The Urge to Drink – The Urge to Avoid

I had a very interesting experience a few weeks ago that gave me a real, if somewhat unsettling, insight into my own dependency on alcohol.

When I first stopped drinking just over a year ago I found social events like meals extremely challenging. The urge to drink if I sat down for a meal with others was almost overwhelming. Restaurants were things to be avoided. I had tried going to one a few weeks after stopping and far from enjoying a nice meal with friends all I could focus on was their drinks, my misery and a sense of grievance as to why was I having to miss out.

Having friends or family round for meals was also a major abstinence battleground and again my strategy was mainly withdrawal rather than engaging in the fight. The problem there was that if I avoided things I liked, abstinence was going to be pointless. So I tackled the meals out and the meals in. Gradually as I successfully navigated a few meals I could feel the urge to drink lessen. The urge was still there though and I knew that this had to be less about a physical addiction to drink and more an association. Or was it? My urges took on a pattern which I am sure is familiar to other drinkers; meals with friends and family, social events, weekends; all triggering waves of anxiety.

After the first few months I could go days without wanting a drink at all, zero desire and then a trigger event and my cravings would start. The strange thing was that the cravings would ease rather than grow as the particular situation evolved. I knew these cravings were based around anxiety, the need to blot it out, but I mistook the nature of this anxiety. I thought my anxiety was based on my inability to enjoy myself without a drink; could I still have fun, be convivial without the aid of a few glasses of booze inside me? The answer was yes I could and as the months passed so gradually did some of this anxiety dissipate.

Back to a few weeks ago. I was hosting a meal for for four people. I was cooking and I knew that none of the people were big drinkers. As I prepared the food, I could feel the urge to drink creeping up on me. What! Still? I thought to myself. I rode the anxiety, we had the meal and my feelings settled down. Then last week we had four people round including my son and his girfriend. We all knew more coronavirus restrictions were on the way so this was likely to be the last such meal at home for some time. The urge to drink kicked in as I was preparing the food. Two meals on consecutive weekends and two lots of urges to drink. I was really disappointed. I thought I had beaten this thing. I enjoyed being sober and not having to plan my life around the next drink. I was annoyed that I was still experiencing times when I felt I really wanted a drink. That’s when I stopped and really looked at what was really happening. Up to then I’d assumed my anxiety was triggered by wanting a drink because it was a social occasion but this was something more. I have had a year of many social situations where there was a zero urge to drink. I knew I was anxious and that a drink would soften and kill off that anxiety but what was the real cause of it?

Anxiety is often explained as fear without a home but I needed to identify that fear. But not at that moment. Guests were arriving, food had to be prepared, table laid, drinks chilled. Both meals went well and I enjoyed both evenings. I knew I had to revisit what was going on and as I replayed the evenings and my feelings the location of the anxiety I felt started to reveal itself. It was located deep within me, and I think it was a fear of failure , of not being able to produce good food, a good evening for my guests. Would they like the food, would they approve or would the whole evening end up as crashing failure with my being revealed as the flawed individual that I am.

Wow, I was a bit shocked, was this what it’s always been about, drinking to avoid feelings of failure of being something less than others? I knew that tendency had been with me for a long time but felt that I’d successfully overcome it. The reality was that I had probably used alcohol just to mask it and give me a false sense of confidence in some specific situations. My urge to drink was really an urge to avoid that confrontation with the hurt and shame buried deep within me, to mask it. For me giving up the drink has allowed many things to surface and this particular “thing” seems the most significant. Had I not stopped drinking I would have carried on just drinking “to take the edge off” and that worked for me in a way. It blotted out a sense of failure, of not being good enough but it came at a cost. Part of that cost was that my drinking, in itself, became a cause of shame and yet another failure. A failure to control the very thing that was supposed to help. Better have another drink then, and so it continued.

When the current lockdown ends and I can enjoy a meal with others, I shall try and cook that meal reminding myself that my meals are OK, that I have put on good evenings for others in the past, that I’m alright as I am without the need to top myself up with booze. In fact what having meals like that has shown me is that the anxiety decreases as the evidence shows me that I wasn’t a failure. The food was OK, everyone had a good time and I have been able to enjoy that occasion sober. That takes time to sink in. The next time I prepare a meal the same feelings are likely to reemerge and I need to finally confront those uncomfortable feelings, look them in the eye and comfort the young Jim that grew up believing he wasn’t good enough.

Maybe it’s things like these that constitute the real challenges of giving up the booze and I’d be interested to know if others have had similar insights into their own patterns of drinking.

