You’ve had a stressful day. Most of your days are stressful, but for some reason (maybe a known reason, maybe not), today just seemed more stressful. You get home and pour yourself an adult drink. As you sit down to unwind, you take the first sip and immediately start to feel better. You’re home now. The day is over. You can just be at home. Even if there’s chaos with the family, it is manageable…or maybe it isn’t manageable yet and all you want is to be left alone. Alcohol works as a stress reliever…to a certain point.
Alcohol is a depressant. It calms and slows the central nervous system thus making you feel more relaxed and calm. The problem is, it does not help you make sense of your day. It does not help you work through what you went through today. All it does is pushes it aside. The day and all its stressors are still there; unprocessed; unfinished. In and of itself this isn’t a big deal as long as you come back to the stress of the day to process it through. Be honest, how often do you go back to the stress and process it? Talk about it, your feelings, and your reactions? Probably very rarely, right? That is where the problem lies. As the memories of the day just sit there, unprocessed, the stress of the next day will add to the stress of the previous day. Your daily experiences are cumulative. If you don’t take care of the stress, it will take control of you.
What happens when one stressful day follows another? What happens when one drink isn’t enough? Then two isn’t enough? What started out as a normal experience of coming home and having a drink to unwind can quickly become out of control. It creeps up also. You don’t start drinking too much all of a sudden. Often your significant other will start to see a pattern of increased drinking (whether more days per week or more drinks per day). They may not know if they should bring it up to you. Afterall, you have such a stressful job and deserve to have something to help you relax, right? You’re not breaking any laws either. So it’s ok…no it’s not.
When you don’t take care of the stress, the stress takes over. The body wants to be relaxed. The body doesn’t like being in a stressed state. When you drink, it calms the central nervous system and it feels good. You are now relaxed which is what the body wants. As stated above, the problem is it just pushes the stress aside. It is still there. You didn’t actually relax yourself from the day. You numbed yourself from the day. A dentist putting novacaine in your mouth will not fix the problem. It will temporarily numb the pain, but the problem is still there. Alcohol does the same to the central nervous system. It calms by numbing, but does not help you solve the problem.
How do you know if you have a problem with drinking? Answering yes to at least two of these questions could mean talking to a professional is a good step for you: Have you ever wanted to or thought you should cut down on your drinking? Do you get annoyed with people complaining about your drinking? Do you feel guilty about your drinking? Do you ever need a drink in the morning to relieve the shakiness or get the day started? These questions are questions a therapist may ask. They are standard questions to determine someone MIGHT have a problem with drinking. It does not mean you DO have a problem. If you answered yes to at least two of those questions, talking to a professional may be a good next step.
Another thing to think about is other people are able to see things in us before we are. We very easily can ignore or explain away anything. If other people are saying things to you about your drinking (or about your stress level, or about the impact of your job on the family, or ANYTHING that has to do with you, your job, or your relationships – any of them – it may behoove you to listen to what they are saying before pushing what they have to say aside. What if they are onto something? You can reclaim yourself, your life, before it is so far gone.
You are strong. You are resilient. Alcohol will decrease your beliefs in yourself. It can make you start to doubt yourself. It is powerful. But it is not a fix for the stress. There are many places to go for help. Start with your doctor. Ask for a referral. Talk to your friends, colleagues, and family. Ask for support. 211 is a great resource (dial 211 on the phone or www.211.org). There are sometimes free resources as well. You want to talk with someone who is knowledgeable with first responders AND with addiction. It takes a great deal of courage to make that first call. If you don’t find the right person the first time, keep trying. Don’t give up on it. This is your life. It is worth it. You are worth it. Thank you for all you do for your community and beyond. Choose strength! Call or email me if you need help locating someone in your area. I will be more than happy to do what I can for you. 860-501-9767 or 941-462-4807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.