Have a question?
Message sent Close

Like many people in the West, I grew up in a drinking culture. My father belonged to a generation that went to the pub every night. His favourite pub had a ‘handle’ (half pint glass) just for him on a hook above the bar. He’d meet the same regulars and they’d chew the fat. Their common denominator: alcohol.

In my late teens/early 20s I used to binge drink. At some point that stopped. I gravitated from beer to wine and cut down. But I found it really hard to eliminate that final glass of wine at 5 o’clock.

That became even harder when I started working through my unconscious shame and generational trauma. The alcohol just smoothed that edge of emotional raggedness.


I wrote about this some years ago in a blog called Why do we reward ourselves with numbness?

“Have you ever noticed that a lot of the rewards we give ourselves involve numbing our senses? Whether it’s alcohol, sugar, nicotine, or something harder, whenever we feel we deserve a reward we automatically reach for something that has a numbing effect on our senses…

People ‘reward’ themselves with numbness to escape from themselves—more precisely, to stop themselves from feeling their own emotions. And if we don’t want to feel those emotions, we can infer they must be painful.”

Despite these insights, my low-grade addiction to alcohol didn’t stop. I would stop from time to time but inevitably drifted back to that 5 o’clock reward. Recently, things changed.

The answer never lies in forcing ourselves to stop the behaviour we want to modify. It lies in fully understanding the behaviour—which is to say, becoming conscious of it.

Alcohol consumption modes

I finally noticed I had two modes of consuming alcohol:

  1. Unconscious (the default mode)
  2. Conscious (an occasional mode when I was feeling really good)

Reflecting further, I noticed my unconscious drinking had two sub-modes:

  1. Destructive (an emotional numbing mode)
  2. Constructive (an emotional processing mode)

Placed in a reversed Maslow-type hierarchy, they look like this:

  1. Destructive unconscious drinking
  2. Constructive unconscious drinking
  3. Conscious drinking

Let’s look at each of these.

Destructive unconscious drinking

This was my default consumption mode—from what I can see, it’s most people’s. This is a swigging and guzzling mode where the unconscious aim is to consume enough alcohol to induce emotional numbing. We pay little attention to the taste of the drink. We just want the alcohol to kick in.

This is the mechanism in play when the ‘boys’ head to the pub on a Saturday night, get drunk and cause trouble, and end up in the cells overnight. Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich calls this “impotent rebelliousness.”

Constructive unconscious drinking

Externally this looks identical to its destructive cousin, but the driver is different. Here the body is subconsciously using the alcohol to assist the trauma clearing process by lowering our vibration as our body releases emotional toxins.

I notice that in this mode I’m through 2-3 glasses of wine before I even notice. Then the body very firmly signals that it’s had enough.

Conscious drinking

With the shift from unconsciousness to consciousness, we shift from swigging/guzzling to sipping, from downing to tasting, from lack of control to control. Here I find that I actually want very little, I choose quality over quantity, and it’s so much easier to say ‘no’.

Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Leave a Reply