For thousands of years, people have been brewing and fermenting alcoholic drinks. Alcohol has been a staple of human civilization. But there are people who cannot regulate their desire and therefore intake of alcohol regardless of the plethora of negative ways it is affecting their life. It is at this point that someone is said to have Alcohol Use Disorder. Many people now consider it to be insulting and unhelpful to call someone an alcoholic, mostly because of the stigma and shame of being given a label. But because I do not agree with calling alcoholism a disease and for the sake of your understanding of a condition that is already engrained into your current awareness, I am going to use the word alcoholic instead of being politically correct. It must be said that I could write a book on alcoholism, so consider this video the condensed version of the information that I want you to know about it.
An addiction is a coping mechanism. It is in essence, self-administered pain medication. It may benefit you before you watch this video to understand addiction in and of itself. You can do this by watching my video titled: Addiction and How to Overcome Addiction. Alcohol use is no exception. The thing is, we can become so accustomed to pain and tension that often we don’t even consciously realize it anymore. And this pain and tension that we have become accustomed to is part of why people are not aware that they are using alcohol because they are in a state of pain and/or tension. In fact many people would look you straight in the face and say that they don’t have a drinking problem, drinking just takes the edge off, without realizing that the statement implies there was some discomfort or pain present when the alcohol wasn’t in their system. The fact that alcohol is a staple of human social functions and is considered a normal accessory to meals makes this lack of awareness around the true motives for alcohol use even worse.
All addiction is a modality of ‘rescue’ from a specific pain that someone is experiencing. And specific types of pain cause people to gravitate towards specific addictions. You could consider this type of pain, the ‘root’ of any addiction. I am going to explain the root of alcoholism for you today.
The pain that fuels alcoholism is unsafety in relationships. This means unsafety with other people. Alcoholics have a high degree of social anxiety, whether they recognize and admit to this or not is another thing. It is really hard for alcoholics, especially men to admit that safety is their issue. It makes them feel weak and in many cases emasculated. The other really hard thing to face is that this unsafety originates from the trauma they experienced in a dysfunctional home. It is not possible to develop alcoholism unless you came from a background of dysfunctional relationships, beginning with the people in your childhood environment. Very few people know they were traumatized or know there is a real reason for why they are like they are. Instead, most people just think that if they are addicted, they have a character defect or a genetic predisposition or a brain problem. On top of this, most people would prefer to avoid facing the dysfunctional patterns present in their own family and social group. But doing so ensures you will not recover. At best, you will find another addiction or become a dry drunk. A dry drunk is someone who does not drink, but whom carries on with all of the dysfunctional actions and attitudes that characterized them before recovery. The sad thing is that coming from a dysfunctional home, you will unconsciously repeat those dysfunctional patterns in your adult life. It is often easier for people to recognize the dysfunction in their current relationships than it is to realize that the current dysfunction is a mirror reflection of the dysfunction of their childhood relationships.
The pain that unites alcoholics is the feeling that relationships are not safe, especially emotionally. Even though on a physiological level, alcohol depresses the central nervous system and therefore delivers some form of physical pain relief, the reason that men who return from war with PTSD end up alcoholic is also unsafety in human relationships. If you never know who to trust and you’re always on high alert, waiting to be shot by someone, you feel unsafe in terms of your relationship to people.
People who are alcoholic feel that there is no way to predictably create relationships that feel good and stay good over time. And this is one of the key factors that determines the partners they choose. The people they choose for partners will also feel this exact same way and will most likely have a specific dysfunctional strategy for ensuring security in the relationship. This is the co-dependent, narcissist relationship that is so often seen in conjunction with alcoholism. When unsafety in relationships causes people to decide that the law of the land is ‘every man out for himself’, people tend to retreat into a bubble of self-concern. This is the real reason why there is so much focus in codependency anonymous groups on the alcoholic being a narcissist. Which implies a moral issue that doesn’t actually exist. To understand more about narcissism, watch my video titled: Narcissism.
To an alcoholic, a feel good relationship feels impossible. There is no way to ensure that one’s vulnerability is safe and protected from harm. Many people who are alcoholic unconsciously feel as if they are tiptoeing on broken glass with people and as if their entire life has to be lived with the tension of pretense. In fact pretense is the reason most people like to get buzzed or drunk. If you are constantly living in this tense state of carefully planned words and actions, you end up feeling uptight. Alcohol becomes a way of letting down that pretense and feeling free and loose and authentic and uninhibited. But you don’t have to worry because even if you are more authentic to what you really think and feel and really want to do, you can always blame it on the alcohol so there are less social repercussions. What we have to get is that inhibition comes from feelings of unsafety.
