There are certain experiences that leave such a negative, frightening imprint on the mind that nothing can permanently erase the pain. However, temporary relief can be attained by numbing our brain and blocking the memory from rising to the surface of consciousness.
For centuries, humans have sought to obliterate painful memories by drinking them away. Alcohol has the power (again, temporarily) to shut down traumatic memories, so why wouldn’t we want to grab hold of it every time the past comes back to haunt us?
Over the years I have encountered many people who have experienced unimaginable suffering, loss, and sadness. I know people who have survived physical and emotional violence inflicted on them by family members; others who have lost children, spouses, or siblings to horrible accidents, disease, or murder; and military veterans who carry the emotional scars of war.
The list of human suffering in the world is endless.
The Quick Fix
While some people rely on counseling and medical guidance to help them cope with whatever trauma plagues them, others rely on alcohol to help them survive by blocking out the past.
The problem, of course, is that the pain remains just below the surface. Alcohol doesn’t address the core issue; it only provides a benign solution to the problem, like covering a bullet wound with a band aid. While it’s extremely tempting (and easy) to reach for a bottle every time unpleasant or frightening memories rise to the surface, ultimately alcohol abuse only compounds our suffering. It never brings lasting relief and comfort, it only contributes anxiety, guilt, and shame to the equation.
While I consider myself to have lived a blessed life in many ways, there have been experiences that have left me traumatized and broken as well. When I was a young man I went through a string of heartbreak that took place over the course of a single year.
I was in a relationship that I considered to be strong and everlasting. I was in love with somebody who I believed was committed to me. We were discussing our future together and how we were going to combine our lives and ultimately get married. This was an exciting and fulfilling love affair that had me floating on air. I trusted this person completely and knew with absolute certainty that we would be together for the rest of our lives.
But somewhere along the way a crack in the surface began to appear. Over the course of several weeks she called me less and less and stopped answering my calls. On the occasions when I was able to reach her, she acted as if everything was just fine and she accused me of overreacting.
Eventually it all came to a boil when we got into a heated argument, and she admitted that she was seeing someone else. She confessed to being torn and didn't know who she wanted to be with. Suffice it to say I was shocked, angry, and deeply hurt.
She finally stopped communicating with me altogether and left me for someone else. I was devastated. My drinking increased. Up to that point I was a heavy drinker, but it hadn't reached a dangerous level yet.
Within a few months I began dating someone else. We were in love and confessed our commitment to one another.
Then she became pregnant. We discussed the situation and decided to move forward and have a baby together. It was around the same time that I had discovered that she had been cheating on me with several other people. Nonetheless, she promised that the baby was mine and that we should move forward with the pregnancy.
I was over the moon to know that I was going to be a father. I was so excited I couldn't resist telling family and friends that we had a baby on the way. I couldn't wait for this new adventure.
But then she disappeared. I couldn't find her anywhere and she stopped answering her phone. I reached out to her family on multiple occasions, but they also ignored my calls and my pleads for information.
After a few weeks she finally re-emerged only to tell me that she had decided she wasn't ready to have the baby and had aborted the child. No matter how hard I tried to get her to explain why she had done this on her own and not told me, I simply couldn't get an answer. The relationship crumbled quickly thereafter, and I was left confused and embittered.
I felt traumatized by having my heart broken twice in such a short period of time combined with the fact that the child I thought was on the way had been summarily destroyed without my knowledge or consent.
Self-Medicating with Alcohol
I had what can only be described as a nervous breakdown. I completely lost my ability to control my emotions and spent days at a time crying and curled up in a ball on the floor. Nothing could be done to console me, though there were friends who tried. I fell into a deep dark hole of depression that I simply could not escape. It was during this time that my alcohol intake (and drug abuse) took off. I often refer to this period of my life as my lost decade because I spent the next 10 years in a haze of alcohol abuse.
I self-medicated with alcohol to deal with the sadness and trauma. I was simply unable to confront the pain that I felt had been inflicted on me. I wish I had sought professional help but instead I turned to the only thing that I felt could get me through the pain. Alcohol became my doctor, medicine, and therapist all in one.
This type of reaction to adversity is not uncommon amongst people who abuse alcohol. When we are confronted by trauma and pain we often reach for the substance that we feel can lift our mood and spirit. Of course, the excessive amount of drinking I did over the next 10 years only made my problems worse. Much worse!
It wasn't until I got sober years later that I was able to sift through the emotional wreckage and try to understand not only what had happened to me, but to also see the part I played in the events of my life. Eventually, I was able to forgive those who had hurt me and to forgive myself for the self-destructive path I had chosen to follow.
Trauma is a very difficult thing to deal with. Many people experience trauma far more painful than what I experienced when I was younger. What is most important is that we recognize that turning to alcohol is simply not going to fix any problems, rather it just makes them all worse. The temporary salve we receive when we drink only serves to postpone the inevitable feelings and emotions that we must face head-on if we want to heal once and for all.