Am I an alcoholic?
What is grey area drinking?
Have you ever asked yourself: Am I an alcoholic? I know I don’t drink every day but yet I sense it’s not doing me any good and I can’t always say no. So what am I? How do I get help? AA doesn’t fit, it feels embarrassing to say to someone that I think I have a problem with alcohol because most of my friends drink in exactly the way I do. Sometimes I set rules by which I try to drink, but it doesn’t always work out. So why has it bothered me over the last few years and how can I shake it?
This is a story I hear time and again. I don’t know if it’s lock down (when ‘drinking rules’ went out of the window), or the age I’m at (!) or that people, knowing I have had this journey myself, now open up to me about their drinking habits more and more.
I grew up in a household where there was a lot of booze, my dad made homebrew which he reckoned worked out at 7p a pint! He had an appreciation of things alcoholic: the order it should be drunk in, the right glass, red, white, sticky, sour, aperitifs, digestifs, on and on. Christmas dinner had as many booze courses as food, more in fact. And cheese and wine on a Friday night. And while it was considered one of the finer things in life (something in itself to be examined), it also introduced me to this habit and ritual. Alcoholism in general has been in several branches of the family tree and cirrhosis of the liver only two generations back.
At university I had a grand old time, getting acquainted with pints of cider round the table football with my friends. It was a social gateway, a ritual, what we did as a bunch of friends. I drank all through my early jobs, along with the other young people in the office. I felt I needed it to socialise, remove inhibitions at parties, get on a level, relax. I’ve probably put myself in many dangerous situations over the years and lost bits of clothing, jewellery, you name it! Marriage and children followed, and the wine o’clock culture of playdates with other mummies kicked in, desperate to zone out at the end of another hectic day with their little dears.
And that’s it, really, somehow there always seems to be an occasion, an excuse, a reason to drink, a little merriment, a few laughs, a kitchen disco. A drink because I’m happy, or fed up, or it’s a beautiful summer day, or it’s a cosy winter night - seemingly there’s always a fit.
But in recent years it had started to wrankle me. It didn’t feel fun, the hangovers weren’t laughs, and they were wasting my time and energy. I was feeling an increasing anxiety, wasn’t sleeping well, everything
that a drink eased felt more exaggerated the next day. And I didn’t like my kids seeing me drunk (especially as teenagers, they were becoming more alcohol curious themselves).
I began to wonder if drinking was taking more from me than it was giving.
But I wasn’t an alcoholic? Right? No, not technically.
But I was what has come to be termed a grey area drinker.
What is a grey area drinker? I hear you cry!
A grey area drinker is somebody who is questioning their relationship with alcohol. They’re not a rock bottom drinker, but they struggle with alcohol. It can cause problems with relationships, work, study or in how you think or feel.
We live in a wine o’clock society. Everyone feels entitled to a reward at the end of the day or week. The problem is drinking regularly like this can actually contribute to anxiety, exhaustion, overwhelming emotions and trouble sleeping. When the drink goes away many of these problems do too, or reduce.
It’s very easy for my clients to dismiss the way they drink as being a problem because they feel many drink this way. However, if you feel that there might be a problem, there generally is.
Alcohol is a socially sanctioned drug, as a culture I think we’ve lost track of what is and isn’t normal.
What can you do if you are a grey area drinker
Best thing to do is to take a break. New Year is always popular after the excesses of Christmas. Take advantage of dry January and see how you feel. It’ll take a couple of weeks to really start feeling your best, but keep going! Enlist support, journal how you feel, read up on sober journeys.
I will write another blog before long about quitting alcohol and the changes your body goes through and how you can support yourself nutritionally, emotionally, through exercise etc. as well as a reading list of books, podcasts etc.
If you do have severe Alcohol Use Disorder, and wish to stop please seek medical help. Life Coaching and immediate cessation is not the right path and there is lots of support out there for you.
So what are the benefits of sobriety?
Funnily enough, going sober means the only thing you don’t do is drink alcohol. Everything else stays the same…only better! You have great, quality conversations that you remember, you engage with people on a deeper level. I’ve enjoyed finding out where the ‘real’ end of the night is, it’s around 10.30pm not 3am dancing around someone’s kitchen. Sleeping improves, concentration improves, intellectually a spark ignites, more energy, more interest, more time to do stuff, more money, more enthusiasm, less anxiety. Are you sold yet?? And no regrets, no shame, no wasted time on the weekend. You are back IN CONTROL. Fewer sugar highs and lows, better physical shape, radiant skin and your liver - truly a powerhouse - will be happily regenerating itself into its best incarnation in quite a while.
A word though: not everyone will be happy you have stopped. There may be friends who saw you as a wingman and miss their drinking buddy, or others that stone cold leave you out - anyone who doesn’t feel happy hanging out with a sober person may deep down feel uncomfortable with their own drinking habits. Trust that you are still fun, great company, and don’t be fooled into playing to some else’s definition of YOU because it makes them feel better! Someone thoughtlessly said to me the other night, as they nursed their G&T, ‘but you will drink again won’t you?’ and I thought, who are you to decide that for me?
How can a coach help?
In talking to someone who understands, you free yourself. I can't express what a huge weight is lifted. Grey area drinking no longer holds you hostage. We work through the whys and hows of your drinking, and where you would love to be. Grey area drinking is just one part of your life, and I expect if you are looking to work on it that there are a bunch of circumstances that may be driving it, and it’s time to address them too. Knowledge, accountability, learning through failure, an outlet for shame - and naming of new ambition. We will define your goals, and I will help you understand that you can rewire and care for your nervous system after you’ve quit drinking. You’ll create new habits, connections and routines as a non-drinker in an alcohol centric world. This is me reaching out - I hope you can reach back. Cheers (if you'll pardon the expression!).
I will be running a one to one sobriety coaching programme for 10 individuals starting in (Dry) January lasting 6 weeks. Please email me to join the waitlist firstname.lastname@example.org