Afraid to Quit Drinking? Here’s the Real Reason Why (Part 1)
I always joke that I had to go to seminary to learn to drink.
In the fall of 2003, I moved across the country to go to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. I was anxious and scared but also thrilled to be starting graduate school. I was starting a theology degree and wanted to dive in. So what did I do? I signed up a a Biblical Greek intensive; I for the next 2 1/2 months, I studied nothing but Greek. All the time.
It was as exciting and brutal as it sounds. By the end of the term, I was exhausted and stressed as my perfectionism had been in full swing for months on end. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on the hunt for some way to relax, to not feel so damn wound up all the time.
Christmas, 2003. Enter Johnny Walker, stage left. Thus began my long, storied history with alcohol. It took me years and years, but I finally learned to change my relationship with drinking.
I tried to cut back so many times. Countless times. And each time, I was discouraged. I thought it was hopeless. But the real story?
I was terrified to stop drinking.
Common Fears About Quitting Drinking
Plenty of us who have thought about cutting back on our drinking or quitting altogether have fears about doing so. Some of the most common fears I’ve heard of include:
- Giving up the fun parts of using alcohol (friends, social activities, etc.)
- Fear of admitting that alcohol has been causing problems in your life
- Being labeled an “addict”
- Fear of trying to stop drinking and failing (again)
- Fear of feeling emotions that you’re drinking to escape or numb out from
Though I was probably closer to abusing alcohol than I was to alcohol addiction (read more about that here), I was certainly afraid of admitting I had a problem.
I also really enjoyed drinking. I loved trying new drinks and mixing classic cocktails at home. Little known fact? I went to bartending school for two weeks after I finished my psychology degree at Fuller. I made 8 drinks in under three minutes flat, the fastest in my class.
I also had a lot of fun drinking with friends. My relationships weren’t built around alcohol, as I’ve heard some drinkers’ social circles are. But when my friends and I got together, we’d share alcohol and often mix drinks together. It was a valuable part of my time with them, and I was reluctant to change that.
All of these reasons, though, were branches of the root of my fear: My fear of changing. What does this mean?
The Committee of the Mind
To explain this, I need to talk a little Psychology 101.
All of us have a voice within us that tries to scare us, shame us, beat the crap out of us, make us anxious, depressed, or in some other way tell us that we can’t do something.
- “You’re not enough.”
- “I need to drink to be okay.”
- “I can’t imagine my life without drinking.”
- “If anyone really knew me, they wouldn’t love me.”
- “I’m alone and always will be.”
This voice is what therapists often call the “ego.” It’s not arrogance, confidence, or anything like that, though it’s often used that way in pop psychology. Rather, think of it as what’s usually the most vocal of the committee members that make up the wonderful complexity that is you.
See, all of us have what I call the “committee of the mind” made of all of the disparate parts of us. It’s kind of like the various feelings in the mind the girl in that movie “Inside Out”: These parts or “committee members” have very different opinions, feelings, and thoughts about our experiences and how we live our lives.
Some of the committee members at the table are very vulnerable; they’ve been through some very painful experiences and we often don’t hear from them very much, if at all. These committee members have been abused, neglected, shamed, traumatized, beaten, ignored, and unloved.
That’s where the ego comes in. The ego’s job is to protect the most vulnerable parts of ourselves by maintaining the status quo. The ego is the obstructionist. It’s not interested in new possibilities or living differently. The ego says “oh hell no” to any kind of change whatsoever.
Let me say that again: Your ego doesn’t want anything in your life to change. Not you. Not your drinking. Not any other addiction you might have, like a porn addiction, a sex addiction, or a gambling problem. Not your depression. Not your anxiety. Not your anger.
By keeping things as they are, the ego protects your deepest, most vulnerable, but also most “real” and authentic parts of you. It keeps the peace but at an enormous cost. When the ego has its way, we feel hopelessly stuck and lost in our lives, disconnected from our truest selves.
So what does all of this have to do with why you’re afraid to quit drinking? Stay tuned for part 2, coming early next week.
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