The first order of business:
“Is this even the right question?”
You need to take that idea very seriously. Anyone who is asking themselves how they can cut back on their drinking needs to take a serious look at the idea that maybe, just maybe, they should not be drinking at all.
I only say this based on my own experience. It probably sounds like I am making a very strong judgment of other people here, but in fact I am speaking only from my own experience.
In other words, there was a time in my life when I was trying to figure out how to cut down on my own alcohol consumption, and in reality I was an alcoholic who just needed to embrace abstinence. This was a very, very tough lesson for me to learn though in order to finally achieve long term sobriety.
My goal would be for you to learn it much easier than I did.
Has cutting back in the past ever really helped you?
Let me ask you a serious question:
“Has cutting down on alcohol in the past ever really helped you?”
Really, think about this for a moment. This is the great delusion of every alcoholic or drug addict.
What happens is this:
The alcoholic will realize that they have been “hitting the sauce” a bit hard lately. Maybe they suffer from a consequence or two. So they back off a bit, or they are so wasted physically that they have to back off for a while. Their body forces them to take a break.
When they do this, they chalk it up in their minds as a success. It is as if their brain is telling them “See? I can control it when I really want to! I just normally don’t want to control it, I would rather let loose and have fun!”
So the alcoholic remembers this “victory” and clings to the idea that they actually can, in fact, cut back on their consumption when it is really important to do so. But they tell themselves that most of the time they simply enjoy drinking heavily.
But then perhaps they encounter a situation in the future that demands their sobriety. They have a certain function to attend to do and they need to be sober for a long period of time (like maybe a whole day or even more, gasp!). So at this point they have a challenge in front of them. They have to go for a certain period of time without drinking. Can they do it?
So what happens next is that the alcoholic endures whatever event they have to without drinking. And while they are doing this they come to resent the event they are at, because it is keeping them from getting drunk. So they are, in fact, “controlling” their drinking because they are abstaining when it is really important to do so. But this does the following things:
1) It gives them more justification that they are in control (when really they are not most of the time) and allows them to rationalize their outrageous behavior when they get drunk.
2) It causes them to have a major resentment for the entire duration of the “sober event” that they are at. They are not drinking, but they are miserable about it, and this consumes their every thought.
3) They learn to avoid such situations in the future (read: real life situations) and thus they continue to isolate more and more in order to be able to get drunk without interference.
These things are the result of “cutting down” by going through a situation where the alcoholic is not supposed to be drinking. They resent the situation, they obsess over the fact that they are not drinking, and they use it as a twisted excuse to prove to themselves that they don’t really have a problem.
In short, can “cutting back on drinking” backfire on you? Absolutely. And we have just described several ways in which it can do so.
When a true alcoholic tries to cut down on their drinking slowly, a few things will happen. They will start to enjoy the drinking less and less, until they are completely miserable.
The alcoholic is caught in a trap. They are either letting loose and getting totally smashed, or they are trying to restrain themselves and they are miserable.
What is important to realize is that there is absolutely no room in between these two extremes for anything. There is no middle ground. Zero.
The great fantasy of every alcoholic is that they find this middle ground, and then they revisit it every single day for the rest of their lives. “If I could just get comfortably buzzed and enjoy it like I did that one time when I was on the cruise and everything was happy, and I didn’t get too drunk or too sick but I was just pleasantly high all day, and nobody got mad and nobody got hurt. If every day could just be like that and I could just figure out how to drink that perfect amount, then I would finally be happy.”
This is a delusion. The alcoholic can remember their last perfect drinking episode. The mind clings to that perfect memory of when it was really fun. And the alcoholic mind believes that if everyone would just get out of the way and allow the alcoholic to do what he needs to do, that then the world would be perfect and he would be happy again and he could drink properly like he did that one time, when everything was perfect.
This is denial. This is what the alcoholic mind clings to; the idea that it can recapture the most perfect drinking experience it has ever had and then you can relive that every single day, simply by drinking the right amount of alcohol. Or the mind argues that if other people and the outside forces of the world were all in agreement that you could then be happy again. Happy forever.
