I hated when people told me that not drinking wasn't a big deal: "Who cares? No one pays attention. I barely drink and no one every says anything. It's really not what you're making it out to be."
Occasionally I would try to convince a friend that, yes, it was a big deal, but usually I just gritted my teeth while they explained to me that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. I didn't understand why they were so dismissive and ignoring how painful this was for me, and they didn't understand why I refused to budge and see things their way.
I'm sure you've been in this position before, even if it has nothing to do with drinking. Watching opposite opinions collide--where neither side can make any headway.
Back then, not drinking felt like a huge deal. Part of me understood that this was holding me back from figuring out how to stop using alcohol as a crutch, but how was I supposed to stop believing something that I knew to be true? I clung to my position because I truly felt like I had no other option. In retrospect, I didn't know how to begin to loosen my grip on this thought, because I had no idea what was holding it up.
Our thoughts about ourselves and the world don't appear in vacuum. We're unconsciously absorbing stories about the world around us all the time from our family, our friends, the media, books, movies, magazines, music, you name it. Alcohol is no exception. Our thoughts are influenced by what we learn about what it means to drink and what it means if you can't "control" yourself.
When I started the process of understanding my own stories about alcohol here's what I found (remember, everyone's thoughts about drinking are unique to them, although some stories are more common that others):
- Drinking is normal. Everybody does it.
- Drinking makes everything more fun.
- People who don’t drink are boring and uptight.
- Everybody hates a buzz-kill.
- Some people can’t trust themselves around alcohol.
- Once you’re sober, a single drop can set you back.
With thoughts like these of course I believed that not drinking was a huge deal, and it's no wonder why I couldn't be convinced to see things from another point of view.
It's also why I felt so ambivalent about taking a break and spent my twenties going back and forth between drinking and not drinking. I knew that the downsides were real, but I wasn't ready to sign up for a world where not drinking meant something was wrong with me.
There's a simple way to get to the bottom of what you're making not drinking or taking a break mean, and it's a big part of the work I do with my clients. Most people find that once they understand where their ambivalence comes from, it's a million times easier to make the progress they want.