The first thing Brian* told me about himself was that he wasn’t an alcoholic. I hadn’t asked him, and I wouldn’t have seen him if he was as he’d have needed a supervised drying out programme. What I had asked him though was if he thought he had a drinking problem, and his answer told me more than Brian realised.
Firstly he hadn’t said no, which suggested that at some level he recognised that he was developing a drinking problem. Secondly, if Brian had to compare himself to alcoholics rather than to the people round him that was a sign that drink wasn’t playing a “normal” part in his life.
I asked Brian about his routine, and he told me again that this showed he wasn’t an alcoholic. He didn’t drink when he woke up, he didn’t drink during the day at work, and he didn’t have drink on the train to and from work. “I only really drink a lot at weekends” he told me, “when we might go out for something to eat or I might cook something special if we stay in”. During the week he did have a drink when he got home, and if he was cooking with wine he’d have a glass of that while he cooked, and then they would open a bottle to have with their meal.
It was the “they” that gave me the clue to what was behind Brian’s drinking problem. It was in fact him who opened the bottles of wine, but because his wife would have a glass he could tell himself that it was sociable drinking. He saw his drinking as individual drinks rather than their total, and he attached a justification to each drink – to relax when he came in, to save waste when he was cooking, to be sociable. Brian didn’t see himself as in control, or able to choose, about drink, but instead as someone that drinking happened to.
Getting Brian to see that he was making a choice every time he opened a bottle, and every time he raised a glass, was what started to make a difference for him. Instead of drink he started to choose to feel better, to have more energy, to do things with his time rather than spend it just drinking, and to spend time together with his wife. Brian didn’t ask me to stop him drinking altogether but that’s a choice that he’s subsequently made as he’s found what a difference facing his drinking problem has made to his health, his work, and his marriage.
*Brian’s real identity has been protected, and he is happy to share his story.
If you enjoyed this why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the quirky side of relationships and psychology.