By Linda Kelly, MSW, RSW
It never fails. I go to a party, someone finds out I’m a therapist, and drink in hand, they proceed to tell me about all the things that eventually make them cry while simultaneously insulting my profession. (“Quit psychoanalyzing me!”)
Do I make people cry? No. Do I attract vulnerability? Perhaps. I do listen, and people’s stories are always fascinating to me. But it’s not about me.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which means that the things that are hard to talk about always seem easier to address when you’re drinking. Who hasn’t used liquid courage to do something that was tough? This is the basis of most of our regrettable texts and snaps (or good old drunk-dialing).
But there’s more to it.
When you know you need to talk about something that’s been bothering you for a long time, the moment you open your mouth and the words start to come out, you can become completely overwhelmed by the depth of the feelings associated with the upsetting memory.
So, if it’s been months or years of this, and you know you need to get it out, it can be tempting to ease that pain by getting drunk before you talk. We’ve seen it many times in our offices – clients that took a swig before walking in, clients that show up intoxicated already, clients that abused alcohol the day before their sessions and then were too emotional to attend.
As understandable as it is, we can’t engage in counselling when you’re drunk.
At best, you’ll feel more accepted and perhaps engage well enough that you feel more connected with your therapist. At worst, you’ll experience all the suffering associated with those memories, have no ability to control or “titrate” those feelings, and then leave more upset because the whole thing has hit you like a ton of bricks, leading you to never come back.
And worst of all, you will have done the work in trying to process those memories, but will find no sense of peace because your ability to heal and file away those experiences for good has been impaired.
Trying to process negative experiences while intoxicated is like trying to learn how to drive when you’re sleepwalking.
Even if you let the feelings out and get to a good place by the end of the session, you don’t retain anything. The feelings are expressed but not healed. You have essentially suffered through it and don’t get any relief from having done the work. And depending on the level of intoxication, you might feel more broken down than you were before, because now you have to manage a body in desperate need of nutrients and hydration.
As tempting as it is to mix alcohol with counselling, it’s not a good idea. The most effective counselling helps you to process those memories once and for all, allowing you to purge the feelings and file them away so that you can focus on your life. And it takes a lot of courage. Just not the liquid type.
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