My Alcohol Experiment: Day 22

Day 22 of The Alcohol Experiment: identifying unmet needs and the importance of connection.

Oooh this lesson was a festival of lightbulbs and goosebumps for me! Anybody else?

Annie asks us to dig deep on this one. She discusses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how we move up the pyramid as our needs are fulfilled, starting with basic (food, water, safety) to psychological (love, friendship, prestige) to self-fulfillment (self-actualization) – if we get that far! Annie’s thesis here is that we drink because we are trying to fill the unmet needs we have in life – the gaps in our individual pyramids. She asks us to identify what our unmet needs are, acknowledge whether we were using alcohol to fill those needs, and then think of how we can fill those needs in a healthier, non-addictive way.

Nothing like a little soul-searching to brighten up your Monday, eh? Cue the lightbulbs!

I have unmet needs in my life right now. But I also realized that I was drinking out of habit (or addiction, I guess) to fill previously unmet needs which are now met. 

Allow me to expound a bit. My life has changed a lot in the eleven years since I met my husband. We have lived in two countries and three states, and never in the same place for more than three years. He has held four different jobs; I left my career to be a stay-at-home mom. We acquired two dogs and created two children. It’s been a mostly wonderful whirlwind and, at times, a rickety rollercoaster.

The dust has mostly settled now (though my hubby did just start a new job today – ha!). And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am now able to explore my relationship with alcohol, because I am feeling happier and more secure than I have in years. The drinking habits I have been working so hard to break, I now realize, mostly arose during our less settled times.

Smack dab in the middle of Maslow’s pyramid is belongingness: the need for intimate relationships and friends. Moving so often, having to rebuild that feeling of “belonging” so many times while also maintaining long-distance friendships, took a toll on me. And then there is the isolation of those early days, weeks, months of motherhood. When there is hardly any sleep, lots of spit-up and poop, a rare shower. When making it out of the house is a herculean accomplishment and going out with friends seems like an  impossibility. I did make a few wonderful mom friends after I had my daughter, and one of them is a BFF to this day. But in between our weekly mommy-and-me classes there were many, many hours of exhaustion infused with loneliness. 

And distance from my husband, too. Because he got to take a shower, put on real clothes, and go to work every day. Our lives diverged with the arrival of the little being we had created together. And it took a long time – about a year – for me to get to a more confident “new normal.”

I did not drink a lot in those early days of motherhood, but I think that time set the stage for my descent to a place of discomfort with my drinking all these years later. I left my career, had a baby, moved to a new house in a new town. I felt distant from my husband. In short, the “belongingness and love” level of my personal needs pyramid was a big ol’ void.

Enter wine.

Cut to the present. 

My pyramid is a lot more filled out these days. But I realized that the one need that is still unmet as I try my darnedest to achieve self-actualization is the need for professional fulfillment. I still feel insecure about being a stay-at-home mom. And sometimes I overcompensate for that by spending too much time on my volunteer work instead of doing my real “job.” The dishes don’t get done or I let my kids watch too much TV because I am working on projects that don’t pay any money but help me fill that void a little. And I drank, of course. I drank to fill that void, too.

Annie asks us to consider how we can fill our unmet needs in a less destructive way than by drinking. Here’s my answer to that. I will keep up with my volunteer work but strive for a better balance. I will engage more with my kids; go for evening walks and visit with our neighbors; and stay as busy as I can during the witching hour. I will keep writing. I will keep exercising. And I will try to remind myself that these days of having young kids around the house are flying by, even if the hours still seem to crawl. There will always be paid work to pursue; there won’t always be a four-year-old wanting to play with me. 

I would love to hear any revelations that others have had with this lesson! It was a big one!

Oh, and I encourage everyone to watch both videos but especially the second one, an incredible animation of the importance of connection, and how we have lost that as a culture and as individuals. “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” WHOA. Kind of earth-shattering stuff here, folks!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

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