To an alcoholic, security in relationships and tenderness feels impossible because the plethora of dysfunctional relationship patterns they experienced in their life boiled down to one main thing: Everyone being out for his or her best interests. For this reason, transaction is often the very closest that a person with this addiction can get to a safe feeling relationship. In a world where everyone is out for themselves, you are fundamentally alone, even when you’re with people. An alcoholic is mostly focused on what poses a danger in relationships and on trying to control the relationship so that those dangers don’t come to fruition. Being so unsafe that they try to control everything, creates a tension and an inauthenticity that is almost unbearable which then leads to the desire to “take the edge off of that constant tension”. This compels them to drink. In essence, they drink to relieve the tension of the constant control they are trying to exert over everything and everyone so as to try to avoid the many dangers they associate with other people and human relationships.
The thing is, an alcoholic has never been in a truly safe relationship where two people genuinely take each other’s best interests as a part of their own best interests. Therefore, he or she has no idea what is missing and therefore does not have a solution to the pain. This is what leads to that futile feeling of having to cope with the pain because there is no awareness that anything else exists. But there is a second layer here as well. Alcoholics have made an unconscious decision that there is no such thing as a safe relationship.
Many people who are focused on addiction recovery point to genetics or the brain itself for why some people suffer from addiction. The thing that most people miss is that genetic expression is altered by experience and the environment shapes the human body, including the brain. This includes the interpersonal experiences that a person has. For this reason, it can be said that brain development is a reaction to the environment. If one has healthy, safe relationships in childhood, the brain will form differently than it will if the necessary conditions for healthy brain development, (most especially emotional conditions) are not available. This distortion of brain development is what many researchers point to as the cause of addiction, when in fact that is like saying the light came from a light bulb. We all know the story of light began long before the light bulb. The way genes express themselves and the way the brain forms is another symptom, not the original cause.
Many of you know that Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve-Step Program is the most common and widely attended program that exists for recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder. Its chokehold on addiction society is a bit like the Catholic Church in the middle ages. Many people are viciously defensive of AA and the Twelve-Step Program. But at the risk of upsetting people, I’m going to give you a more objective perspective on the program itself.
The real core reason that AA works for many people is that those AA meetings are the very closest they have ever gotten to safe relationships and the closest they have ever gotten to feeling connection as opposed to loneliness. Especially because of the way that other people relate to them and the rules of conduct laid down by the organization and supervised by the group leader. Given the wounding that compels someone to drink, this is healing because it is the ‘opposite experience’. Many of the elements of a safe relationship, such as being able to expose your vulnerabilities and them never being used against you, someone being available to you if you need them, being able to express yourself and be heard, seen and felt, and being able to make mistakes without experiencing the loss of connection, are core features of this program.
The sad reality is that as a human culture, we ascribe the lowest possible social value to an addict. The addict is one of the scapegoats and outcasts of society. It is no wonder then why they flock to a fellowship like AA… A group of equally socially alienated individuals with common feelings, thoughts, experiences and pain.
On top of this, AA is free. It is a support network that is available around the globe and around the clock, which is not something that many other addiction program models offer. That being said, AA and 12 Step Programs are addiction resources and should not be confused with addiction treatment.
AA meetings and 12 step groups are not inherently full of people who are safe. In fact, they may be on the lower end of the scale in terms of places to meet safe people. Because the court often mandates attendance to AA groups, there is a higher likelihood than many other places to run into someone with a pattern of crime and other behavioral problems there. People who are alcoholic have a pattern of unsafety in relationships. When we feel unsafe, we begin to operate narcissistically and not take other people’s best interests into account. Because of this, we become unsafe to be in relationship with. The reality is that everyone in that room, even the sweetest people are in need of relationship rehabilitation and therefore could potentially carry out very painful relationship patterns with you. The very sad reality is that many people meet their perpetrators at AA.
