Can Alcohol be A Catalyst for Emotional Cleansing?

I will openly admit that following my material demise in 2008, I had taken to the bottle quite a bit (and prior to that as well) as a form of self-medicating. While I’m aware of the adverse effects of alcohol on physical health and have no intention of promoting alcohol use, I do seem to have found one potentially helpful effect of it on people dealing with one or the other kind of trauma and emotional injuries from the past. I’ll try to describe this as best as I can here while reiterating my cautioning or warning in following suit in similar ways. (i.e. “don’t try this at home”)

In my own quest, introspection and some associated research in regards to identifying the damage done to me from repeated severe childhood trauma right from postnatal weeks along with an upbringing later, which sported quite its share of verbal, emotional and mild physical abuse, alcohol turned out to be a catalyst in recent years in regards to washing up pent up emotions, largely emotions of pain I had either been made to suppress as part of my “rearing” or was forced to suppress in order to keep going and to function “normally”. In retrospect, what stuns me the most is that I actually did function fairly normal, at least when looked upon from the outside. However, it’s been from early on that I’ve wondered about this sense of isolation and how it was that I wasn’t given the right to express my true nature like everybody else seemed to do without any inhibition or moderation – or so it appeared to me. Yet the conditioning from a guardian with a narcisstic personality disorder sharing roof and bed with a co-dependent person suffering from their own unprocessed trauma – I strongly suggest the introduction of a general parenting aptitude test prior to reproducing, seriously! – was so pronounced and complete that it never even occurred to me to protest or make an attempt to break free from the behavioral patterns I was forced into. Plus, from mere survivalist pragmatism I gained an understanding from early on that it wouldn’t do anything but get me in more trouble than I already was in, if I made attempts of standing up for myself. My own sister was a vivid example to me of this approach – i.e. standing up for yourself – going nowhere, at least not in a dysfunctional family. So I increasingly preferred to suffer in silence rather than stand up to the abuse I was subjected to. However, one day the silence part didn’t pan out any longer as at one point out of the proverbial blue skies my childhood best buddy declared he’d refuse to come visit me at home any more for reasons of inadvertently being made witness of the verbal abuse going on in our home and his personal feelings of comfort and sanity getting compromised from that (my words today, he expressed himself differently, but nonetheless clear and decidedly; we were 11 years old when this happened. Luckily, I got him to concede and ring the door bell without coming upstairs…).

In light of this background and a long history of repeated failure as an adult, both in my personal as well as my career life and this coming from my history of emotional immaturity due to an unnurturing upbringing and being left at dealing with severe emotional deficits to this day, I began to realize that I needed to dig deeper and that “acting normal” as a coping strategy hadn’t really worked for me. It should have rung a bell with me to see one significant other after another eventually break up with me after varying lengths of time. Out of some past 20 romantic relationships there is only one that I walked out of. In all other cases the person meaning to have a rewarding emotional bond with me became frustrated and hopeless and walked away. And sure enough, I’d do what I had always been doing: Distract myself, immerse myself in work, find a new quick fix – like taking up waterskiing – or whatever I deemed fit to deal with in the situation. But after ultimately getting divorced in 2003 and this happening after a period of roughly four years during which my ex-wife and I were alternating between breaking up, getting back together, trying to reconcile our differences, then getting put through the horrific experience of a miscarriage and the ensuing trauma for my beloved ex-wife that ultimately had us end up in counselling, both as a couple and each of us individually, with all this craziness going on for quite some time, we both realized in 2002 that we had exhausted our options and thus were left at needing to split for good. I had no idea how devastating the aftermath of actually calling it quits for good would be to me and I believe the ensuing downward spiral in my life to have originated from that horrible loss. After all, with all the abuse inflicted on me for all these years growing up, thus never having experienced all the trials and tribulations of normal puberty and adolescence and missing out on too many things to mention here, for the first time I actually get the feeling to have someone in my life, who really loves me for no other reason than – sharp breath – me being the person I am, an experience I had missed out on until then (I was some 28 years of age when I first met my ex-wife). I recall genuine happiness for the first time in my life in the years that followed. A close friend at the time once said, he experienced me as “blossoming” and coming into my own skin like never before. I think he was more accurate than he could have known: For the first time, I was just being myself – and someone loved me for it! It’s still an epic thought and feeling when thinking about this. And then this would be taken from me again…

So I understood that something was fundamentally wrong with me, if women kept escaping from me once they had come to really know me better and once the level of intimacy had surpassed a threshold of “skin deep”. And I also intuitively knew that there was no point to ever try again until I was “fixed”. After seeing my wife for the last time following our divorce appointment in court, I consciously decided: “That’s it. No more romantic endeavours for you any more!” I felt so broken, so infinitely corrupted from the inside out that I even began to see myself as an emotional poison noone in their right mind and heart would be able to tolerate. (actually, and quite frighteningly – this is probably a very accurate description of my inner self). So I began to look at each of my perceived shortcomings, contacted our former therapist again, booked some sessions, ordered and read just about any book the abstract of which resonated with me and started to pick at and dissect the mess I felt I was. Which brings us to what I’m alluding to in the headline: Alcohol.

I think, we can all agree on the empirical fact that alcohol lowers inhibition in people – for better or worse, unfortunately often times worse. I found this lowered inhibition to be very true for me: Every time I’d treated myself to a bit of a head “buzz”, the inner critic would fall silent, thus giving me access to emotional realms I’d usually wall myself off from in order to “keep it together” and staying functional – whatever the latter means for a person no longer employed or actively participating in the general workforce. As I noticed my guards coming down following an intoxication that was strong enough to alter my consciousness but not as strong as to completely shroud or even halt thought processes, I also noticed an emotionally stronger response to certain stimuli, particularly when watching movies that somehow resonated with my own history of abuse and multiple trauma. As I noticed this effect, I actively ventured further into this direction and gave myself permission to let these feelings manifest in me – even to the point when I’d repeatedly fall apart on the sofa, sobbing and whimpering for hours on end and allowing myself to feel the full effect of all the bottled up pain washing over me and dominate me for as long as it lasted – all this in the private setting of my home, of course, which I inhabited all by myself and didn’t share with anyone (and still do). For now, I can’t say, whether or not these meltdowns have fixed anything, but they sure gave me a sense of relief mixed with a sense of reconnecting with my authentic, albeit badly bruised and damaged self and allowing the heart to express its full emotional virility, even if it comes out as pain.

I think, my tentative finding from these meltdowns is that they instilled a sense of being more at peace with myself. In addition to that, I think I am now better able to have more control over some impulses and violent outbursts of anger, which would often take hold of me over seemingly small things and all this being basically rooted in a persisting sense of helplessness, where I’m overcompensating the latter by becoming overly defensive. Does this make sense to you?

Like I said: I don’t mean to vouch for alcohol as a catalyst or driver of emotional exploration. For mere despair and not having access to better-suited options of treatment any longer, I found it to be the only “tool” available at the time. I am well aware that this can’t become a long-term approach…

Your thoughts, if so inclined?

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