Changing Beliefs: A New Take on Alcohol

By Ash Stevens 02/04/16

I've long abandoned drinking but I'm still working on letting go of other habits that hinder my happiness.

Ash Stevens

Beliefs are an amazing thing. We hear the word “belief” and we immediately connect it to religion and spirituality, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. We actually have beliefs that can run even deeper than ideas on God. They attempt to explain things just as religious and spiritual beliefs do, but the beliefs I’m talking about are the ones that literally underlie who we are and create life as we know it. Yet, despite the incredible power of the thoughts dictating our every action, many of us are completely oblivious to them! We go about doing what we do without ever giving a thought to the subconscious reasoning that fuels our behavior, and we never stop to wonder how our thoughts and behaviors impact our daily lives.

Forceful ideas and opinions fly under our radar each and every day. Hard as they may be to recognize, they’re most definitely there. I first realized this with drinking. 

I had an interesting upbringing that began Mormon and slowly transformed into something very not Mormon. It began when my family left all our relatives behind in California so that we could move to a peaceful city in Montana. A year within that move, my parents were in a nasty divorce that had our father taking off for 10 years while we were left alone with our mother. She battled with insecurities, and without any family or friends around, things quickly took to spiraling downward. Boyfriends came and went, and after getting a job as a bartender, the men in our home went from being clean cut to being tattooed, rough and heavy drinkers. My mother slowly shed the idealized image of the “perfect Mormon woman” and soon took on the habits of the men in her life. 

My mother never handled stress well and she could never be happy. There was always something inconveniencing her and keeping her from attaining happiness, and that something always had someone to blame. Being children, that was all-too-easy to throw on our shoulders. 

Life was hardly easy for my mother as she went without child support and she was either in school or working full time. However, she didn’t make things any easier. Every day was a struggle, and as she spent more time working at the bar and living with her beer-loving boyfriend, she turned to alcohol to cope with the hardship of her inner struggle. 

The woman I knew to indulge in Dr. Pepper and Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider now started her morning with a whole pot of coffee (a Mormon no-no). As soon as 10am hit and that pot was empty, she was ready to crack open a beer. When she would get off of work after 2am, she’d pull out the beer waiting in her glovebox so she could “unwind” during the 10-minute drive home. Her days off included beer-after-beer so that she could “relax.” Getting home from work also warranted a beer for relaxation. Basically, any day ending in “y” was a day to relax with a stack of bottles. 

I spent my adolescence in group homes, so there was a lot that I missed out on. But even my siblings at home were accustomed to her behavior. We were around it all the time and really didn’t know any other way of living, so we thought this was normal. Drinking was a pleasurable part of everyday life. It was what you did to “unwind” and “relax.” While I didn’t say these things out loud or in my head, I had subconsciously taken on these beliefs and created the very same relationship with alcohol. Having a drink during a movie or a “nightcap” before bed was a daily thing. Getting a six-pack to dig into during a drive up to the mountains was a no-brainer. The way I saw it, alcohol was meant to be a part of every day. 

Then came the day that I wondered what I was doing. It was December and I was drinking yet another cold beer that was going to have me feeling even more bloated. And even though I had a pack of good microbrews, I was sharing it with my boyfriend so there was no way my drinking was going to catch me a good buzz. But I didn’t even feel like I needed a buzz. So why was I drinking? What was I spending my money on? Why was I doing this?

As I began to question what I was doing and why, it became clear how mindless my drinking behaviors were. I didn’t like that. Not at all. I was doing something just for the sake of doing it, without any compelling rhyme or reason. It made no sense.

So I set to work understanding myself. I soon saw the subconscious ideas fueling my relationship with alcohol and took to changing myself. I would still drink, but I needed to have a substantial reason for spending my money. And as my new outlook on alcohol began to unfold, I began to see my mother in a new light. I could now identify the dysfunction, and all the things I had accepted as “normal” were disrobed to be seen for what they really were. 

My first trip back home had us out shopping for a camping trip. Of course, we had to buy some beer (camping warranted drinking in my book). So we buy it and as soon as I have it loaded up in the trunk, my mother tells me to open it back up. I ask her why and she says it’s because she needs a beer for the drive home. I tell her nonchalantly that she can survive the drive without and spare herself the risk of a ticket, but she insists that she needs it because she “always has a drink after yoga.” I pointed out to her that while we had tried to make it to yoga class, we hadn’t actually gone, therefore this beer would wait. She insisted on it though. And while I pointed out her contradictions and I did my best to annoy her by popping open the trunk in the parking lot every time she tried to shut it, she brought a bottle into the car to make the 15-minute drive home. 

The more I evaluated, analyzed, and changed myself, the more I saw of my mother. The behaviors I had seen as normal were put in a whole new light. Now, I saw that drinking had nothing to do with relaxation. Drinking was all about my mother numbing herself to her plight in life so that she could cope with her pain and take a little break from the hell within her heart and mind. She wasn’t hiding liquor bottles in the dishwasher or drinking herself into a blackout, but she had an alcohol-dependency. There was no doubt about it: the signs were all there.  

As I’ve worked to better myself and taken on the responsibilities of being a mother myself, I’ve been able to see life at such a great depth. I’ve tried sharing my insights with my mother, and I’ve encouraged her to challenge her ideas and behaviors. There have been little changes, but she’s unwilling to let go of her story of hardship and struggle at the hands of others. She wants to live in denial by ignoring the role she has played in her own life. Because of that, she won’t let go of drinking. She isn’t willing to accept the past or the present, so she turns to the bottle day-after-day. And even though her children no longer tip one back on the road, twist open a beer mid-day, or take a shot before they have to drive home, she continues to drink. She’s better than she used to be and she really is hoping to make her life better, but she can’t get over her hurdle. 

My mother has a heavy load of change ahead of her, but I’d say that we’re all like her. Myself included. And while I’ve long abandoned drinking, I still practice behaviors that inhibit my potential and work against what I want from life. Even worse, I do things that have a negative impact on my children and teach them to take on beliefs that will hurt them in life. As much as I would never want to hurt them, there have been days that they’ve been alone in the living room while I cried into a pillow in my bedroom (like my own mother before me). As much as I want my children to believe they’re strong and capable, every time I’m wasting away into my pillow I’m showing them that life is hard and drags you down. I’m teaching them that when things get tough, you get sick and sad and moody and you spend hours crying about it. 

I’ve decided that the people in my life deserve better than this. I deserve better than this. We all deserve better than this. So as hard as it is to let go of my old patterns and beliefs, I’m doing it. I don’t need beer or a salty pillow. I need a great life that’s worth living. I need to be able to make a difference in the world. And I need to show my children just how amazing they can be by being amazing myself. 

Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and a wannabe shaman. She loves health, simplicity, culture, chocolate, sarcasm, and the personal pursuit of being better than yesterday. If she isn’t writing about family and relationships on her blog, then she’s surely playing badminton with the kids. Find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend!
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