Many of the methods used by twelve step programs are outdated methods whose features are not grounded in reality. The assumption back when Twelve Steps was created was that moral defect or moral weakness was to blame for addiction and that the recovery from addiction was a moral one. Because the question of morality was thought to be at the heart of addiction treatment, there are explicitly Christian overtones in AA. This is a problem. But I am not going to go into that because several AA groups have changed those elements to reflect a more agnostic atmosphere. Even so, many of these agnostic groups still focus on addiction recovery as if it is a moral issue. Morality has absolutely nothing to do with addiction. Addiction is the result of unresolved trauma. More over, focusing at the issue as if it is a moral one only enhances the shame that is the bedrock of the self-concept of the alcoholic. This is part of why most alcoholics don’t want to admit they have a problem. More over, it isn’t safe in dysfunctional relationships to admit you have a problem.
The other big problem with the Twelve-Step Program is that it encourages people to admit they are powerless to their problem and to place their healing and faith in a power higher than themselves. This in fact increases the risk for relapse as well as the severity of those relapses. It is important to accept reality. Reality would be, “I cannot control everything in life”. Reality would be “I am abusing alcohol to cope with my life and it is creating huge problems for myself and the people around me”. But reality is that you are not powerless and you do not have to (nor should you) place your faith regarding healing in a higher power than yourself. Besides the fact that this is total BS on a universal level, it is also reinforcing the alcoholic’s feelings that they are powerless in general. Remember that the original wound underneath alcoholism involves powerlessness relative to relationships and creating what one genuinely wants in order to feel good? These features reinforce the wound. They don’t fix it.
Many AA groups hold and reinforce a belief of ‘once an addict always an addict’. This is also BS universally speaking. It is to take on the identity of an alcoholic or addict. It is to deny the universal law of healing. Addiction is simply a tendency someone has as a coping mechanism to deal with distress. To self pathologize in this way and to believe yourself to be forever defective in this way is detrimental, especially when one has to maintain this self concept in order to belong somewhere. Many alcoholics feel their only place to fit in, belong and be socially safe is within AA and therefore feel they must maintain this detrimental self-concept.
AA groups that do not understand the need to face and resolve the trauma underneath the addiction, seem to think that willpower alone will enable someone to triumph over addiction and abstain. Addiction recovery is also not a matter of willpower alone.
The Twelve Step Approach is a one size fits all approach. It is difficult of course to create a group program that is individualized. But the specific trauma that took place in each person’s life that drives them to cope with alcohol, needs specific and personally tailored awareness and solutions. It is not people that fail the program. It is the program that fails the people because it is used as a treatment program instead of a support program that can be an accessory to treatment for specific people.
All this being said, what should you do if you struggle with alcoholism?
Your first step away from alcoholism begins with deciding that you don’t want to drink. Alcohol is not what rules your addiction, the desire to drink is. People who are denying they have a problem or who do not feel that the detriments outweigh the benefits, still want to drink. Your willpower is a problem when you are trying to force yourself to not do something that you really badly want to do. Therefore, a huge shift takes place when you can honestly say that you do not want to drink anymore. If you can’t say this, really ask yourself why. Recovery begins with this empowering choice to not drink because you don’t want to.
What might help with this is to realize that as much as people might resist what I am about to say, the human body is not designed to be able to handle alcohol. No amount is good for you because alcohol is not good for you. It is an intoxicant. It is a drug. And it is a toxin to the human body, no matter how much people want the truth to be the opposite. The benefits that some studies attribute to alcohol and especially heart health owe themselves to the fact that drinking tends to decrease a person’s emotional tension, which takes a huge toll on heart health. It also owes itself to the antioxidants that are contained in the fruits that the alcohol is made from. But that’s like saying that chocolate cake is good for you because of the medicinal properties of the cacao bean. On top of that, the fact that most of the studies done to come up with these facts were done with people who sip red wine doesn’t help. People who have access to red wine to sip have higher incomes, which usually implies more education and greater access to healthier foods. This means attributing the heart health to the red wine they drink is a serious stretch. Don’t forget that smoking was once a staple of human society and that ‘doctors’ and ‘studies’ once said smoking was healthy too.
Accept that you are not powerless at all. You are responsible for your own actions and choices, however they are being driven by unconscious trauma that is unresolved within you, which is why so much of what you do in your life feels like determinism instead of like conscious choice.
