I think there were aspects of therapy that did help me when I was still drinking. But it never really helped with the drinking. I expressed my drinking concerns to one therapist and she suggested I get a really lovely wine glass and have one glass a night, to sip and savour. I realise now she had no understanding of alcohol addiction and the red lights associated with it. Bizarrely, she even discouraged me from meditating at the time I would normally start drinking, because meditation means withdrawal from contact with others, means you are isolating. She was wrong. She wasn't a great therapist. I then had a therapist on the national health- he was good, and I learnt a few things I now know are true about me. The therapy I am still having now (four years- I'm starting to worry about how much I've spent!) has built on some of that but has definitely been the most beneficial. But alcohol has only ever been one very strong thread in a bigger tapestry, and actually we rarely talk about it now at all.
I guess I just didn't want to feel I had been wasting my time and money, that my past was all negated because I had still been drinking.
Have a good week
That was my experience too, E. I began seeing therapists very early on in my 20s and I always expressed concern that my drinking was a problem. Very few seemed to think I was alcoholic because I didn't fit their private image of someone out-of-control, chaotic, coming to sessions drunk, getting arrested, having emergency admissions to hospitals in alcoholic withdrawal. I was just drinking a bit too much and not all the time. I was being honest about it which meant i wasn't in denial. They saw it as a bad habit and not much more. The compulsion I tried to describe, the weird patterns of secret drinking and not knowing why I would drink so much at times made little sense to them. And of course I would drink the feelings away after therapy, a numbing I didn't see as blocking insights but it did.
One therapist i saw was alcoholic herself and attending AA and she didn't see her binging or bender pattern in me so my drinking wasn't 'alcoholic' in her terms. That has to do with the idea of a monolithic alcoholic personality: self-destructive, a liar, selfish, immature, anti-social, flawed and with moral defects. I was involved with social activism, had a close circle of friends, was able to study and work well, was in good health, ate and slept well, could talk about my problems without making excuses for them, turned up promptly for sessions and paid on time.
I agree that drinking may be only one thread in a tapestry, but it is rarely minor, in the same way that insomnia or little phobias or childhood memories of death are no longer big problems in our lives but somehow go on affecting us in ways we may not recognise. I get distressed on significant anniversaries or traumas or death without realising the date of the anniversary consciously.
Dreams have always been a clue to underlying obsessions or fears or wishes I can't admit openly, to the preoccupation with certain themes and people in my inner life, archetypes and projections, both hostile and beloved. It isn't that rational but it forms a large part of what is happening in me below the surface and darkening moods or leading to feelings of stuckness. I do agree with Freud on the importance of what we have forgotten or disregarded as a factor shaping our most powerful motivations and with Winnicott on play objects and transitional objects that 'hold' our terrors and desires until we are ready to look at them or let go of them. I do feel the 'liberation' of drinking showed me that I was not who I seemed to myself to be, and that it released a great deal of repetition compulsions, reenactment daydreams, thanatos death desires, a way to disconnect from what felt unbearable deep down.. It is now no longer operating actively but some dreams I have now are extended and transformed 'drunk' dreams, not about alcohol but about a complete disorientation and search for a space of mindless dazzling euphoria.
How very interesting. I'm afraid my dreams have been very obvious recently. Dreams of being a teacher but not even knowing what my timetable is, what texts are on the curriculum or which students are in my classes. In one dream two nights ago I absconded from the school or college and walked up a brambly and rocky pathway, struggling over the last couple of boulders and brambles into a village which seemed to be full of black magic- grigri as my mother in law would say. Black horses charging out of the village pub in droves is the detail I remember. And then an old man, the village elder, says ' have we frightened you enough to make you leave?' I said yes and struggled back down the path. Well there you go. My mind is a strange place at times.
