I Asked Myself This Question When I Thought About Drinking

I asked myself this question when I thought about drinkingI know it’s the weekend because that ‘s usually when I make my weekly trip to my local Trader Joe’s. Recently, I was thrilled to find pumpkin-flavored Kringles, which are a flaky, frosting-covered pastry that’s really close to the Dutch pastries I grew up with.


Ah, autumn. My 3 1/2-year-old son was pushing the cart and I threw one in amongst the peanut butter, pasta, bacon, vegetables, and other goodies.


Then I strolled over to the side of the store that had the wine, beer, beverages, and snacks. I added a few more items to the cart, double-checked my grocery list on my phone, and was ready to call it a day.


I walked over to the cashier with the shortest line and stood there, waiting. I sighed.


My eyes roamed for a moment as I allowed my mind to wander. That’s when I saw it.


The liquor section.


A Blast from the Past

In nearly every Trader Joe’s I’ve been in, the liquor is featured right next to the checkout lanes. When I was drinking, I lingered here often before finally, with no small amount of shame, finding a bottle I would buy. These days, being alcohol-free, I rarely give the section a second thought.


Except that day. It wasn’t a conscious thought, really. Not like the craving I had had back in June. I just noticed that everything around me faded slightly, and that my eyes were hovering on the liquor section for a few seconds.


After a moment I came back to myself and noticed what was happening. “Huh,” I thought. “That hasn’t happened in a while.”


What I Used to Do When I Felt a Craving

Even though it wasn’t a conscious thought or craving to drink, it might have become one had I not pulled out of my silent, momentary mind-vacation. Looking back, it makes me think about what might have happened when I had a desire to drink.


I’d become aware of the thought, the urge to drink. These urges would come at certain times of the day, for example, when I arrived home or on my way home. Drinking was a way for me to relax and numb out, to take a break from my constant anxiety about showing up more fully in my life. Of being me, really.


Normally, when I’d feel the urge to drink, a part of me was showing up and saying, “Tired? Anxious? I know what you can do to help yourself feel better. A gin and tonic would take the edge off.”


Sometimes, especially when I was trying (and often failing) to manage or moderate my drinking, I’d fight this urge. I’d feel ashamed of my urge, angry with myself, and I’d do my best to redirect my thoughts or try to do something else. But sometimes that just made the urge more intense, and I’d end up giving in.


It was crazy-making. Eventually, I learned to be curious about my urges instead, listening in to what they were trying to tell me.


The Million-Dollar Question

Instead, on this particular day in Trader Joe’s, I asked myself this question:


“What’s going on with me that I’m thinking about drinking right now?”


See, my urge was telling me that I was tired and anxious. We recently moved, I was exhausted and stressed with everything we still had to do. And September was shaping up to be one of those crazy-but-good kind of months of constant travel to see family and for professional development.


My mini-urge was telling me that I needed a break. I needed to find a way to take care of myself, to rest, relax, and get restored for a little while, if even only for a few minutes.


Having a Dialogue with Your Urges

Whether your urges are telling you that you need to drink, use, watch porn, or act out sexually in some other way, learning to be in conversation with your urges and be curious about them is critical.


When you feel an urge, a part of you is showing up and saying something about what you need. That part is telling you that you need to act on your urge. But is that really what you need?


Addiction is all about either 1) trying to get something, or 2) trying to get away from something. Often, it’s both at the same time. For instance, maybe we drink to feel more social, relaxed, or creative. Maybe we drink to feel less anxious or, like me, simply to feel less.


Having an interest in your urges, noticing when they happen and what’s going on in your life and inside of you, can begin to help you meet the real needs that your urges are signaling. Acknowledging and meeting those needs can make all the difference in your ability to act more consciously in your relationship with your habit.


Mindfully thinking about your urges can help you slow down, talk with your urges, and make a different choice instead of giving in to your craving on autopilot.


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Jeremy Mast

Jeremy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA LMFT90961) in private practice in Ventura, California. He helps those struggling with drugs, alcohol, and out-of-control sexual behaviors awaken to new possibilities for their lives. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in beautiful southern California.

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