I have news for you:
Cutting down on your heavy drinking is not the path to this fantasy of happiness. If it were possible then you would have figured this out long ago. You would have been happy when you were in those situations when you were forced to cut back anyway, and you resented the situation and you wanted to let loose and get drunk. Those situations should be proof enough to you that you will never be happy when you are holding back, and that the only way to be “happy” in your alcoholism is if you forget about controlling it and you simply go nuts and get hammered every day. Of course, we all know that this actually leads to misery, so you are trapped.
Alcoholism is a trap that only ends in misery. The only way out is through recovery and abstinence. Cutting back leads to more misery. Your alcoholic mind is making excuses as to why it wants to continue to drink.
But it’s all a bunch of lies.
If cutting back could work for you, wouldn’t you have done it already? If there is no problem, then there is no problem….
If you could really improve your life and become happier by simply drinking less alcohol, don’t you think you would have figured that out by now? Every alcoholic goes through these types of games with themselves. They buy a 12 pack of beer instead of a 24 pack. They buy a smaller bottle of liquor and tell themselves that they are drinking responsibly now. They force themselves to start drinking later in the day so that they can try to feel better about themselves, even though they still get smashed on a regular basis and lose total control.
These are the games that every alcoholic will play in order to try to regain control of their lives. But while they are trying to regain control they are also trying to balance this with happiness. I remember feeling like I just wanted to die of misery when I was trapped in my alcoholism, and I was terrified of being sober. I felt like if I were to get sober I would be so miserable that I would want to kill myself. This is what fueled my alcoholism to some degree. I was afraid to give sobriety a chance. Even though I would not admit it, fear is what kept me drinking.
The presence of these mind games should alert you that you have a serious problem. Normal people (read: non-alcoholics) do not have to think about how much they are drinking on a regular basis. They don’t have to think up new ideas for how to limit or control their alcohol consumption. They don’t have to do those things because there is no problem.
If there is no problem, there is no problem. Consequences should illustrate the extent of your problem. But the key is that you have to be honest enough with yourself in order to see the consequences that are in front of you. This is why denial is such a problem when it comes to addiction.
The alcoholic is busy pointing the finger at other people. They are busy blaming others. Because if they did not do this, then that would mean that they would have to blame themselves and take responsibility for the fact that their drinking is ruining their lives. But they don’t want to do that, they want to keep drinking instead. So they point the finger of blame at anyone and everything else that they possibly can.
Facing the reality that abstinence may be the only solution to your problems
At some point the alcoholic must stop blaming others and point the finger back at themselves.
At some point the alcoholic must get serious about the idea that maybe alcohol is actually the source of their problems.
I was good at rationalizing and justifying my problems away. Of course the problems were still there, but I was good at figuring out a way in my mind to NOT blame alcohol for those problems.
Because in almost every case, I could find examples of people who had suffered the same consequences that I did who were not involved with alcohol at all. Someone lost their job? They weren’t necessarily drinking, and the fact that I am drinking did not necessarily directly cost me my job either. But the fact was that in every case my drinking was a major part of my problems, either directly or indirectly. But I would not admit this because of my denial.
I was clinging so tightly to the idea that alcohol was the only thing that could make me happy, and therefore I would do anything necessary in order to defend my drinking. This was my highest truth. This was the premise that I operated from. I started every thought with the idea that alcohol was the most important thing in my life and it was the only thing that made me happy. Every piece of logic that I came up with had to first fit in with that “truth.” This is how my brain worked when it was in denial.
People told me that they wanted me to get sober and become happier. I could not believe that they would suggest this, because I really thought that I would be miserable if one was to remove the alcohol and drugs from my life. So I was outraged that anyone would suggest that I stop drinking. How dare they suggest this, when obviously alcohol was the one key to my happiness? That was how my mind worked when it was in denial.
At some point I became ever more miserable. I had been miserable for a long time. And I was alone.
