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The Emotional Hangover by Chris Sharpe

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A Controversy of God and SpiritualityThe Emotional Hangover

During a recent warm spell, a friend of mine, with some considerable length of sobriety, attended a family BBQ. Towards the end of the evening he found himself sitting at a table with five other lads, all of them the worse for wear with alcohol. His first thought was to leave the function but believed this might be construed by his host as being rude. His second thought was to stick it out, believing that his sobriety would be strong enough to cope with the alcoholic environment. He told me the lads sitting with him were well oiled and talking, ‘Bullshit.’ This is his word not mine.

The dictionary definition of Bullshit is: ‘To talk nonsense in an attempt to deceive.’ With regard to drinking alcoholics I believe it would be more accurate to describe their behaviour as being more like a verbal arrogance; violating the truth by saying things for effect, trying to convince others that they are bigger, better and badder than they actually are. AA co-founder Bill Wilson in his article about Emotional Sobriety, called it; ‘… adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval, perfect security, and perfect romance.’ He goes on to say, ‘My basic flaw had always been dependence - almost absolute dependence - on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like.’ That was in 1958, but if I’m honest in modern terms, Bullshit says it all.

My friend stayed at the BBQ until late, successfully managing to avoid drinking alcohol, however he regretfully admits that the verbal arrogance quickly got to him, so much so that within an hour he was dishing it up as good as anyone. He eventually left the function feeling remorseful and regretting his behaviour. He told me he when he woke the next morning, instead of being refreshed, the feelings of remorse and depression came back with a vengeance making him feel as bad or maybe even worse than the previous night. It was what he referred to as an, ‘Emotional Hangover,’ which stayed with him for the best part of the day.

Why was this he asked?

My opinion for what it’s worth is that a lack of self-esteem, self-worth, self-belief, insecurity or whatever else you chose to call it, lies at the core of most alcoholics and addicts. This can and does create an emotional conflict. Most addicts are competitive; high achievers, perfectionists who will do almost anything to avoid the risk of failure – including Bullshit! All alcohol does is mask, hide or numb the underlying lack of worth. Take away the anesthetising substance and what are left are the crippling emotions which otherwise need careful and consistent sober management.

Therefore the recovering alcoholic places himself at great risk when he gets involved in a heavy drinking environment. He is in constant danger of experiencing a painful, emotional process something akin to – I can’t drink therefore I don’t belong and not belonging means I’m not wanted. Being not wanted means you don’t love me and the reason you don’t love me is because I’m unlovable, which is why I felt I didn’t belong in the first place. This inherent emotional conundrum presents a problem which is hard to overcome so he risks drinking to oblivion in order to belong, or like my friend, talking nonsense in an attempt to deceive his audience and gain that elusive false sense of prestige.

Of course therapy goes someway to making us aware of the problem and as a therapist I would love to be able to put together a blog full of clever ways to be rid of this problem but I can’t think of anything practical or long lasting. So we need to continually confront these challenging demands. Only then can we be free to continue our lives with any semblance of emotional sobriety. So when it comes to boozy BBQ’s or any other risky social occasion, I would suggest that the simple solution is not to get involved. If you’re invited to a function which can’t be avoided, go with an exit plan; a way to avoid sitting at a table full of drunks. Make a note of the nearest Fellowship meeting and make sure you’ve got the phone number of your sponsor or a trusted friend should an emergency arise.

For your own sake, nurture you’re sobriety. Hangovers, emotional or otherwise are an unnecessary price to pay for not being prepared.

Chris Sharpe
June 2018

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