Anyone who has suffered with a hangover will be familiar with the feeling of:
“Oh my God I feel absolutely awful. I am NEVER drinking again…”
We are filled with negative emotions about our experience. There may well be positive feelings and memories attached as well but they are overridden by feelings of regret, remorse, or even simply feeling like complete and utter horse shit. Now it may be true that we know we are lying to ourselves and we will actually drink again, despite our determined current mindset, but at least it won’t be for a while.
And that ‘for a while’ varies from person to person, depending on their relationship with alcohol. For some people those negative thoughts will last for days, weeks, months even, before they consider picking up a drink again. For others, like myself, it will only be a matter of hours before those remorseful emotions disappear, like a puff of smoke on a breezy day. There will follow in their place positive memories, and positive feelings. Of the refreshing nature of that first sip of ice cold beer after a busy day, for example. Or the satisfying buzz as the alcohol starts to take effect. The carefree attitude that things aren’t so bad after all, or the comfort blanket of forgetting altogether. That bias towards forgetting the bad memories and only remembering the good has a name and it is one of the most dangerous things an addict or a problem drinker has to fight against. It is FAB. No really, it is…
Fading Affect Bias
If you have a non destructive relationship with alcohol (I hate to say healthy because there are a million reasons why alcohol shouldn’t be considered ‘healthy’) then FAB shouldn’t be of too much concern to you. If however you are addicted to the demon drink or you have a dependency, or you have thought to yourself you may have an issue but haven’t said it out loud yet, then FAB can be a real problem.
You have decided that things need to change. That you can’t keep going on like this, on this hamster wheel of mental torture. You get pissed. And then you get pissed again. And then you hate yourself. And then you keep getting pissed and hating yourself even more for getting pissed all the time, so you stop. And then, a few days later, or a few weeks later, or basically BEFORE you were wanting to drink again (if you ever were wanting to drink again) that pesky little voice inside your head pipes up…
“You know what? Maybe you weren’t that bad after all!”
“You’re doing great! You’ve proved that you can take time away from the grog, what harm would another drink do?”
“How long were you gonna do this for anyway? Just have a beer already!”
Attached to these thoughts are some ‘fit for commercial’ images, of the previously mentioned cold refreshing beer. Or perhaps of you standing on a sunlit terrace, laughing heartily with a friend while you hold a nice glass of red. Possibly your overactive imagination is placing you sitting around a fire, looking suave and sophisticated as you engage in intelligent conversation with loved ones who gaze at you in rapturous admiration as you sip on a nice single malt.
You have fallen into the trap of FAB and suddenly FAB isn’t so fab at all. You are romanticising alcohol. You have completely suppressed your negative emotions towards it. Those feelings of shame, regret, hate, and the determination you had before about not picking up again have vanished completely, leaving you looking on as an observer of your relationship with booze through the most rosiest of all rose tinted spectacles. So what do you do? You go and get pissed again. And so it goes on. And on. And on and on.
So in order to achieve your goal of stopping drinking and staying stopped, it is vital that you recognise this psychological phenomena. There is a mantra in sober world that we often remind each other of. NQTD or Never Question The Decision (we like acronyms. We’ve blown our brains apart with years of booze abuse so have to shorten everything…*insert wink emoji…).
Because whoever you are and however strong your devotion to an alcohol free life might be, Fading Affect Bias will happen. And when it does you need to be ready. You need to remember why you decided to do what you did and reaffirm your reasons behind it. Maybe keep a journal. Have your feelings written down somewhere of how drinking really made you feel. Never Question The Decision because if you keep glamourising your relationship with alcohol you will keep slipping up. And the more you keep slipping up, the more difficult it will be to stop when you will inevitably have to do so.
I’m writing about this today because of something that happened to me last night. Now, FAB can associate itself not just with the substance you were addicted to itself, but the feeling you got from it. The associated high if you like. For me that was simply to forget. For want of a better phrase, to just get ‘fucked up’. And that feeling came to me last night. There can be many reasons why this happens. Perhaps self care has taken a slide, which may be true for me as I wasn’t meditating each morning so I was getting more caught up in my head than normal. It could be additional stresses with a life situation, which may also be true at the moment because Covid. And I also had back pain, which in itself can take me to a bad place if I allow it, following on from a slipped disc I suffered from in the past and its associated feelings of pain, despair, self pity and the unfairness of life, the world and my existence. In short, my defences were down.
To alleviate my back pain I took a couple of Tramadol that I had left over from when my back first went. I know, it’s hardly necking a cheap bottle of vodka from the local Spar but it was a conscious decision to satisfy a need, because Tramadol has an odd effect on me. It can make me feel ‘fucked up’. And instead of remembering the horrible paranoia one suffers upon getting fucked up, the poor sleep that will come, the feelings of guilt and regret that may last for days afterwards, all I remembered thanks to FAB, was the way it would switch me off. That was it. In that moment that was all I cared about. So I took them. Something inside of me, even after nearly 900 days sober and clean, wanted that feeling at whatever the cost. Soon after I took them I felt horrible (ya think?!). I realised what had happened and I threw the rest of the drugs away. I examined, without judgement, why I did this and what I needed to do to be careful it doesn’t happen again. I meditated this morning and I got out of my head. And then, after talking to someone who’s opinion I value greatly, I decided to turn it into a positive and write this blog.
Although it was only a small dose of the drug, the recommended dosage in fact, it had a profound effect on me. Not just because I felt a little weird (which disgusted me, scared me but also excited me, all in equal measure), but because I had decided to do it. I decided to take the Tramadol instead of the ibuprofen that I also had sitting there. It was a warning that those feelings will always lie dormant inside of me. This is where the work is you see, in maintaining sobriety. One cannot simply just stop and that be that. You have to look at the whys and find healthier ways of dealing with whatever issues may be inside of you because they don’t just magically disappear the moment you get sober. It is very easy to say when someone asks why you keep getting pissed, “I just like getting pissed!” If we wish to stay off the grog we have to go a little deeper than that. I drank to get out of my head and to appear more sociable. So now I am sober, I embrace my introverted nature, and I meditate and look inside myself more spiritually, without any judgement or shame. If I don’t do this then FAB will rear its ugly (not so fab) head again. As I have just found out. But I will be ready for it when it does.
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Much love to you all. XOX