The only true way to heal alcoholism is to face and resolve the specific mental and emotional wounding as well as loneliness that you are trying to alleviate through the alcohol. This is distinctly different than focusing towards Alcoholism as if it were a disease. And this is far more important than addressing the alcohol use itself. The Twelve Step Program encourages abstinence because it believes you are powerless and thus must completely avoid alcohol. What if I told you that if you resolve the pain you are using alcohol to dull out, there will no longer be a craving for it? In other words, the alcoholism itself should be treated like a symptom, not a cause. For this reason, though spirituality can serve a role in healing, it should not be central to the treatment of alcoholism. Given that I, a spiritual teacher, am saying this, means it is very important to heed this advice. Spirituality, when it is viewed as a way of treating alcoholism, can have many detrimental effects. Chief among them avoidance of the original wounding that needs resolution as well as the substitution of non physical relationships for human relationships.
In order to heal the pain you must go straight into it instead. And this is most successfully done if it is done with someone else. This can be when it is useful to abstain from alcohol. If you do not engage in drinking, those wounds that you are trying to avoid with the alcohol will begin to howl. This makes them easier to directly become aware of and resolve. Prepare yourself for this process. I have created a process to do specifically this; it is called The Completion Process. If you’re interested in learning how to do this process, pick up a copy of my book that is quite literally titled: The Completion Process or to find a practitioner that can lead you through the process, visit www.thecompletionprocess.com. It is the failure to focus on resolving these deep wounds that underlie addiction that is to blame for the horrifically poor success rate of rehab centers and 12 step programs.
The root of alcoholism is unsafety in relationships. This means unsafety with people! In order to overcome alcoholism, you must dedicate yourself to the mastery of safe relationships. You must heal this pattern of relationship unsafety. To understand healing, watch my video titled: What is Healing? This means your obsession should be learning about how to create safe relationships and actually creating them. This means that you have to become safe for other people too. If we perceive relationships to be unsafe, we will begin to play a zero sum game and only be concerned with our own best interests, which makes us by definition unsafe to be in relationship with. You also need to be prepared that some of the people who are around you in your life will be unable to have safe relationships and so you may have to make changes to your social life. To get you started on this journey of mastering safe relationships, watch my video titled: How To Create a Safe Relationship. In many ways, you use alcohol to escape the tension and discomfort and pain you feel you cannot change about your relationships. But from a universal level, it is critical not to escape from relationships and to have relief from relationships that hurt (which is what you’re using alcohol to do), but to create healthy and safe relationships instead.
The unconscious perception you have that you can’t change things in terms of making people safe or having safe relationships is not actually true.
You come from a background of no one ever working with your emotions and so you try to suppress them. Chances are if you look at your childhood, you will see that you were not allowed to feel a certain way if it didn’t suit your adult caregivers for you to feel that way. Many of them made decisions that were not in your best interests at all, but when you reacted negatively to it, you were reprimanded. This led to a feeling of being totally out of control of feeling good when you were around other people. It was as if their actions were conveying the message “I’m going to punch you now. But you don’t get to have a problem with it, in fact thank me for it.” For this reason I ask you to watch my video titled: The Emotional Wakeup Call. You need to learn how to deal with emotions in yourself and others. The most important question to ask yourself is, what am I trying to suppress or numb out? What are the actual thoughts and emotions underneath the action I am taking or the specific behavior that I am exhibiting and where do those thoughts and emotions come from? What does the alcohol give me that I can’t seem to experience without it?
Loneliness is a factor that all alcoholics share, whether they recognize and admit to it or not. Alcohol is often used to sedate this feeling of emptiness. Also, the core self-concept that alcoholics have is that of shame, which is a central pillar of loneliness. For this reason, I encourage you to pick up a copy of my book titled: The Anatomy of Loneliness, in which I explain the exact makeup of loneliness, including separation, shame and fear. In the book, I show you how to resolve these things that create loneliness so that you can feel true connection in your life instead.
- Approach the pain underneath the addiction as well as the problems created by alcoholism with a holistic approach. You can approach healing on the mental, emotional and physical level. There are so many tools to use to support your healing process. Tools you should try so as to see what works for you. Things like meditation, liver cleanses, changes regarding nutrition, exercise, community projects, energy work, financial changes, yoga, changes to your living environment and relationship workshops just to name a few. Your goal should be to try things so as to discover what the necessary ingredients for your wellbeing really look and feel like.
And remember, just like every other addiction, alcoholism is not a defect of morality and it is not a defect of character. It is not something that makes you bad and wrong and so it is not something to be ashamed of.