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Shame after Drinking - Why You Feel So Low the Next Morning

Shame after drinking...

He tells me about his most recent episode of binge drinking, “I didn’t do anything wrong… but I still feel bad. “ I ask him to name an emotion that describes it. “I don’t know if it’s guilt or if it’s shame?” I explain the difference as, “Guilt is I did bad and shame is I am bad.” He identifies feeling guilty and “kind of ashamed.” I ask is he disappointing himself? He shrugs and tells me, “It’s my depression. I just need to figure it out.”

The pitfalls of trying to “figure it out” are many. When folks are trying to ascertain why they’re depressed, they often overlook the fact that alcohol is a depressant. We throw kerosene on the fire and wonder why it burns. The toll is most evident not in the wreckage caused by drinking so much as in the emptiness of things that no longer provide the desired outcome.

When It’s Not Fun Anymore

There’s a fine line between You Only Live Once (YOLO) and being a hot mess. We do the same things for different reasons. Signs that the party is over:

  • Drinking a lot but alone, or in the company of people we don’t really care about.
  • We still don’t have a plan but it’s no longer an adventure. It’s becoming predictable.
  • Random hook ups used to be exciting. Now they’re unfulfilling at best and regrettable at worst.
  • Hangovers are different now. They last longer and take more of a toll on us physically and emotionally.
  • The thought keeps coming, “I’m not a kid anymore. I should be doing other things.”

What Would You Rather Be Doing?

We are creatures of habit. We stay with what’s familiar until we’re compelled to change. A lot of us just don’t know how to enjoy ourselves without using drugs or alcohol to relax, unwind, or lose our inhibitions. Some of the most successful rehab programs I’ve seen take this problem seriously and teach folks how to have fun sober.

Sometimes we rediscover what we loved as children:

  • Being creative (drawing, painting, molding clay)
  • Unstructured sports (Frisbee, volleyball, hacky sack)
  • Reading (stories about lives like the ones we want to live)
  • Spontaneity (having friends to be silly with, laugh, joke)

Sometimes we tackle a fear for the benefit of fun:

  • Learn how to drive a motorcycle, snowmobile, or ATV
  • Downhill skiing, mountain biking, martial arts, kick boxing
  • Seek adrenaline highs (sky diving, hang gliding)

Sometimes fun comes by learning cool adult skills:

  • Taking a cooking class
  • Learning about computing and different programs
  • Take classes that support a hobby, interest, or that supports a potential career change.
  • Explore civic and volunteer opportunities that foster a sense of belonging
  • Identifying interests that lend themselves to new connections and making new friends.

Healthy Distractions

We all need down time and it’s healthy to develop habits and rituals that support relaxation. When we rely on chemicals to achieve relaxation, we set ourselves up for dependency. Even if our drinking or drug use never reaches addiction, we form a powerful association between the substance and the desired feeling. Substituting a healthy distraction for the substance allows us to get our needs met without consequence.

Taking a break (guilty pleasures we don’t have to feel bad about later)

  • Movies, television
  • Plays, musicals, theater
  • Web surfing
  • Video games
  • Magazines, catalogs, light reading

Unwinding and coping

  • Listening to music (picking stuff that elevates our mood and/or helps us relax)
  • Yoga, stretching, exercise that connects us to our physical selves
  • Humor (stand up, books, pod casts)
  • Grabbing coffee with friends instead of an alcoholic beverage
  • Massage, Reiki, Qigong , other healing exercises that increase energy and release toxins

The adage, “all things in moderation” should be at the forefront of our thoughts. Excessive escapism is a form of avoidance. Limiting the amount of time we engage in these activities is a common sense approach. The keys are self discipline (accountability to self) and connection to healthy people (accountability to others). These ensure that our needs are met in a balanced fashion.

Clinical Social Worker/Therapist
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: Thanks! Jim

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