When I look back to when my relationship with drinking changed, I realise it was when I started to use it as a crutch to deal with stressful situations.
One of the most traumatic times in my life was when I separated from the father of my children and was going through the stress of shared custody.
My kids were six and four when we separated and, every time they went to their father’s house, it was heartbreaking.
I remember buckling them into their dad’s car as they went off to spend a few days with him, trying to keep the situation light and happy so as not to further distress them.
As soon as they would leave I would head into the house, grab a bottle of wine and numb the pain.
It was only when I started looking back at my drinking history to understand when it had become an issue for me that I realised it was when I started using alcohol as a crutch.
And stress has been a major trigger for me – when I was made redundant one of my first thoughts was that I would go home and get smashed.
Whenever my partner and I have fought, or if I’ve faced uncomfortable emotions around a situation, I’ve reached for a glass of wine.
The problem is the numbing effect of wine – the anaesthetic for the pain – is temporary.
It wears off as the alcohol wears off and not only was I left with the original issue and the feelings that went with it, I was doing so with a hangover, lack of energy and low mood.
I recently wrote about my love/hate relationship with alcohol – how I thought it was helping me to manage in so many areas of my life, yet was actually adding to my emotional and mental load.
It was only when I started questioning my drinking and whether it was serving me in the way I thought it was, that I realised it was actually hindering me rather than helping me.
Another way to cope with negative emotions
So how do I cope with stress and other negative emotions now?
I have my go-to methods including exercise, meditation, journaling and talk it through with someone.
But one of the most simple and effective ways I do this now is to lean into my emotions.
At first, I struggled with this as I’m an emotions suppressor from way back. If they gave medals to people for pushing down their negative emotions I’d be standing on the dais with a gold medal in hand.
So, it was uncomfortable to face a negative emotion but also so empowering.
Now, when I’m feeling angry, upset, hurt, sad or any of the other emotions I once ran from I find a quiet space and tune into what is going through my mind and body.
I don’t try and justify it or rationalise it. I simply tune into it, almost like an external observer thinking: “Hmmm, that’s interesting!”.
This may sound very woo woo (it certainly did to me at first) but doing this helped me realise that emotions – both good and bad – are fleeting. They are necessary to help us navigate through our lives and therefore serve an important purpose.
Therefore numbing them out does not resolve anything, in fact it makes things worse.
It was such a powerful and profound lesson.
It’s not that I now have the serenity of the Dalai Lama and my inner world is one of calm and peace, it’s just that I can handle how I’m feeling a lot better than I once did.
And it’s far more effective than a bottle of wine ever was!