Are You Drinking to Numb Your Feelings?
I won't lie.
I miss having a glass of good, chilled Australian chardonnay in my hand on a summer day. "This is living," I would murmur to myself when I indulged in this pleasure.
When I was drunk, I was on top of the world. I was confident, sassy, sexy and untouchable. (Please note that this is an extreme contrast to how I normally felt in my day-to-day life! I was drinking to numb pain.)
Drinking, ah, how it helped to drown out my fears. Drinking took away my inhibitions and erased my crippling anxiety. Drinking took care of all the difficult emotions that I held tightly bottled up inside. Once I was tipsy, I felt great. All those emotions — well I didn’t give a damn about them anymore.
“Free at last,” I’d whisper, as I set all of my uncomfortable feelings free. As someone who struggled for years with anxiety and an eating disorder, boy, did I need to let it all go.
Inevitably, a few hours later, once the sun had set and I’d consumed an entire bottle of wine — my feelings would come roaring back. And, I’d be sitting there all alone with my feelings again.
At this point, I would often be overcome with a feeling of neediness. I was consumed with a deep need to not be alone — a strong desire to fill the void of emptiness that was my constant companion in life. So, I'd do one of the following: 1) drink more or, more likely, 2) binge eat my feelings away until I passed out.
The next day, I would wake up in a pool of shame and scan my phone, clothes or kitchen for evidence of the damage and self-destruction had caused. Cringe. And I’d wonder, did everyone else wake up and feel the same self-loathing that I did?
Using alcohol to numb emotional pain was only making my life worse: affecting my emotional health and affecting my relationship with food.
But I thought I needed to drink to feel good. It was a conundrum.
I’m not alone in using alcohol to numb my feelings. If you are reading this, you may have wondered if you are using alcohol — or another substance — to numb your own pain.
Whether we’re addicted to the behavior of using alcohol or drugs or food (or sex or social media), we can get so used to numbing that, once we give up our use, the thought of sitting with our emotions is just plain scary.
Drinking to supress feelings, is often the reason we drink, use drugs, or start using eating disorder behaviors in the first place.
Personally, I was switching between my eating disorder and drinking too much because I was trying to obliterate my emotions.
Once I realized this, I thought, “maybe I’ll just limit the amount of drinks I have; I’ll be able to drink again one day — once I have my eating disorder and other issues under control."
My efforts to drink moderately were hopeless. Other people could drink and still hold it together, it seemed, so, why couldn’t I? You see, I really didn’t want to stop drinking.
The scary truth was becoming clear: continuing to drink after it had caused me so many problems was a sure sign that I needed help.
I spent seven years chronically relapsing between my eating disorder and alcohol abuse. I finally decided that, if I wanted to get recovery once and for all, I was going to have to give up alcohol completely.
And then, I finally did it. In 2002, I stopped drinking. I put myself in intensive therapy and worked through all of those hard and uncomfortable emotions.
I am so thankful that I finally got the help that I so desperately needed. It saved my life. And that has made all the difference.
Patients suffering from substance use disorder and eating disorders may benefit from completing treatment for each condition in immediate succession or simultaneously. A comprehensive treatment plan that encompasses both conditions helps patients achieve greater long-term recovery.
If you or a loved one observe any of the behaviors above, consult Eating Recovery Center, Master’s level clinician for a free consultation and ask about our Addiction Recovery Track. Call (877) 700-1925.
Robyn Cruze is author of Making Peace with Your Plate, a popular speaker, and a National Recovery Advocate and online community manager for Eating Recovery Center.