up drinking altogether. I saw how it made my friends and girlfriends into blabbering fools. And when you’re not drinking, drinking people become fairly unattractive.

Now, as I’ve traveled through two marriages and a handful of long-term relationships, my curiosity about drinking, my epiphanies around fancy gin drinks, has waned. I’ll still have a margarita from time to time, but it’s a rare event. And when I open my fridge I’m most likely to go for a bubbly water over anything else. It is merely a choice. I choose to remain sober and clear. Drinking makes me a bit lethargic and less motivated. In the course of a work day, I’ve often still got creative projects I want to work on after dinner, for example. One beer with dinner might be okay, but it’s more likely to lead me to an early bedtime or zoning out on a tv show. Again, it’s fine, from time to time, but it’s not my initial choice. And, in fact, it’s becoming more of an aversion. Why have a glass of wine? What does that second margarita do for you?

Alcohol can be an emotional lubricant. I was married to a woman who needed a few drinks to finally express what was going on our relationship. We’d reach some odd clarity while she was buzzed and, unfortunately, she’d forget all about it in the morning. If you need alcohol to actually say what you’re feeling, or ask for what you desire, you might consider working on your relationship in therapy.

The choice to drink or not to drink is a personal one. I don’t condemn you for drinking, but I do ask myself as the third glass is being poured, what is causing you to check out? When you tip over the edge of inebriation, you are slipping into an isolation that I cannot join you in. You are exiting the relationship by using alcohol to numb or loosen your feelings. I can’t and won’t follow you there.

I choose to remain unaltered these days. I can work on my other addictions: sugar, queso, and Frappucinos.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

The Third Glass Series – from the Whole Parent, John McElhenney


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