Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who works from Elan.Works, a designer and editor at GenderAvenger, and a speaker who has spoken across North America. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.

Ask Schmutzie: How Do You Deal With The Urge To Drink?

I asked you to ask me questions about my sobriety. This is my second answer in response to your questions. You can read my first question and answer here.

first light

The addictions I'm battling are unhealthy mental/emotional reactions. I've been using cognitive behavioral therapy to help re-program my automatic negative responses. How have you dealt with the instant impluses or cravings you might have?
     — musingwoman


What do you do , when, at some moments, you recall the warm, liquidness of your body when you've had a good, full glass of wine? What do you do when that siren's call is so strong...the gold warmthness of a glass of wine at the end of the day? What do you do?
     — alexandra


How do I deal with my urge to drink? Good question.

It really depends on the situation and the mood that accompanies the craving. It is much easier to deal with when I am out in public with friends, because I have been open with them about my sobriety, and I have an inbred compulsion to appear composed and collected at all times when in front of other people.

Even while I was drinking, I had a strict set of private rules I would not allow myself to break that, when followed carefully, made me appear to be very together and not at all a deeply sad basket case. I kept little if any alcohol in the apartment. I only drank if in the company of other people. I kept a tight focus on my level of inebriation so that I could pour myself into a cab and head home before I blacked out.

I was adept at the art of appearing not completely fucked up. I was a middling con artist with compulsive tendencies.

Strangely, those compulsive tendencies that turned me into such a successful functional alcoholic are the same ones that are helping me to avoid it now, but while my behaviour can make me look externally as though I am handling everything with aplomb, internally I can be quite the mess of emotions and impulses.

That mess of emotions and impulses is slowly easing up over time, though. In the beginning they were constantly in the background when they weren't in the foreground, hammering away at me to JUST LEAVE THE APARTMENT AND GO HAVE A DRINK ALREADY. Now, they pop in, say hello, and mess around with my well-being intermittently rather than incessantly. It is such a relief to have the space to think about other things, because it was not terribly inspiring to spend all my time pouring my energy into not doing something.

To answer your questions more directly, here are ten of the things I do to distract myself in the moment when I fondly recall my favourite pint or want to drown my emotions in an entire vat of the stuff:
  1. Eat chocolate ice cream or potatoes or popcorn.

  2. Talk to the Palinode in run-on sentences rife with non sequiturs.

  3. Crawl back under the covers and declare it a Mental Health Day.

  4. Soak in a hot bath as a form of gentle physical restraint.

  5. Cry into my fists. I know that a pillow would be a whole lot more comfortable, but fists add that extra bit of drama.

  6. Examine my feelings in that moment and trace them back to their truer origin, the real trigger that predates the kneejerk response to drink.

  7. Get lost in movies from my teens and twenties like Party Girl and Sixteen Candles.

  8. Breathe as slowly and deeply as is comfortable while imagining my breath pooling into my belly and flushing through my extremities.

  9. Dive into my design work and cut and paste and erase and adjust until my eyes refuse to focus anymore.

  10. Write a weblog entry.

Basically, I do anything but drink when the urge hits, and I allow myself to do whatever feels most natural to me in that moment. Sometimes none of those things work, and I just sit on the couch and practice Not Getting Up. This activity involves much tensing of the muscles and low-level grumbling and is not at all relaxing.

It doesn't sound fantastic, and it isn't, but I get through, and, in these early months of re-learning how to feel my emotions from beginning to end and how to socialize without feeling high and how to make it through my day not because there are several pints of beer at the end of it but because I actually want to be there in that day, I'll take it. As long as I'm still sober, I'll take it.

Distractions only take me so far, though. The rest is this:
I make a decision every day when I wake that I am not going to drink, and then I stick by that decision, because that decision is very much like a small child. I have to be firm yet nurturing with it to keep it steady.

I can live with this, or I can live with that, and this is proving to be immensely more satisfying than anaesthetizing myself into blackouts, living with a near-constant hangover, and being distanced from everything that could touch my heart. Funny thing, that.

There is no way out but through, I'm learning, and the longer I am sober the easier it gets to go through things rather than numb myself and push them aside. It is becoming more and more natural to choose the better of two options rather than the lesser of two evils. It's a relief to exercise my power to make decisions rather than follow all paths to the local pub.

I am learning how to be free.

I Decided To Give Working While Standing Up A Try

Me at Aiming Low: Sometimes It Just Feels Good To Give In And Be A Bitch