The fact that I was (temporarily) alone was important. This was critical to my surrender, in fact. Because what happened is that I no longer had the finger of blame to point at other people. The other people in my life had temporarily left me (they were on vacation at the time). So I was alone for once. I had my alcohol and I had my drugs and I was finally going to get to properly medicate myself without other people in my life getting in the way and screwing it all up for me. How nice would that be! I could get smashed without all the interference.
Except that it didn’t work. I was miserable. What was wrong? I finally got what I wanted, everyone left me alone for a while, and I was able to use the alcohol and drugs to my heart’s content. And yet it was not making me happy. And there was no one there for me to blame, no way to shift this unhappiness onto something or someone else.
And that was when I got honest with myself.
At some point every alcoholic must go through this process. They must point the finger of blame at themselves and at the alcohol. This is the only way that they will be able to get sober. Until they do this, they will continue to drink and to justify their behavior in their own mind by making excuses and blaming others.
At some point I had to admit that I was miserable.
And I had to admit that it was nobody else’s fault.
And I had to admit that I was not happy, in spite of my best efforts.
Here I was, all alone, with all the drugs and alcohol that I would ever need. And yet I was miserable.
That was the truth that I finally had to realize for myself. That was my moment of surrender. I had to reach that point before I could change my life and embrace recovery.
Reaching a point of full surrender and asking for help
When you get to this point in your drinking there is one thing that you should do over everything else.
There is one thing that is more important than anything else in the world:
You should ask for help.
This is so simple and yet so difficult for many alcoholics to do. But it is the next logical step after you have surrendered. You must ask for help and then take direction from someone. This is how your life will get better.
Whatever you have been doing in your life has not worked out well. Drinking has made you miserable. It is time to find another path. You have proven to yourself that you do not know what this other path might be. You cannot discover it on your own. You need help. Therefore you must ask for help.
When you ask for help you send a signal to the universe that you are ready to change your life.
There are two ways to ask for help:
1) One way is to ask for help from someone when in reality you are trying to manipulate them.
2) The other way to ask for help is to do it from a place of total and complete desperation.
Don’t bother asking for help if you are not completely desperate for change in your life. It just won’t work any other way. Everything else will turn into manipulation on your part.
Asking for help is not some big complicated thing. You need direction and guidance. Most likely if you ask for help then someone will direct you to professional treatment services. Hopefully they will send you to rehab, or at least get on the phone and find out what your options are.
To be honest it does not even matter much what the direction is, so long as it is not the alcoholics own internal ideas. That is the one direction that you want to avoid, because it always leads back to drinking. You need to ask for help because you need to take anyone else’s advice other than your own. Who you get help from and what they recommend is a minor detail of little importance. Maybe they suggest you go to treatment center “X” instead of rehab center “y.” In the end it doesn’t matter. Anything is better then what you have been doing with your life. Any help is better than nothing. Taking action and embracing abstinence is the basic foundation of “getting help.”
How your life will turn around and improve if you can get honest with yourself
If you get honest enough with yourself to realize that alcohol is your problem then you are in a position to change your whole life.
It will take time.
It doesn’t happen overnight. Recovery is a process that takes years and years.
But it can all start with a single decision. Or rather, it will all start with a single admission–that you are unhappy with your life and the reason is because of your drinking. If you can make that admission to yourself then you have reached the point of true surrender, from which all real healing can begin. Many people try to recover without really getting that honest with themselves first and it always ends in total disaster. If you have not reached this point of honesty then you are setting yourself up for failure and relapse in the future.
Perhaps you do just need to cut down on your drinking or drug use. If that is the case, then cut down and be happy. But be honest with yourself. Be really honest about it: Are you still happy? Because if you are not then the problem will just resurface, and you will be back at square one again. If this is your pattern then you need to get honest about that pattern and realize that your drinking is not making you as happy as you once thought.
Cut back and be happy–if there is no problem then there is no problem! If this fails for you then it is time to take a deep look inside yourself and make that tough decision. The decision where you say: “I surrender. Alcohol has not made me happy in life. I will give myself up to a new solution.”