The False Friend: Alcohol
Our society has a very precious and guarded relationship to alcohol. On the one hand, alcohol is beloved for its ability to generate and support feelings of celebration and shared revelry. Alcohol can be a powerful solvent of social barriers and can create feelings of confidence and connection. We understand why it is suited for rituals ranging from communions to weddings to rites of passage to wakes. Alcohol can take us into altered states, in community, and may open a dimensional doorway so that we temporarily access a realm within us that feels euphoric, alive, and connected to the others.
However, alcohol is a tricky spirit and can easily capture us into ways of using it improperly, or abusing it. If we are not using alcohol for its occasional celebratory and connective purposes, we may be using it in negative ways – to ease anxiety and stress, to suppress symptoms of trauma and the requirement to face our pain. If we use it to block out the awareness that we are living at odds with our soul, then we are using it in a disordered way.
When we use alcohol in a disordered way, it usually becomes integrated into our daily life and we come to rely upon it. When we rely on something, and it is not there, we freak out. When the fridge is bare and the bottle is empty, we feel nervous and uncomfortable until we are sure the supply can be refilled. If we are relying on alcohol just to feel “normal”, to cope, to get by, to handle our daily responsibilities whatever they are, we are unfortunately setting ourselves up for addiction to it.
Addiction is entrapment in a negative consciousness vortex – it pulls us in with powerful momentum and can take us right out of our intended lives. Alcohol, because of its combination of stimulating and relaxing effects, feels good to our bodies and brains in multiple ways, at first. Its very direct and intense ability to connect to our pleasure centers and to relieve multifaceted pains makes it a deadly trickster of our nervous systems. It means that the withdrawal from alcohol, the backlash of having used it, hits us with pain in those same pathways – sooner or later it amplifies the opposing pain, polar opposite of the pleasure it first gave us. Euphoria becomes dysphoria, connection morphs into profound isolation.
Alcohol is no friend to our physiology. Already the next day after alcohol intoxication we will likely encounter the acute symptoms of hangover, affecting the head and stomach in a way that is obviously an expression of sickness, the body not being well. If we have made a habit of getting into this state, then the scorched earth that alcohol leaves in our body may also be accompanied by urgent, persistent cravings to drink, if only to relieve the symptoms that its departure has created. We may also notice withdrawal symptoms, such as trembling, sweating, anxiety, as it exits us. Long term, alcohol has negative effects on nearly every important system in the body: stomach, liver, heart, and brain. Alcohol is linked with cancer, memory loss and brain damage, and is a leading cause of death.
Once embedded into our lives, alcohol warps our personality as well. We may initially be more gregarious, relaxed or bold under its influence, but its more lasting impact is depressive, anxiety-inducing, and isolative. Short term psychological effects during withdrawal can be as severe as psychosis, and withdrawing from alcohol is one of the most dangerous of all the substances, along with benzodiazepines, requiring medical attention to taper us off and protect us from the possibility of dying during withdrawal.
Over time, heavy alcohol use replaces our original personality, whatever it was, with a negative spirit, that is both angry and depressed, that feels sorry for itself, and gradually comes to see all others as enemies. The spirit of addiction which is attached to alcohol has a personality that we ourselves do not like, and so we become trapped in low self-esteem, shame, guilt and fear as we sense it growing within us. Once the alcohol has taken root in us, we are likely full of self-reproach mixed with periods of half-hearted hope that it’s not that bad (until our next episode of going too far shows us we have been naïve about dismissing its effect on us).
Finally, alcohol erodes our social connections, as we become more interested in protecting our addiction than we are in connecting. Lifestyle effects may include avoiding people, including loved ones, who judge, criticize, or simply notice our drinking, isolating more, devoting more and more time to pursuing alcohol and recovering from its effects. As with all substance addictions, alcohol affects our thoughts and makes us, in the long term, more negative, frightened, and antisocial – in other words, it creates the opposite effect of what it originally promised. Because alcohol is capable of creating heavenly feelings, of helping us like ourselves and relax enough to connect to others, it is also capable of creating intense hatred for self and disconnection from love, when it pole shifts into its opposite node.
