Stress has been described as being “the greatest single contributor to illness in our time.” It has been estimated that up to two-thirds of all visits to family physicians are stress related. A person struggling with alcohol dependence is no stranger to stress or its affect on the body. Learning to manage stress-triggered drinking can be extremely beneficial.
The drinking cycle of an alcohol dependent person may look like this:
STRESS—DRINKING—GUILT—SHAME —MORE STRESS —DRINKING—LOW SELF-ESTEEM —DEPRESSION —MORE STRESS—MORE DRINKING
Stress is self-defeating. It is usually shame based or fear based. Stress for an alcoholic leads to more drinking sprees and the merry-go-round can continue until death.
I’m sure you know or have heard of the “Serenity Prayer” – it says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” We sometimes think that if other people would just change, life would be good. Understanding what we can and can’t control can help us cope with the daily stress in our life. Sometimes we just have to let things go. Wayne Dyer a motivational speaker I’m familiar with once said, “Never underestimate your ability to change yourself and never overestimate your ability to change someone else.”
Things We can Control
Here are some things that are within our control: our own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us. These things are part of our inner lives and as such, are directly under our influence. We always have a choice about what goes on in our inner lives.
Things We can’t Control
Outside our control, however, are such things as who are parents are, what color of skin we have, if we’re born rich or poor, our genetic makeup. These things are externals and are therefore not our concern. Trying to control or to change what we can’t only results in torment. Also, when we attempt to take on the affairs of others, we will always become frustrated and anxious.
Put Stresses into Categories
Here’s an exercise that you can do to help troubleshoot the stress in your life. Make a list of the sources of stress that affect your life. Separate them into 2 categories, The Stress I Can Change & The Stress I Can’t Change. Now keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your concern. Other people will behave as they do. Circumstances will often not meet our expectations. We get disappointed if we don’t get what we want. Our desires may be unreasonable. Stop worrying about the things that are outside your control. Work on the category with things that you can change.
Stress Plus Drinking
Second, acknowledge that drinking is not going to solve your stress problem. Acknowledging it is a step you choose when you’re frustrated and either can’t think of other options or are too frustrated to find other options. Drinking is going to increase the stress you feel and the vicious cycle will continue and accelerate. Acknowledge that better solutions are available to you right now; you simply need to be open to the possibility to try them.
You can find a quiet place to slow down and do some deep breathing. Keeping your mouth closed, breathe in through your nose and feel the air fill up your stomach, your lungs, hold it and then blow out through your mouth. Do this 4 or 5 times. Concentrate on each breath. This breathing exercise will help to lower your stress.
Keep breathing at a steady pace as this exercise isn’t meant to be rushed through. Rushing this along defeats the purpose and won’t help you achieve the calm state you need to de-stress. Once you are calmer, decide if what you are stressed about is really important. Does it really concern YOU? If it isn’t important – let it go and walk away. Ask yourself if you stay in this stressful situation, will it trigger a drinking spree? If it will, then definitely remove yourself from the situation. In the past, what would you have normally done? How can you change the pattern? Can you make a decision to do some self care? For e.g. can you call a friend, take a walk, talk things over with a co-worker or family member, confide in a coach?
Each time you make the choice to nurture yourself rather than turning to alcohol, the Real Identity gets stronger and the Alcohol Identity weakens. Each time you can weaken the Alcohol Identity you are one step closer to getting alcohol out of your life and getting back to who you really are. Stress and how you choose to handle stress is actually an opportunity to get stronger and stronger. How good is that!