Countertransference and Alcohol: The Match Made In Heaven

Easter this year marked my year of attempting to be clean from alcohol. Officially I have been clean for about 7-8 months. My use started during high school, escalated during college, but sky-rocked during graduate school and especially my first year as a full-time mental health therapist. You might think that someone in the health profession, especially the mental health profession, wouldn't fall victim to bad habits. But as it turns out the health profession is stressful. More so then I ever imagined. But my use was a little more complex then just a reaction to stress. In this blog I'll try to explain my use and the rationale and nature of me quitting. This blog is about me developing into a more mature person. It's also about mental health. It's about a lot of stuff and is also mind-numbingly huge. It also may not lead to much community discussion. But I'm linking it to the 'off-topic' section of our forums anyway with the hope that maybe someone might get something out of it.

So I'm 26 right now and will be turning 27 in November. Every age range is weird developmentally and the 20s are no exception. The 20s represented a time when I was both maturing into an adult but also feeling stuck because, into mid-20s, I was still in school. That's a long time. Friends around me were getting married, having kids, and developing their careers. I was still a lowly student. It was frustrating. Add that to the fact that when I was in graduate school I didn't have a lot of time to hang out with people and still do well in school. Then there were was the internship which was my introduction to therapy work and trying to find my place and my view of therapy in a real, tangible, practical way. Also my part-time job had a way of sucking up all my free time too. All of these things lead to me not have a lot of downtime to recuperate.

Then there came alcohol. I was living with people who worked at the time and we all drank pretty heavily spending the majority of our money on alcohol. But unlike them, I started to drink non-stop. I didn't have a sober time. There wasn't a point where I didn't have alcohol going through my veins. At school, at my internship, at work. I had moments when I wasn't drunk. But I never had moments where I was sober. So I suppose I became a functional alcoholic. I was always in a hazy state. This lead to a feeling of just being out of it. Of being lethargic and depressed. Which lead me to drink more. So my functional alcoholism quickly turned into heavy, dysfunctional alcoholism. I would show up to work at 8 AM still drunk. I would see clients with a hangover still pounding my skull at 3 PM. Then I would go back home and drink another fifth.

It all culminated during one fateful party on Easter. I went to my parents' house with all my extended family with three fifths in the back of my car. By two or three hours into the party all of the liquor I had had was drunk and when I sat down to eat some dessert I passed out for a moment and spilled cake all over myself. Embarrassed, but too drunk to play off what had happened, I went upstairs to a spare bedroom in my parents' house and passed out up there. It was on that day I decided to stop drinking.

Well it didn't happen quite that easily. A week went by and I had more drinks in my hands. Then a week dry. Then a few weeks hammered. It went back and forth like this for about a month. This all coincided with the fact that I was going to have to end the therapy of four of my clients because either we were done with our therapy or they ran out of funding.

So, with all of that in mind, here's where I had my revelation. It was when I had been about two weeks clean. This was the longest I had ever been without a drink since high school. Not a drop. And I was dying. Alcohol was my elephant in the room. The more I tried to not think about it the more I seemed to think about it. Eventually it became an ever present thing on my mind that I couldn't shake. I went outside to our garage, grabbed a beer, opened it, and held it to my lips. Then I thought of my four clients and I got anxious. The need to drink escalated even higher. But this link was more important to me then the drink. So I thought about it.

One of the things that a therapist, at least in my opinion, tries to do when ending therapy with a client is express to that client what that therapy meant to the therapist and also to ask the client what the therapy meant to him/her. A big part of this is discussing the nature of the relationship between the therapist and client and moving the conversations from the abstract and cognitive to the emotional. I'm not good at this as it turns out. It's because I like to keep people at a distance. I'm not good at dealing with emotions when they are about me or me in relation to another person (I sure picked the right profession didn't I?). It stresses me out. My normal defense is to be sarcastic and aloof to show everyone that I'm not bothered by all this emotional stuff. Those emotions can't touch me.

But at the time I also knew that I couldn't do that. I couldn't avoid the emotions and I couldn't be aloof when I was with my clients ending our relationship. Rather I had to face those emotions head on. Most importantly I had to lead by example. That scared me. That made me anxious. That realization lowered my anxiety. It lowered my desire to drink.

Looking back what I had realized was my immaturity. This immaturity led to these maladaptive behaviors. My fear of emotion whether it be from a relationship, from my reaction to work, school, being stuck in school rather then starting the rest of my life, all of it. It was all immature reactions leading to extreme emotions that I didn't want to experience and it was all coming to a head when my way of coping with those emotions, drinking, was causing me to ruin more then just my liver but also my reputation with my family, my ability to be a professional, and my own evaluation of myself as a person. And the kicker was that my solution to extreme emotion couldn't be used when I ended therapy with my clients because it would have meant that I would have to send my clients away while hammered out of my mind (which is not the most ethical thing to do).