Jim X

16 thoughts on “The Urge to Drink – The Urge to Avoid

  1. lifesippingaway

    I can really relate to this. I used to drink on social situations or when I had to do a task like cook for friends as I felt it was my best self and had anxiety that “just me” wasn’t enough. I suppose it’s where the saying Dutch courage has come from.
    Btw some of the best meals I’ve had with friends and family is where something disastrous has happened in the kitchen and we’ve all had a giggle about it afterwards xx

    Like

    Reply
  2. nomorebeer

    great post Jim, it’s great to see you moving forward in your introspective quest of the deeper aspects of the causes that lead us to drink. I’m happy that young Jim is getting comfort from you, and I just wanted to point out that you keep saying the food is “OK” BUT I AM SURE IT WAS DELICIOUS!!!! xxx big hugs xxx Anne

    Like

    Reply
  3. clairei47

    This comment may turn into a post in itself so be warned. I think it’s great you are unravelling the triggers for you and hopefully that will reduce the cravings even more as time passes. What I find really interesting about your post is the thoughts and feelings your guests would have about the evening and the food. Personally I have never attended a dinner party where the standard of the food has even crossed my mind. I’m just grateful to be fed to be honest. If your guests thought any of the negative thoughts you had imagines them having, they would be very rude and judgmental guests for sure. I also noticed the same Anne, you kept saying the food was ‘ok’ … give Jim a break! Maybe people are happy to just be with you, enjoying your company and the food (which I am sure was fabulous) is neither here nor there! Feeling anxiety about things going well is normal but people won’t judge you over soggy broccoli. Well, good and kind people won’t anyway. You are awesome. You are not a failure. We love yer Jim ❤️

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Thanks Claire – i know the food is pretty good usually but it’s the anticipation of not pleasing people of the possibility of things not working out. I need to dig a bit more into it. Or maybe I’m over analysing ? X

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. clairei47

        You have very high expectations of yourself. If yin went to a dinner party and the host had had a culinary nightmare I am guessing you’d support and help them, and would not think they are a failure. I just wonder why you won’t give yourself the same kindness? It’s tough being a people pleaser though. Takes one to know one 😉🤗

        Liked by 1 person

  4. jacquelyn3534

    I really appreciate you sharing this post! It REALLY resonated with me as you know with my last night dinner hosting. Really got me thinking about the core reason I feel the urge to drink when hosting dinners/holidays and such. When you said how the very thing you used to take that edge off was actually in the end giving you a cause for shame I just stopped reading and thought for a second. In the end I as well always feel shame and failure when the actual meal and everything usually turns out great! Why do I keep doing this to myself? We deserve to feel great while putting on a fabulous meal and afterwards sit back and smile, sober. Our brains want the easiest thing to “take that edge off.” I mean it works, I cook away without worry….however in the end I am tipsy and now not even fully enjoying all I created! I also think we create all these expectations in our head that we want for our guests when in actuality the guests come with none and are just happy to be there. I’ll remember this post for a long time Jim! Hit home for sure! You are fabulous and that’s why your guests are there! I’m going to remember this too from now on. You can’t ever fail because no matter what your guests are there to spend time with you! 😍😍😍

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      Thanks Jacquelyn and glad it resonates for you too. What I experienced those last two meals was the surprising urge but once we sat down all was good- maybe in the end we just condition ourselves to assume we need that drink to dampen the anxiety whereas if we face it the anxiety can disappear and we still enjoy ourselves sober. I’m certainly finding that I can be just as daft sober as I was drunk! X

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. jacquelyn3534

        Yes! I think you just hit the nail on the head with this whole comment! I even told a funny story of something silly I recently did and have everyone belly laughing….all sober. 😊

        Like

  5. ceponatia

    Common parlance is that everyone’s addiction is unique and thus their recovery has to be unique as well, but the more time I spend sober the less I believe this. Every story I hear, including yours, sounds exactly like mine in many ways. The fear of failure (or fear of not being perfect in my case) seems to be a motivating factor for most people’s addictions (if I were braver I’d say “everyone’s” but I’ll check myself).

    So it’s unsurprising that in early recovery I had a similar event to what you described happening while cooking. Mine revolved around gaming which is what I did while drinking, almost exclusively. I stayed away from the computer almost entirely for my first couple months of sobriety but, upon feeling like I “had this recovery thing down”, I tried it again. The urge to drink came back instantaneously and it scared me enough to put off trying to play games again for another month or two. Eventually I was able to pick my old hobby back up without feeling like I needed a drink, which may or may not be a good thing depending on who you ask. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jim Simmonds Post author

      That’s interesting, and I definitely know the perfectionist state of mind. I something goes wrong or more precisely something isn’t fantastic I get mad! The drink definitely softened that but I think I’ve mellowed with age and sobriety and learning to be a bit more chilled hopefully

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. ceponatia

        Yeah I have to sometimes remind myself that it’s okay to do something and not have it be amazing right away, especially with songwriting, but I have to be in the right frame of mind to even remember to remind myself first. Haha

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s