Popular ideas abound about how much alcohol can be safely consumed per day. In addition, our society calls regular consumption of alcohol normal, and may even place pressure on those who would actually rather abstain altogether. Cultural factors affect how much alcohol is considered average, and for many young people, heavy abuse of alcohol is more or less a requirement for acceptance by peers during college years. Alcohol is integrated into the fabric of our world and it can therefore be difficult to tease out when our relationship to it is destructive for us.
Some data on national averages exist, but people are different. It is more useful to know whether alcohol is a problem for you, than it is to compare yourself to others, although sometimes it can erode our denial to know where we lie on the bell curve. At other times, comparison to others can mask the fact that for us, it is a problem, even if for another person, it isn’t. Many women have struggled to recognize addiction within them because they “drink much less than so and so”, “never lose control”, “never drink alone” and so on.
The most powerful way for a woman to know for sure that she has a problem, is when the light of awareness within her recognizes that she has lost her freedom, when she sees that her use is getting more frequent and urgent over time, and when she sees that it is having a destructive impact on her life.
A destructive impact on her life may be physical, psychological, relational, and/or behavioral. People with alcohol use disorders are at a higher risk of legal consequences, marriage and family dysfunctions, and even death by accident, suicide, or homicide, if the poison of the substance itself doesn’t get them first.
Loss of freedom and destructive impact may be different for you than it is for someone else, but some telltale signs that may apply are: drinking more than you intended to, drinking when you had promised yourself or someone else that you wouldn’t, doing dangerous things like driving or working under the influence, planning to cut back or take a break for a little bit, only to find that your use returns with a vengeance. When alcohol use is no longer reliably fun or pleasurable, but urgently necessary just to feel ok, just to not feel bad, that’s a sign it is not the friend it once appeared to be.
If you think you may have a negative relationship to alcohol, checking into a rehabilitation facility could be an important piece of your recovery. Because of the life threatening health risks of alcohol withdrawal, it is vitally important to consult with a physician before going cold turkey, as you may need to check yourself into a medical detox or be hospitalized for the withdrawal process. In general, because of the highly toxic physical effects of alcohol as it leaves your body and your mind, it is wise to consider placing yourself in protective care that can help your true spirit crawl back out of the maze alcohol has built inside you. Entrusting your initial recovery to the stewardship of a team of qualified staff who can guide you when you are at your most bewildered can be an enormous support.
Villa Kali Ma provides shelter, resources, guidance, accompaniment and safety in community that will allow you to go through the process of withdrawal and start your recovery on the right footing. We connect you with education, peer support, groups, and therapies that make corrections and calibrations within you, to clear out the negative presence of the spirit of alcoholism. If alcohol has become a problem for you, please know that we feel your pain, many of us have been there ourselves before we found our way. You are welcome to come claim your healing and your birthright of freedom here in our community!
In recovery, we discover that what alcohol promised to help us feel – self-love and connection to others – does not actually belong to alcohol. Rather, we come to learn that there exists a natural kingdom of heaven inside of each of us. We must do no work to deserve it, it just belongs to us as a natural right. We are children of this domain of peace, harmony, love and connection to others. The work we must do is to reclaim ourselves from the clutches of addiction, negative ego, and all else within us that separates us from it. To do that we must suspend disbelief, surrender, seek help, and take the time to find out how to access this happiness inside ourselves.
At Villa Kali Ma we share tried and true pathways to getting to your inner heaven that are sustainable and healthy, and we show how to go through the transformations of mind, body, personality and soul that are necessary to live in a way that is resonant with that loving spirit kingdom inside you. Join us and we’ll share what we’ve discovered, knowing we can always learn more, knowing that your discoveries will bring valuable contributions to us. We will compassionately, supportively witness you as you journey inwards, as we all practice living in self-loving community, together.