So I decided to reassess what I was doing with my life and changed my habits. I started an exercise routine to help me cope with extreme emotions and cravings. I sucked it up and one by one got through all of the therapy terminations unscathed. In fact, every termination was refreshing and made me feel happy and proud. In short, I grew up. I haven't had a drink since.

Man this is a long blog.

33 Comments
34 Comments
Edited by Enigma777

3, no 4 spelling mistakes so far.

They say alcohol kills brain cells...

Posted by JasonR86

@enigma777 said:

3, no 4 spelling mistakes so far.

They say alcohol kills brain cells...

It's a really long blog with a ton of words.

Edited by Enigma777

@jasonr86 said:

@enigma777 said:

3, no 4 spelling mistakes so far.

They say alcohol kills brain cells...

It's a really long blog with a ton of words.

Uh huh...

Posted by SMTDante89

Thanks for sharing. It's not quite the same, but I've been dealing with depression for a while now and always tried to deny it because, like you, I didn't want to show much emotion and always went about trying to laugh everything off like nothing could bother me, but a lot of things did. I hope to have time in the near future to see a professional about it, but I bought a bass guitar to learn to play it for a few reasons. One is because I've been wanting to learn to play one for years now, and to try to keep my mind focused on something better than just sitting around and feeling sorry for myself. It's been a slow process, but it's been fun so far and I'm learning to do something I've wanted to do for a long time and it helps to keep my mind off of the things that really bring me down.

Posted by JasonR86

Thanks for sharing. It's not quite the same, but I've been dealing with depression for a while now and always tried to deny it because, like you, I didn't want to show much emotion and always went about trying to laugh everything off like nothing could bother me, but a lot of things did. I hope to have time in the near future to see a professional about it, but I bought a bass guitar to learn to play it for a few reasons. One is because I've been wanting to learn to play one for years now, and to try to keep my mind focused on something better than just sitting around and feeling sorry for myself. It's been a slow process, but it's been fun so far and I'm learning to do something I've wanted to do for a long time and it helps to keep my mind off of the things that really bring me down.

That's a great first start dude. That's kind of one of the benefits of me exercising. Hopefully, if you start to feel better, the playing of the guitar will lead to more ways to improve yourself like my exercising and opening up helped me improve with my relationships.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

That was a great read and it takes a special kind of willpower to pull yourself out of something like that without the help of a support group. Looking at that track though of where you started and where things started to go bad I could easily see how a similar path could happen with me with marijuana instead of alcohol. I wouldn't form a physiological dependence but instead form a psychological one which in some ways can be worse. I'm not as cognitively/behaviorally handicapped when baked versus being intoxicated but I can see where having that "buffer" between you and sobriety can be appealing in a way. Hell it was appealing to me for a bit, I managed to keep a steady high for about a month and a half and my grades actually went up, studying was just easier. It wasn't till the ridiculously high tolerance being noticeable that I decided to take a break and not solely rely on that. When being in an altered state becomes the norm versus sobriety being the norm then I know I have a problem.

Posted by JasonR86

That was a great read and it takes a special kind of willpower to pull yourself out of something like that without the help of a support group. Looking at that track though of where you started and where things started to go bad I could easily see how a similar path could happen with me with marijuana instead of alcohol. I wouldn't form a physiological dependence but instead form a psychological one which in some ways can be worse. I'm not as cognitively/behaviorally handicapped when baked versus being intoxicated but I can see where having that "buffer" between you and sobriety can be appealing in a way. Hell it was appealing to me for a bit, I managed to keep a steady high for about a month and a half and my grades actually went up, studying was just easier. It wasn't till the ridiculously high tolerance being noticeable that I decided to take a break and not solely rely on that. When being in an altered state becomes the norm versus sobriety being the norm then I know I have a problem.

Thanks for reading man. Yeah, it was kind of weird looking back and realizing that I was drinking alcohol like water. I mean I didn't realize until I was sober what it was like to be sober anymore. I think I feel much better sober. It is certainly better for me. But just psychologically I feel so much happier and relaxed. I hope that you don't get to that point with weed.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

@jasonr86 said:

@enigma777 said:

3, no 4 spelling mistakes so far.

They say alcohol kills brain cells...

It's a really long blog with a ton of words.

Uh huh...

That's not just Negative 'Nigma. That's Dickish 'Nigma.

Great read, Jason.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

@jasonr86: I don't really see it happening but I can't predict the future in terms of new sources of stress, etc. For the most part that stuff has existed for me for just recreational purposes, it wasn't till the past couple of months that I realized I could do almost anything with it and that in itself can be dangerous. Also I do rely on sarcasm quite a bit when engaging with women as a form of defense to appear carefree because I'm still not at the point to where I'm comfortable opening up emotionally to someone. It's probably why I continue to avoid relationships and stick to being single with hook ups. Being baked can make those interactions and being passive easier, but now I know that I'll just end up making myself socially retarded by constantly using that as a crutch.