It's interesting you say that your therapists did not perceive you as alcoholic. I think I have had that problem with certain friends and acquaintances. I have a friend I have mentioned before who has been hospitalised twice with illnesses that doubtless and their roots in her alcoholism-I described a visit to see them on Do the work's thread- she and her husband are in denial and she sat there drinking red wine, looking feeble, anorexic, teary, with that slight head wobble you sometimes see. Her whole appearance screams alcoholic. As does her behaviour. As does what she says. She honestly may die within a very few years if she doesn't stop. Me and my husband have decided we need to say and offer to do something to help. but it isn't easy. Her husband trained for medicine with mine. The plan is for my husband to speak to him first. I am going to offer to take her to a SMART meeting- I'm planning to go to her local one on Friday, just to see what it's like. I've been reading a bit about SMART and I am wondering whether it could be a good network for me to give service in. I don't think I have the confidence to set up a Life Ring group, it would be much better for me to have the network of an organisation already operating widely. But that's something else. Anyway, the husband is in practically as deep denial as she is, and he also drank massively on Sunday night. He kept on opening bottles of wine and beer without even asking my husband, and topping him up. My husband should perhaps have declared time on it, but he said he was partly interested to see what would happen and whether there would be any kind of cut off point. There clearly wasn't. But the problem with this is that he was inadvertently validating the behaviour. It was a very very long evening for me.
Anyway, what I'm getting round to is that I'm pretty sure that these friends, as in the case of several of my drinking friends, think that I didn't really have a drink problem and that abstinence is for me using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I was trying to say to my husband that he may need to explain to them that my difficulties were much greater than they might imagine - I want them to realise I do understand how locked in she feels by this compulsion, how impossible it feels to stop, ( but of course that is ironically the very reason she needs to) I asked my husband why I feel people didn't exactly take my drink problem that seriously and he said I never appeared that out of control, I didn't behave really badly when drunk, I was ostensibly managing my life pretty well- as you say, like you, I just didn't present as someone with the expected level of chaos externally. The agony and chaos were mostly inside. I didn't black out. I didn't get memory loss about what happened when I was drunk ( not that I remember anyway ) I hid my shame because, well, I was ashamed. I have a few incidents in mind when I know I behaved inappropriately and was met with contempt. And I took that contempt, amplified it, and carried it around in the form of intense self-contempt which i probably drank some more to relieve. Behaving as if I was still 25 with a young man was one such incident- it was more complicated than that, because his mother was a pitiful and very obvious alcoholic. I KNOW he saw that in my behaviour, and he shut me down immediately. No one would have seen that, or realised it, but it was horrible and makes me cringe to this day. also, when I felt perfectly sober in my brain, but I couldn't make my tongue work, and heard myself slurring. The shame of it. I was so painfully conscious of how hideous it was. I would never be sick before bed but frequently felt terrible the next day, sometimes spending 12 hours vomiting. I could poison myself to a shocking degree whilst feeling pretty much clear about it all whilst I was doing it. But obviously that clarity was something of an illusion. The small humiliations, like driving my daughter to school and having to wind down the window and brace myself against projectile vomiting. I didn't vomit, she didn't see that or have to feel the shame, but god I felt the shame. These are the things that made me want to stop drinking.
The first phone call was going to be last night, but my husband bottled out. I totally get why. Tonight, hopefully.
That is an extraordinary dream, kafkaesque! Do you write down associations that come to you when waking and recalling a dream?
Interventions are always difficult, E. In part, I find they bring up over-identification and my own shame and resistance to being confronted. The kinds of memories you describe are so like my own worst 'aarggh!' moments that I still physically recoil and shudder to think of myself behaving that way. The relief is that they are in the past and getting further into the past --
I'm hoping your friends are receptive -- but, yikes. The husband may have a big problem of his own. I've stepped away and done nothing, heard months later that a friend had died in an alcoholic coma and that stays with me as a painful self-accusation, the guilt of not having tried, not having risked anything in order to help. So I am hoping she hears you. But that 'hearing you' might not be possible.
Such a quandary.