Afraid to Quit Drinking? Here’s the Real Reason Why (Part 2)
Afraid to quit drinking? You’re not alone. In part 1, I reviewed some very common fears about quitting drinking or about moderating your drinking. I suggested that there’s a deeper reason behind all of these common fears: Our fear of change.
See, there’s a voice in all of us that tells us that we can’t do something, that when we think about doing something new or different, gets nervous, anxious, or scared. This voice tells us the same “emotional truths” over and over again. It’s trying to protect us from re-experiencing hurts from our childhoods but it’s not helping us anymore as adults.
In fact, it’s keeping us stuck. That voice is known as the ego. But what’s up with the ego? And why is it so important to look at what the ego’s up to if we want to change our drinking?
Our Unconscious Commitment to the Status Quo
Our ego usually operates without our knowing it. Maybe 5% of our mindpower is that of our conscious awareness; 95% or so of what we do, feel, think, and how we live our lives is dictated by our unconscious minds.
That’s why when we feel stuck, or when we’ve tried to change our drinking before and failed, we can’t understand why the hell it’s so damn hard. We feel so powerless, and we can’t shake the feeling that we’re getting in our own way somehow.
We feel that way because we are getting in our way. The late psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell, drawing upon Homer’s The Odyssey, explains likens the ego to Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. It’s a bit lengthy but I’ve always loved his analogy:
Homer in the Odyssey depicts Penelope, Odysseus’ loyal wife, as besieged by suitors during his many years’ absence. They urge her to abandon her missing husband, who has never returned from the battle of Troy, and marry one of them. She is not interested in entering this new world of possibilities and wants to wait for Odysseus’ return. In order to keep her ardent suitors at bay, she tells them she cannot think of remarrying until she fulfills her obligations by weaving a shroud for Laertes, her father-in-law. She weaves during the daylight hours and, after the household has gone to sleep, unravels her work by torchlight. She spends years at her endless project, who seeming futility belies its effective and poignant role in preserving her dedication and holding together her subjective world [i.e., who she knows herself to be].
One might regard the relational matrix within which each of us lives as a tapestry woven on Penelope’s loom. . . . Like Penelope, each of us weaves and unravels, constructing our relational world to maintain the same dramatic tension perpetuating—with many different people as vehicles—the same longings, suspense, revenge, surprises, and struggles. Like Penelope in the seeming purposiveness of her daytime labors, we experience our lives as directional and linear; we are trying to get somewhere, to do things, to define ourselves in some fashion. Yet, like Penelope in her nighttime sabotage, we unconsciously counterbalance our efforts, complicate our intended goals, seek our and construct the very restraints and obstacles we struggle against. Psychopathology in its infinite variations reflects our unconscious commitment to stasis, to embeddedness in and deep loyalty to the familiar [bold added].
Didn’t get all that? Let me sum up. We want to change, we all want something more for our lives. We might even work hard to realize that change in our lives. We might try cutting back on or quitting drinking for a while, only to wind up waking up with a nasty hangover. We’re in the same spot. Again.
But we also want to stay the same. Without even realizing it, our unconscious beliefs operate behind the scenes; the ego is also hard at work to make sure that we avoid re-injuring ourselves emotionally.
Unless we find a way to look at what the ego’s doing behind the scenes and take charge, we’ll stay stuck.
We’ll stay depressed. We’ll stay anxious. We’ll keep on being angry. We’ll keep drinking. We might experience relief for a while by managing some symptoms of what’s bothering us (e.g., maybe we get some cognitive therapy to change our thought patterns and behaviors while not really looking inward).
But we don’t really change. Not unless we deal with our ego and its behind-the-scenes activities.
Being Afraid to Quit Drinking: Our Fear of Change
So, the real reason I was afraid to stop drinking? I didn’t realize it consciously, but I was afraid of change. I was afraid to face the most vulnerable parts of who I am. I was terrified to become who I dreamed I could be. I was scared to become my most authentic self.
Every time I thought about what my life could be like if I changed my relationship with alcohol, my ego stepped up and said, “No, you can’t do that. You’re not good enough. No one will love you if you let others see who you really are. Are you kidding yourself? We need to keep drinking instead.”
If you’re thinking about changing your relationship with alcohol and the very thought fills you with dread, you’re not alone. I get it. I’ve been there.
So what can you do?
Deciding to Change: The First Step
There’s plenty you can do. Change isn’t easy, let’s get that right. But, when you’re ready for it, the first step to changing your relationship with alcohol is realizing that you don’t have to listen to the ego.
The ego is just one of the voices at the table. Your ego, which is afraid, anxious, scared, or depressed, isn’t even the real you.
That bears repeating: Your ego is not the real you. Your genuine self—who you are when you’re at peace, calm, connected to others and a sense of purpose in your life—that’s who you really are. And you can decide that the real you doesn’t have to take orders from the ego anymore.
This isn’t an easy thing to do. It took me many years. For others, it may take less time. Everyone is on their own journey. Let me know if I can help.
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