Anyways I don't mean to detract from this blog by talking about myself a bunch. It's still great that you figured out the growing problem by yourself and set yourself on a path to change.

Posted by JasonR86

@enigma777 said:

@jasonr86 said:

@enigma777 said:

3, no 4 spelling mistakes so far.

They say alcohol kills brain cells...

It's a really long blog with a ton of words.

Uh huh...

That's not just Negative 'Nigma. That's Dickish 'Nigma.

Great read, Jason.

Hah, I've got me some mature defenses so that shit just rolls of my back.

@colourful_hippie:

Well, at the very least my blog led you to think about where you are in life. That ain't bad.

Edited by rebgav

Yeah it's a long blog and it's all serious too. Open with a fucking joke, man, give me something to work with here!

An interesting read, I thought.

In the past I've found that exercise is a powerful tool for beating destructive dependencies and behaviors. I struggle with finding the motivation but committing to a strenuous exercise regimen can be quite transformative, it's a good real-life reset button.

Posted by JasonR86

@rebgav said:

Yeah it's a long blog and it's all serious too. Open with a fucking joke, man, give me something to work with here!

An interesting read, I thought.

In the past I've found that exercise is a powerful tool for beating destructive dependencies and behaviors. I struggle with finding the motivation but committing to a strenuous exercise regimen can be quite transformative, it's a good real-life reset button.

I thought about starting with a "So a mental health therapist walks into a bar..." but changed my mind. I also really never appreciated how much exercise and a proper diet can help until I actually took my attempts at both seriously. They make a pretty profound difference.

Edited by Slag

@jasonr86: Kudos man, going sober before you've hit absolute rock bottom is a heck of a lot harder than I think most people realize and even tougher to own up to it when you might conceivably never have to. I would think quite a few people who are functional alcoholics have an extremely difficult time quitting. Maybe the most out of anybody.

I've seen addiction eat people alive who were close to me. Not everyone can shake it. The mental rationalization gymnastics is a devilishly tricky one to overcome especially when it hasn't yet taken you to rock bottom. You must have a lot of willpower.

Frankly given your profession it doesn't surprise me at all this happened to you. You guys deal with some super stressful stuff. While not quite the same field I have several friends who are social workers, and they look about ten years older than I already.

Maybe as you said that wasn't what drove you to the bottle, but I can't imagine it didn't at least contribute some.

Well hope you keep at it, and hope you enjoy my favorite part about being a teetotaler (in my case mostly teetotaler) more disposable income to spend on video games. :)

Edited by JasonR86
Edited by JasonR86

My God that's a lot of text fuck that.

That's pretty much exactly what I would have said if this were another user's blog so I hear you dude.

Posted by Jace

@jasonr86: That was a great read. I hope for the best in your future.

Edited by JasonR86

@jace said:

@jasonr86: That was a great read. I hope for the best in your future.

Thanks for reading.

Posted by mrfluke

@jasonr86: legit question. do you still suffer with extreme emotions? or has your diet and exercise completely beaten it back?

im sure you know with your profession and all, but there are supplements that you can take to help beat it back some more.

Posted by JasonR86

@mrfluke:

Thanks for asking. I think it had more to do with me being too immature to handle what I was dealing with and not having enough supports around me, by my own doing, to deal with everything. The exercise and diet was a step in a direction that allowed me to mature and deal with these issues in a more mature way. Where before I experienced extreme emotions when dealing with stressors I now tend to be more reasonable and realistic (usually anyway). Getting clean and changing my habits helped start me on that path. Being open with my clients started me on that path as well. Which is kind of neat to me that my clients were as much of a help to me as I hopefully was to them even if they were never aware of it.

Edited by Jrinswand

Good for you, Jason! That's a great story. I don't want to go into too much detail, other than to say that I'm around your age and I can relate to what you're going through.

Stay strong. Addiction's tough. They say that once it sinks its teeth into you, it never really goes away. It will eventually cease to be as much of a problem, but it will always lurk in the back of your mind. So, stay strong.

Posted by JasonR86

Good for you, Jason! That's a great story. I don't want to go into too much detail, other than to say that I'm around your age and I can relate to what you're going through.

Stay strong. Addiction's tough. They say that once it sinks its teeth into you, it never really goes away. It will eventually cease to be as much of a problem, but it will always lurk in the back of your mind. So, stay strong.

Thanks man. I'll try my best.

Edited by mrfluke

@jasonr86 said:

@mrfluke:

Thanks for asking. I think it had more to do with me being too immature to handle what I was dealing with and not having enough supports around me, by my own doing, to deal with everything. The exercise and diet was a step in a direction that allowed me to mature and deal with these issues in a more mature way. Where before I experienced extreme emotions when dealing with stressors I now tend to be more reasonable and realistic (usually anyway). Getting clean and changing my habits helped start me on that path. Being open with my clients started me on that path as well. Which is kind of neat to me that my clients were as much of a help to me as I hopefully was to them even if they were never aware of it.

theres also a health related fact behind that, as (legit sorry if im repeating info you know already)

doing exercises and getting a better balanced diet helps build serotonin which has a factor in helping you deal with stressors better than before

i can relate to your story in the sense that i was faced with stressors as well, and i went and did research on the net about what helps fight back against it and found out all this stuff about serotonin and what you can do to fight back against this stuff.

so yea i myself had went on a binge and exercised a whole bunch and took specific vitamins (apparently b complex and omega 3 are real good for this scenario) and lo and behold shit barely gets to me anymore.

keep hanging in there dude

Edited by Example1013

Avoiding emotions sounds awesome when you're in the middle of them, but long-term it's extremely unhealthy. Much better to deal with them when you're experiencing them than to try and put it off, which always leads to problems. Everyone needs a healthy outlet.

Personally, I'd recommend you get a good therapist. No amount of maturity, intelligence, or independence will ever obviate the need for a person to talk to. Trust me on that.

Edited by eskimo

I'm dealing with my own destructive habits. Thanks for writing this, it gives me hope.

Edited by Ravenlight

Booze is great. Forming self-destructive habits around booze is not.

Power to you for turning your shit around, duder.

Posted by TruthTellah

@jasonr86: I think you seem to have learned a good lesson about yourself, and it's something we always have to be self-aware of. It's easy to think you've resolved a problem when really you've just treated symptoms or changed your personal standards.

Great job on ridding yourself of alcohol. It's tough to overcome something like that. Just keep at it. As long as you continue to look at what you're doing and the possible reasons for it, you should keep on the right track. Good luck with it, man! :)

Edited by supamon

Wall of text but I read through the whole thing in 1 go. I'm 2 years younger than you and can relate about feeling stuck and frustrated like you did. Having something similar with smoking instead of alcohol but not to your extent, I think it demonstrates a level of maturity and willpower that you were able to overcome this drinking behavior not just for your own sake but for your patient's sake as well.

Good write up and keep it up. Life is ever-changing and we don't stop growing or learning just because we become adults.

Posted by JasonR86

Avoiding emotions sounds awesome when you're in the middle of them, but long-term it's extremely unhealthy. Much better to deal with them when you're experiencing them than to try and put it off, which always leads to problems. Everyone needs a healthy outlet.

Personally, I'd recommend you get a good therapist. No amount of maturity, intelligence, or independence will ever obviate the need for a person to talk to. Trust me on that.

Thanks for the advice. I'll keep it in mind.

@eskimo:@ravenlight: @truthtellah: @supamon:

Thanks for the kind words guys.

Edited by deadmoscow

It takes a lot of strength to do what you're doing. It's good you caught yourself when you did - some people spend years at rock bottom before getting out. Keep it up!

Edited by JasonR86

@deadmoscow:

Thank you for reading and the nice words.

Posted by Sanity

Good read, and while i never got as bad as you were i had (have?) my own issues with alcohol and binging, basically i dont drink often but when i do i tend to get completely plastered. Its been over a year since i did it to the point of passing out and a few months since i drank anything so i guess im getting better, but i wont say i quit as it only takes me at a party with the right group to get carried away. i really enjoy the occasional drink so im going to try and teach myself some restraint before i axe it all together.

Its good to hear you stopped yourself before it ruined your career or you got a DUI. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by JasonR86

@sanity said:

Good read, and while i never got as bad as you were i had (have?) my own issues with alcohol and binging, basically i dont drink often but when i do i tend to get completely plastered. Its been over a year since i did it to the point of passing out and a few months since i drank anything so i guess im getting better, but i wont say i quit as it only takes me at a party with the right group to get carried away. i really enjoy the occasional drink so im going to try and teach myself some restraint before i axe it all together.

Its good to hear you stopped yourself before it ruined your career or you got a DUI. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for reading. I too had a hard time with going out with people because, unfortunately, I don't know anyone who doesn't drink. I've made some more friends who don't drink but I still hang around my old friends too. What I found is that, after that first time of saying 'I don't drink anymore' and then having some clever remark to lighten the mood, it became easier and easier to say no. Plus, the friends who I really care for understood why I didn't want to drink and, for those that nagged me about drinking, they had my back. Which is really nice.

Edited by Marcsman

Sobriety is not for me. Good luck to you though.